If you’re looking for Angel Woodrum, she’s likely working in her garden, lying in her hammock with her nose in a book, or enjoying her playful pet couple, Stevie and Kit Kat. That is, when she’s not working with farmers markets on Double Bucks in her role as a coordinator for RAFI-USA’s Expanding Farmers Market Access program.
Angel hails from Frankfort, Kentucky where, for a time, she and her family lived with her grandfather who had a lot of old farm equipment strewn around his large property. She and her sister loved to play on the farm machinery and ride their bikes. After her grandfather passed away, they moved “down the hill,” to a neighborhood in downtown Frankfort, where there were a lot of kids to hang out with. “We played a lot,” she says. “Basketball, baseball, a lot of made-up games. The high school’s football field was in our neighborhood, too, so we often played hide and seek with the neighborhood kids during summer evenings. Looking back, I was really lucky to have so many kids around to play with.”
Angel got into gardening early in her high school years and worked alongside her mom, planting different things in her garden. “Often they were successful!” she shares. “I like to think that my mom has a super green thumb since her gardens are always productive despite not using fertilizer or intensive gardening techniques,” she adds.
As for reading, she thinks she came to it a little later than some others, but that hasn’t stopped her from becoming a book-a-week reader! She remembers when she was really young being frustrated that she didn’t know the words. “It feels like once I was able to read, I never stopped. I have a lot of memories of reading during class instead of paying attention and writing stories sometimes, too. I still read a book a week now,” she says.
As she was growing up, Angel went through several iterations of how she imagined what she would do when she “grew up.” At first, she saw herself as a teacher, but when she noticed all of the lawyers in downtown Frankfort walking around during their lunch hour she thought, “They look really professional, and thought it would be cool to be able to walk around downtown for lunch,” she says.
In high school and early college, she became interested in environmental science but realized it wasn’t as good a fit for her the way philosophy and English were. “I just loved learning about environmental ethics and the history of philosophy, and I absolutely loved my Southern and American novel courses,” she shared. For a while, she was planning to become a professor but realized she didn’t like the research aspect of it much, but when she got involved with the campus garden and a few church gardens, she discovered that she loved teaching people how to grow things. “I think I started wanting to be sort of a farmer-gardener-teacher-writer person as my vocation. Which isn’t really a thing, but those were the things I really liked,” she says.
After college, Angel received a Master of Divinity with a concentration in Food & Ecology from Wake Forest University School of Divinity. At the time, she says, “I thought I could mix my love of mentoring students and ecology-like things together and be a campus minister at a college with a garden. It was pretty poor planning, but I was afraid to not be in school anymore.”
While Angel earlier explored different options, her career trajectory has been razor-focused on farming, gardening, and farmers markets. In an environmental ethics class, she had an “ah-ha” moment, thinking, “We all just need to farm to save the world!”
During the summer between college and graduate school, she interned at a nonprofit community farm that had a large CSA program, and she was very happy there. “I loved everything about the work — how tired I was at the end of the day, getting to be outside more than I was inside, working a lot of hours with the same people every day, harvesting vegetables, transplanting,” she shared. After graduate school, she landed at the same farm where she worked full time for several years. But it was time to learn some of the business aspects of farming and that’s when she started working for farmers markets. “I knew if I wanted to own my own farm, I needed to know more than just how to make a planting schedule and harvest things really quickly,” she says.
In her current position at RAFI-USA, she enjoys working with farmers market managers. “They are truly amazing, inspiring people,” she shares. “I could talk forever about how great they are, but I’ll just leave it by saying: ‘get to know your market manager!’ Farming is such a unique, special, and challenging career path. I feel lucky to be able to support the markets and the vendors at the markets by administering the Double Bucks program.”
In administering Double Bucks — through which SNAP recipients (or those participating in other food nutrition assistance programs) can purchase double the products they would otherwise get — Angel helps farmers market managers make farmers’ products more accessible to those with food insecurity, and in turn, increases the income of the farmers.
Angel notes the many injustices of the food system including all of the barriers to entry farmers face, having to do with land and infrastructure. She notes, “In order to compete, you need that season extension, you need cold storage, I mean, you don’t grow anything without an irrigation system. Farmers generally have so much to work against already. Infrastructure to start a career that our society really needs shouldn’t be that hard.”
As far as a solution? Angel says her first inclination is just to say “support local farmers the best you can. And also seek out organizations working with farmers to help them get established. I also wish there were some sort of guaranteed income for small and mid-scale farmers.”
Angel’s work has contributed to the growth of the number of people able to access farmers markets and the number of dollars spent at the markets. Learn more in this blog Angel wrote earlier this year: Doubling the Buying Power for Food Insecure Households.