As a RAFI-USA Program Manager and Chair of its Direct Service Team**, Lisa Misch wears many hats, as do all of RAFI-USA’s staff members. As she secures federal funding, oversees USDA-funded programs, serves on RAFI-USA’s policy team, and manages the Expanding Farmers Market Access program, she draws on her past experiences which range from working on farms in Japan and Colombia to spending a year at the College of Menominee Nation.
Lisa grew up in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and lived there throughout her childhood with her parents, Mark, a farm machinery equipment salesman, and her mother Nancy, a stay-at-home mother for most of Lisa’s childhood. She has two older sisters.
For as long as she can remember she wanted to work with plants and animals “when she grew up.” Throughout middle school, she took part in science field trips to the Mississippi River backwaters where she first learned about environmental systems. This interest only grew through high school.
Lisa believes her love for the natural world came from growing up in La Crosse: “It’s located in a geological area called the Driftless Area — meaning in the last Ice Age there was a region of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa that didn’t experience the flattening effects of glaciers. So the landscape is characterized by steep, forested ridges and deeply carved river valleys that are unique in comparison to surrounding areas. We went on a lot of hikes and bike rides in the marshes, forests, bluffs, and along rivers and streams. My parents also signed me up for every youth class available at our local nature center. I liked learning all the weird facts about the plants, animals, and bugs we came across,” she said.
She decided to attend St. Olaf College, in Northfield, Minnesota, and graduated in 2015. She was drawn to its liberal arts, cross-programmatic learning approach, and its being a smaller campus was a plus for Lisa. She started as a biology major but then realized she was more interested in systemic issues. “How can we make sustainable changes that are good for environments, people, economies? Doing narrowly focused research couldn’t get me to that stage of conversation. Around that same time I also became more interested in agriculture and food systems and began seeing connections to those subjects in almost every class I took, be it sociology, history, art, economics, political sciences,” she shared.
Lisa has had many unique global experiences on her way to RAFI-USA. During her college years, she worked on a farm in Japan at the Asian Rural Institute in Nasushiobara, which was a leadership training program for community leaders from 20 different countries across Africa, Asia, and the Americas. “I gained a deeper global perspective of how agriculture can be the foundation of strong communities,” she shared. After that she worked on an organic farm north of Bogotá, Colombia through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). Lisa was impressed with the farm’s use of “a very efficient and effective compost/bed rotation system. And even though I grew up in a major dairy state, that was the first time I actually milked a cow by hand. Working and traveling internationally on a whole was invaluable in terms of teaching me how to connect and communicate with others,” she said.
By the end of college, Lisa knew she wanted to work in farming and agriculture but wasn’t really sure in what capacity. Similarly, the College of Menominee Nation was beginning to introduce more agriculture, food-based work into their community programming but there wasn’t a clear consensus of what to focus on building. So she applied for an AmeriCorps VISTA position which would allow her to work with existing tribal community leaders and offices to develop community-driven local food projects. “Over my year of service, I helped revive the Tribe’s farmers market, coordinate the college’s garden, organize culturally appropriate cooking classes, secure funding for farm to school projects, and promote home gardening. My VISTA experience was essentially a crash course in farmers market management, local food coordination, and grant writing,” Lisa commented.
After her year at the College of Menominee Nation, she traveled around South America for a few months, then started applying for positions across the country. She found a posting for the Fresh Bucks Program Coordinator position at RAFI-USA, applied and was offered the job. “I was very excited to realize that my experience with the VISTA program almost perfectly prepared me for the responsibilities of the Program Coordinator,” she recalled. “The job was to support farmers markets in securing SNAP retailer certification, administer SNAP incentives at market, and promote the program in their communities. And I had just done that for the Tribe’s farmers market.”
Lisa enjoys her work with RAFI-USA and shared that she is never bored! “I’m always learning about new areas of our work. In a day I might get to jump from project management to budgeting to policy advocacy to data management. And I love that variety. But I especially love working with the other staff members at RAFI-USA; we’re all here because we believe in the work we’re doing.” After living and working in North Carolina for four years, Lisa relocated to the Midwest at the start of 2021 and continues to work remotely for RAFI-USA from Minneapolis, MN.
Continuing interests she discovered growing up, in her spare time Lisa continues to read a lot, try new recipes, and sing in community choirs. And then there’s her new blue heeler/border collie/corgi mix, Jenny, and Lisa loves hanging out and walking with her. “I suppose I have COVID to thank for my new interests in crocheting and backpacking. And now that I’m back in the Midwest I’ve joined a log rolling club again.”
**Since this article was published, Lisa was promoted and is now RAFI-USA’s Director of Farmer Outreach and Technical Assistance.