Dara Olmsted is the current coordinator of the Food Literacy Project at Harvard. She graduated from Harvard in 2000 with a degree in anthropology and subsequently earned a masters in urban and environmental policy & planning from Tufts. She started her tenure at the beginning of the current school year.
How did you get to know about this position?
I went to a lot of FLP events in its first few years— movies, screenings, lecutures, cooking classes, farmers markets, and I met both of the previous coordinators. I even entered the Iron Chef challenge last year as a student and won for my house (I was an RA for the house and lived there).
What are your responsibilities?
I manage the student coordinators and meet with them all at least twice a month to see what they’re doing. Generally, they have a lot of leeway to do what they want. Most of what I do is making sure they tell the right people, order enough in advance and not wait until the last minute. I also send an e-mail about all the food events to up to a thousand students each week, so I need to know about their events. Basically, I just want to make sure they’ve thought through the process.
Are they realistic, usually?
Usually. They’ve seen the kinds of events we’ve done before. Some of the freshmen might have ideas that may be a little more difficult to pull off or out of our price range. Also, I have to make sure they don’t have too many events involving chocolate (laughs), which is quite popular. We want to make sure that there is a variety in terms of different kinds of events.
How do you make sure of that?
Well, they share their ideas on our internal communication site. They tell each other what they did, how it went, things they would improve and that lets us leverage our resources and time so that we don’t have too many people planning wildly separate events or making the same mistakes over and over. A good example was a Make Your Own Chai event that one of our reps came up with last fall. It was really popular, so I ended up buying ingredients in bulk and putting together kits all the reps could use to set up their own chai events more easily. Now, we’re doing a bunch of them and people really like it.
What other ideas have they come up with?
Last fall, one did a sushi event using brunch items like lox and cream cheese. She also took some savory and sweet quesadilla recipes we got while touring a cranberry facility last October and set up a make-your-own quesadilla bar with cranberries. There was also a Finnish cooking class in one of the dorms. Some did a spring roll study break last week, while another did a bubble tea and dumplings event for the lunar new year.
What do you look for in the student reps you hire?
I do try to look for diversity. I want them to have different interests, so that they’re not all just into cooking classes, for example.