YSFP co-founding director departs

Melina Shannon-DiPietro has handed out Sun Gold tomatoes on freshmen move-in day with University President Richard Levin, unloaded a farmers market truck with Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander, and fired up the Yale Farm’s wood-burning oven to show visiting dignitaries. But this November, she will leave the Elm City for the Big Apple.

Executive Director of the Yale Sustainable Food Project DiPietro will be stepping down, YSFP announced Monday. She will become director of food programs at Friends of the High Line, a non-profit that maintains a new public park in lower Manhattan, effective Nov. 1.

“It will be hard — enormously hard — to give up the Yale community and the one-acre [farm] where I’ve worked alongside students”, DiPietro said. “I like new challenges, particularly when those challenges are about building new programs and projects.”

One of the two founding directors of YSFP, DiPietro has helped lead the organization for seven years. During that time, the organization expanded operations at the Yale Farm, which was founded shortly before DiPietro arrived in 2003, and initiated academic and extra-curricular educational offerings about food and sustainability. YSFP also worked with Yale Dining from 2003 to 2008 to get sustainably-grown food into campus dining halls. The Yale program has served as a model for similar ventures at other colleges.

Levin said DiPietro “got Yale off to a great start” in the realm of sustainable food, and praised her enthusiasm and energy.

Ernst Huff, associate vice-president of student financial and administrative services, is leading the nationwide search for DiPietro’s replacement. In the interim, Huff said, members of YSFP will contine the organization’s day-to-day operations, and the future is stable.

“Thanks to [DiPietro’s] efforts, we’re all equipped with the tools to man the ship in her absence”, Jacqueline Lewin, the events and outreach coordinator for YSFP, said.

DiPietro said that in her time at the helm, the organization has been able to “get its house in order,” and work both locally — encouraging New Haven Public Schools to serve sustainable foods — and nationally — collaborating with Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack on projects including the “People’s Garden Initiative,” which establishes community gardens.

When asked about her decision to move to Friends of the High Line, DiPietro said she was moving for the same reasons that she initially came to YSFP.

“Both groups connect individuals to the environment and their community through an extraordinary outdoor space, thoughtfully curated programs, and an appreciation of the land,” she said.

Staff and students praised DiPietro for her significant impact on Yale’s campus and around the country, and her foundational role within YSFP.

Peter Beck ’12, a student farm manager at the Yale Farm, said he can trace virtually all of the YSFP initiatives he can think of back to DiPietro and her fellow founding director, Joshua Viertel. Viertel left YSFP in 2008 and is now the president of the American branch of Slow Food, an international sustainable food movement.

Huff said DiPietro and Viertel’s program is one of the most successful of its kind.

“She did her work in a manner that was always charged with intellect and sincerity,” he said.

Students said they saw the changeover as an opportunity to build upon DiPietro’s work. Laura Blake ’12, another student farm manager, said that while it will be sad to bid farewell to DiPietro after all the energy and time she has given to the project, this is an exciting time for YSFP.

“This is a chance for this organization to look at itself and redefine what it wants to be, in terms of finding a new place within the University,” Blake said.

A farewell party for DiPietro will be held in the President’s Room on Nov. 17.

Comments