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‘Leading from the side of the room’: Local foods crusader remembered

July 23, 2014
Sandra Streed

Sandra Streed

Her colleagues at NIU’s Center for Governmental Studies knew that Sandra Streed had a lot of connections, but they didn’t fully recognize Streed’s stature in Chicago-area social justice movements until after her unexpected death last month.

“Sandra was so modest, she never told us the extent of her involvement or the circles she ran in,” said CGS Director Diana Robinson. “After her passing, we learned about things such as the overseas economic development trips she took with (former Chicago) Mayor Daley and the key role she played in creating the successful health sciences incubator iBio. She was an integral part of many very high-profile projects, but she always downplayed her own involvement.”

Streed’s NIU colleagues and her many admirers from throughout the region will honor her legacy at noon on August 6  when they dedicate a memorial to her in the Communiversity Gardens east of Anderson Hall at 200 Garden Road. All community members are welcome.

Sandra Streed’s career path took many turns, but at the heart of her work was a strong belief in creating partnerships to improve lives.

She spent seven years as the executive director of the Chicago Economic Development Commission, where she won multi-million dollar grants, created award-winning promotional videos, and spearheaded statewide efforts to develop Illinois’ biotechnology sector.

Later, she spent nearly a decade at the helm of the Illinois Center for Food Safety and Technology at IIT, helping Illinois food producers develop business plans and global markets.

At NIU, Streed found the perfect venue for her work, as the Center for Governmental Studies had recently added a food policy specialization to its portfolio. She quickly became the go-to researcher on a host of food-related topics, helping construct a comprehensive food security assessment for suburban Cook County and gathering a who’s who of Midwestern food experts for a large summit last fall in Woodstock.

Throughout her career, Streed made the connection between community well-being and access to healthy food.  She became a pillar of the local food movement in the state, and came to NIU with a huge portfolio of connections, memberships, and knowledge on the subject.

“Sandra taught me how to institutionalize the food movement and move it forward,” recalled Pat Inman, a fellow CGS researcher and food expert.  “She took it beyond the farmer’s market to distribution systems – she was the one person who could credibly tie the food movement to economic development.”

Streed’s standing in the local foods arena put her on the board of the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences and earned her gubernatorial appointments to such groups as the Illinois Local Food, Farms and Jobs Council, the Governor’s Farmers Market Task Force, and the Governor’s State Business Advisory Board.

She also served on the Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research, the Illinois Food Systems Policy Council, the Illinois Bioterrorism Task Force, and the Governor’s Agricultural Export Advisory Board.

Communiversity Gardens

NIU Communiversity Gardens dedication and planting ceremony

At NIU, Streed focused her research on local food systems, helping support initiatives such as the DeKalb County Community Gardens (DCCG) and the NIU Communiversity Gardens.

DCCG Director Dan Kenney says Streed’s passing has left “a huge void.”

“Sandra was so passionate about the movement and so helpful in terms of making the connections we need to grow the program and make it sustainable,” Kenney said. “She was very helpful in identifying grant opportunities, and in helping to get more locally-produced foods into area schools and into the NIU residence halls.  She really helped local growers, and she was using her connections to help establish a regional food hub in DeKalb,” he added.

“She was really inspiring,” said NIU student Rachel McBride. “It wasn’t just that she was well-connected, but that she shared those connections so freely with all of us.  It’s like she wanted to make sure that the movement would carry on.”

Sarah Shoblaske of Chicago’s Shared Lands agroecological collaborative said Streed’s ability to “build bridges across territories” was a unique gift that strengthened every project she undertook.

“Sandra had a photographic memory, and she had nearly total recall of every conversation she had,” Shoblaske said. “She would go to a conference and come back with a huge stack of business cards and could go through them and tell you something about every person and how they might be helpful in our work.

NIU's Sandra Streed (first row, far left) was among the 14 1st Farm Credit Services grant recipients for her work on the Local Food Planning and Technical Assistance program.

NIU’s Sandra Streed (first row, far left) was among the 14 1st Farm Credit Services grant recipients for her work on the Local Food Planning and Technical Assistance program (1st Farm Credit Services photo).

“Sandra was a woman of profound character, selfless and down-to-earth.  She was a remarkable pollinator who fertilized good ideas and nurtured fledgling projects. She was part investigative scientist and part storyteller, and an expert at gently getting people on the same page.  That was how she chose to lead:  from the side of the room.”

Streed’s work will continue at CGS and in the local community, with interest in local foods and sustainability at an all-time high. It will also continue in the form of a grant Streed had just received from 1st Farm Credit Services to establish and support the Local Food Planning and Technical Assistance program.

Streed’s colleagues Diana Robinson and Pat Inman have edited a new book on community engagement for which Streed authored a chapter titled “Sustainable local food systems and environmental sustainability.” When it is published this fall, the book will be dedicated to Streed.

If you go:
Sandra Streed Memorial
Noon, Wednesday, August 6
NIU Communiversity Gardens, east of Anderson Hall, 200 Garden Rd., DeKalb