Leandra’s Story
Leandra Forman

Leandra’s Story

Leandra's Story

Leandra Forman ’14 rescues squash. Squash that might otherwise go to waste. Forman, operations manager at Lexington-based Food Chain, works not only to redistribute the food into communities with food insecurity, but also to teach the community how to prepare it.

In 2017, Food Chain opened a teaching and processing kitchen that uses “second produce,” or excess produce food growers may be tempted to throw away. Much of this second produce comes in the form of different types of squash. They may receive thousands of pounds of butternut squash, for example.

“We rescue the produce from the farms and redistribute to feeding agencies and food pantries,” said Forman. “These agencies are volunteer-run and don’t have the space or capacity to process it. We process it, peel it, roast it, dice it, blanch it, freeze or dry it. In the wintertime, we redistribute throughout the food system so that the food insecure population is still able to get fresh, beautiful, local produce.”

The organization also provides paid food-sector job training to unemployed and underemployed residents, which has them learning knife skills, food safety, team building, timeliness and accountability, along with food-handling permits.

“If you’re trying to tackle food insecurity,” she said, “just giving people free food doesn’t address the causes of food insecurity. How do we connect fresh produce, education and demonstration so people know what to do with an eggplant?”

Forman’s journey began after high school, when she followed her father’s footsteps into Lexington’s fine-dining industry. Each Wednesday, she and the chef she worked with walked to the farmer’s market to acquire produce for the restaurant.

“I learned how restaurants and farms can work together to make these really amazing products,” Forman said.

After working in Lexington for a while, Forman sojourned to Seattle, where she joined a chef-owned restaurant to continue her culinary skill development. The chef there emphasized reducing food waste and taking care of people with low incomes.

“He cared about the staff in ways I hadn’t seen in other places. He made sure there was a family meal for every employee, front of the house and back. He kept everyone fed.”

This generosity was part of the chef’s waste-management program, redistributing leftover food from parties and banquets. “The family meal was a great way of not wasting food.”

Her father’s health issues led Forman back to working in Lexington’s fine-dining industry, where she realized there was a problem unique to the industry. The farmers the kitchen staff worked with could not afford to eat at the restaurant they supplied. This healthy, high-quality food wasn’t available to people with low incomes.

“That was a big driver for my going to Berea,” she said. “I grew up with a low-income, single mother. I grew up on food stamps and receiving food boxes from the Salvation Army. I knew there were so many pieces of our food system that were not working. Dealing with those issues was what I wanted to be doing.”

When it came to her labor position at Berea College, Forman went straight to the Berea College Farm. She knew the food industry from a culinary standpoint. Now she wanted to understand it from the agricultural side.

“I worked every single aspect of the Berea College Farm. I worked on the horticulture and certified organic crops. I worked with hogs, cattle and tractors, and I worked in the market, doing value-added processing and selling.”

Alongside her work on the farm, Forman majored in agriculture and natural resources with a focus on sustainable technology.

“Berea was the one place I found so many people who shared those values I developed at a young age. I traveled a lot, and it was rare to find people who truly believed in looking at how their actions affect others and finding ways to decrease negative effects on the world. I met so many friends at Berea who shared those values, creating good wherever you go and living healthy in a way that acknowledges that my health is dependent on the health of others.”

Forman took these values and her love of food to work with her at Food Chain, where she began as the aquaponics farm manager, raising tilapia and fresh greens and educating the community. As operations manager, Forman develops workshops for educators to take curriculum back to their schools for starting their own educational gardens.

In addition to this important work, Forman provides internships for Berea College students to help them develop skills to deal with food insecurity by creating sustainable food systems. And because of the unique way Berea teaches its students, these interns bring something special to Food Chain as well.

“Our Berea College interns are always above and beyond,” Forman said. “The labor program unifies them with what they’re studying.”