Interview with Wen-Jay Ying, Founder and Program Director, Local Roots NYC

by Cameron St. Germain

Wen-Jay Ying, Founder and Program Director, Local Roots NYC

Wen-Jay Ying is the founder and director of Local Roots NYC which empowers New Yorkers to be home chefs by offering high quality, local and sustainably grown produce through a network of vibrant markets at bars, cafes, and offices. She was awarded Entrepreneur of the Year by Former Mayor Bloomberg and named NY1’s New Yorker of The Week. Ying is an alumni of The Good Work Institute and speaks at the International Culinary Center Farm to Table School on local agriculture.  She was a special guest invited to attend the 50th year anniversary UN Global Goals Gala due to her work in the field of sustainability and agriculture.

Where you grew up: Garden City, Long Island

Where you live now: Cobble Hill, Brooklyn

Background and education: Psychology major, Boston University Americorps Vista, Just Food Orchard liaison, farmers market, curated first fruit only CSA in NY, Red Jacket Orchards I initially moved to NYC to launch a career in the fashion industry but quickly decided it wasn’t a right fit for me. I’ve always wanted to work to help others and was thinking about moving to New Orleans to help the city recover from the hurricane. I had the amazing opportunity to dance onstage and hang out with the Flaming Lips at one of their shows and after a conversation with their lead singer, Wayne Coyne, he reminded me that sometimes the biggest impact we can have is by supporting our direct community. I felt inspired to stay in NYC and ended up dedicating a year to building resources from CSA groups at Just Food. When I decided to start Local Roots NYC, I took my experience playing in bands in the diy music scene and applied it to bootstrapping my business. I embraced starting something from nothing, disregarding feelings of vulnerability, and finding ways to achieve a goal regardless of what was provided to me. 6 years later, I’m still feeling gratitude for the work I’m able to do and love learning each and every day about myself, how to run a business, how to support farmers, and and how to connect New Yorkers with a food culture.

Food policy/food as medicine hero: Our local farmers and producers that stay true to values of sustainability and high quality as well as New Yorkers who embrace this hard work and feel excited to cook at home with the bounties of our region’s growers.

One word to describe our food system: Potential

One word to describe our healthcare system: Misdirected

Your favorite food: Anything local

Your breakfast this morning: Bulgar wheat with roasted veggies

Your last meal on earth: Something my mom makes using Local Roots produce, simply out of nostalgic and emotional reasons

Must-have healing food/ingredient: Ginger

Food policy, health, food as medicine book, website(s) social media/blog must-follow/read: Wendell Berry anything

Your elevator pitch for food as medicine? Food nourishes our land, our bodies, and our culture since food is directly related to all things. Good food will heal us. Bad food will break us

Which widespread nutritional misconceptions worry you the most? When people purchase food mindlessly based on labels of “natural”, “local, and “organic” because there is so much marketing and confusion around such labels

What do you see as the next step for food as medicine? We must acknowledge that the integrity of the produce we eat plays a huge part in the ways food nourishes us. The soil health that a vegetable grows in relates to our own health. The less time our veggies travel, the higher nutritional content it has; it also means it’s more packed with flavor so we’re more likely to want to eat it. I also think the next step for food as medicine must involve cooking at home and sharing meals around a dinner table. Food can nourish us not just nutritionally but also culturally. Let us celebrate each other and our stories while sitting around a dinner table or sharing recipes in the kitchen.

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