Dr. Dara Bloom – Local Foods Extension Specialist on the Move
Associate professor, director, extension specialist, and mentor are just a few of the many titles that Dr. Dara Bloom holds. Each one of them with years of learning and experience. In her expertise, Dr. Bloom serves as an associate professor and the local foods extension specialist at NC State. Outside of the campus scene, she is also the assistant director of Community-Based Food Systems for the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS).
Dr. Bloom currently teaches AEHS 590 – Introduction to Food Systems and Local Food. Though serving as a full-time extension agent doesn’t allow time for teaching many classes, Dr. Bloom is a prestigious teacher and thoroughly enjoys her time in the classroom. She also directs the Extension Master Food Volunteer (EMFV) program, which is designed to train volunteers to support family and consumer science (FCS) agents with their food-based programming. While working with CEFS, she provides guidance and coordination among the food systems’ initiatives. Her work has been most closely involved with the Farm to Institution programming, specifically Farm to Early Care and Education.
A well-traveled resume accompanies Dr. Bloom, as she has spent many years learning, researching, and studying across North America. While in college, she had internships in Philadelphia and on the Cheyenne River Lakota Sioux Reservation that focused on community gardening. After graduation, she moved to Nogales, Mexico where she interned with Borderlinks and continued her community gardening work. She then moved to Vancouver, Canada, where she worked on an organic farm and at a local farmers market, before moving back to Mexico to run a rotisserie chicken restaurant and worked as a freelance translator. After Dr. Bloom made the decision to attend graduate school, she moved back to the US, earning both her master’s and Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University’s rural sociology program.
Dr. Bloom owes much of her current career success to her fellow coworker and friend, Dr. Michael Schulman. During her last year of graduate school, she met Schulman through their involvement with the Rural Sociological Society (RSS). After a faculty position was created at NC State to work at the intersection of local food and public health, Dr. Schulman sent it to Dr. Bloom and encouraged her to apply. Although she was hesitant to apply, he assured her that she would be a good fit for the program. When she came down for the interview, she “could tell there was a lot of movement around local food and agriculture in the state.” It was a dream come true – not many people get their dream job right out of graduate school! Dr. Bloom says she is ever grateful to Dr. Schulman and others in the department for their support and faith in her.
With a focus on local food supply chains and the movement of food from farm-to-fork, she looks for ways to do this while benefiting farmers and also improving community food security. Much of her research is around piloting, evaluating, and disseminating innovative models to address complex food system issues. Her research and work through CEFS goes hand-in-hand with her extension work. “I’ve worked closely with CEFS’ Farm to Early Care and Education program, conducting research on how to create a successful market for local farmers while also working within the constraints of the child care sector, and translating these findings into Extension outputs.”
During her time of community development work, Dr. Bloom found that she enjoyed working directly with people, but felt frustrated because so many issues were systemic, and she wasn’t able to address them at the grassroots. During graduate school, Dr. Bloom was intrigued with learning about systems and structures that create inequities in the food system, but she missed working with communities. She soon found a solution to her problem of wanting to work directly with people and solve systemic issues at the grassroots when she started this position! It allows her to have the best of both worlds, working with communities through extension programming, but retaining the ability to educate about the food system and inform policies as a researcher. Dr. Bloom’s take on the CALS and AHS department is “I now have a home and a family here, and I feel grateful to CALS and AHS for opening the door for me to this new chapter in my life.”
One of Dr. Bloom’s most recent projects is the NC EMFV Program. The program manager, Morgan Marshall, has recently launched a new program called Donation Stations. Through this program, volunteers set up a table at a farmers market and accept donations of both cash and food, and then use the money in the market to purchase more food, all of which is donated to a local emergency feeding organization. Seven agents participated in the first year of the program, collecting 4,459 pounds of food for donation, and there are 10 more agents signed up for next year. Dr. Bloom and her colleagues are excited to see the program expand!
For students seeking employment in the FCS field, Dr. Bloom advises students that it’s okay to not know what you want to do as soon as you graduate. You might not find or know what your perfect job is right away, but you can start somewhere. She says to “build relationships, keep exploring options, and be open to all the opportunities that are out there. I definitely followed a circuitous path and never could have imagined ending up where I am, so I encourage others to trust that their path will unfold, and take the time they need to figure that out.”