Susan Topping is the Senior Director of Food, Policy, and Impact at the Capital Area Food Bank. She joined the Food Council in January 2019, and works closely with our Food Recovery and Access Working Group.
Susan became involved with our local food system when in college, after a representative came to her school to recruit recent graduates to come to DC and create more environmentally friendly systems at a soup kitchen called the Brethren Nutrition Program. Upon arriving to participate in the program, Susan found that they really just needed someone to make the soup! She had a number of life changing interactions and developed relationships with the folks who came in to enjoy a meal and conversation. Susan says, “The violence of living in poverty, as well as the simple acts of love shown from people being people was extraordinary. Through all of this, I still wanted to find a way to incorporate simple living conservation into the food system, increasing health and decreasing waste.”
This experience encouraged Susan to seek career opportunities that would combine the worlds of environmentalism and social justice through food and relationships. After working for a few nonprofits, on farms, for the American Oceans Campaign (now Oceana) in Washington DC, and another food bank in Pennsylvania, Susan began working at Community Harvest. Her role involved working with an onsite farmer to host educational classes and workshops at St. Elizabeth’s campus in Southeast Washington DC. A few years later, she started working at the Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB), running the Anacostia Farmers Market. Today, as the Senior Director of Food, Policy, and Impact, Susan leads the CAFB’s pilot programs that match food with other critical services such as healthcare, workforce development and education. She works closely with the Nutrition Education, Service Insights and Advocacy Teams.
When asked what the greatest benefits and challenges of her job are, Susan said, “I feel so lucky to feel surrounded in my work by terribly impressive people – working with a huge network of organizations that are often run on a shoestring, yet the sky is the limit, due to their ability, relationships, dedication, and seemingly limitless generosity. Working with community leaders that demonstrate the best in humanity is a gift each day.
Certainly challenges abound. The demand for healthy food is great and finding sustainable sources of healthy foods are critical to being able to ensure good nutrition gets to where it is needed most. Also, making sure that our large and diverse community feels safe coming to get the help they need when they need it is critical to our community’s well being.”
Susan’s biggest hope for improving the food system would be for all individuals to be able to shop for healthy options at all grocery stores and farmers markets using their SNAP funds. This would save on time, transportation, money and allow people to spend more time on their work and family rather than going from place to place trying to ensure they have enough food to meet their basic needs. Additionally, she hopes that healthcare settings and healthcare providers will work towards making the relationship between food choices and health impacts more explicit through facilitating easy access to nutrition counseling and healthy groceries on-site.
We are fortunate to learn from Susan’s experiences, expertise, and insights, and we thank her for her ongoing contributions to our work.