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Farm-to-Fork LIVE Event Series: Women on the Line

Sometimes I love my job. I always appreciate the work we do, but, let’s face it, some moments are more rewarding than others.

Women on the Line, Valley Vision’s second Farm to Fork Live event, was one of those very rewarding moments. On February 1st at the Milagro Centre in Fair Oaks, three women chefs and business owners, each in a different place in her career, had a candid conversation with an audience of about 75 people about what it is like to be a woman in the culinary world. The raw emotion and power in the room was palpable.

N’Gina Guyton, owner of South Restaurant; Bobbin Mulvaney, owner of Mulvaney’s B&L; and Casey Shideler, Executive Chef at Taylor’s Kitchen participated in this moving and informative panel that touched on a variety of topics regarding the challenges of being a woman in the culinary industry. Local TV personality Bethany Crouch facilitated this deeply personal, very “real” dialogue, leading the conversation through topics ranging from starting a business and a career in a male-dominated field, to gaining acceptance and recognition as a professional, to sexual assault and battles with mental health.*

This no-holds-barred conversation was filled with powerful anecdotal stories both shocking and humbling. N’Gina recounted being told motherhood, rather than expanding her successful food business, should be her focus. A bank loan officer inquired, “But who will be home to take care of your kids?” as he was denying her a loan. Bobbin reminisced about her struggles establishing her career while not only raising a young daughter and balancing her passion for business but in the face of several bouts with breast cancer. Casey recounted her complicated start and rise in the culinary world including facing gender stereotyping such as when an interviewer asked her marital status, and then followed up with,  “So is it safe to say you’re married to your job?”

Audience members sat nodding their heads, signaling that the types of experiences being shared happen across sectors.

But there was also hope and advice for women entering the field. Although panelists toiled to get by – from Bobbin, who spent years helping pay a mortgage from a box-lunch catering business to N’Gina, cooking on an electric stove in a closet to cater an event, and Casey, who found her way to an executive chef position after years of pushing through the ranks – women entering the field were told to be courageous, do whatever it takes, and not give up. More experienced women were told to encourage them.

“Being a good mentor is more the just telling mentees what we know,” said Bobbin Mulvaney, who mentors both high school culinary arts programs and culinary arts workforce training programs for formerly homeless women. “We need to support them where they are and be available to help our sisters when they ask for what they need when they need it.”

Having had the opportunity to be on both sides of the equation – having both received mentorship from some amazing women as well as having opportunities to provide mentorship to younger women – I appreciated Bobbin’s point about letting people grow at their own pace. As well, in this time of such incredible division in our society, it was moving and encouraging that each of these women was willing to share their experiences and hope so openly and freely. Thank you to each of them and to everyone who participated in the conversation.

*For more information about the work being led by the Mulvaneys and others to help address mental health issues among restaurant workers, Click Here. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Robyn Krock is a Valley Vision Project Leader managing food, agriculture, and broadband initiatives.

Project Associate Emma Koefoed also contributed to this blog post.