Oran Hesterman describes his lifelong passion as ”helping us collectively feed ourselves in harmony with the Earth.” Today, as Program Director for Food Systems and Rural Development at the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Oran is able to focus on his passion.
Oran leads the foundation’s Food and Society Initiative, finding ways to provide society access to a safe, healthy food supply, grown in a way that protects the environment and adds economic and social value to communities. Oran points to three milestones that have resulted from the initiative.
First is increased awareness. ”When we first started this work at the Kellogg Foundation, the word ’sustainable’ was barely being used,” he explains. ”It’s now a topic at the heart of any conversation with leaders in the food industry, academia, or the public policy realm,” he says.
Second is evidence of shifts in public policy. ”We’re very proud that organizations we’ve been supporting worked to help create public policy that doubled the amount of funding going to conservation practices in agriculture,” he says.
Third are the changes in public consciousness. ”We’ve seen a rise in the expansion of consciousness on the part of the consuming public concerning where their food is coming from.” says Oran. ”People are more aware that every dollar they spend on food is a vote for the kind of system that produced it.” As a result, ”the sales of organic food continue to go up 20 percent a year, stores such as Whole Foods are successful, and farmer’s markets have expanded twofold in recent years.”
Apart from these quantifiable measures of success, Oran is encouraged by the relationships he sees building among people of diverse backgrounds and ideologies. One of the most important parts of his work, he asserts, is ”expanding my ability to create and maintain quality relationships with people, especially people that look at the world differently than I do.”
To become an effective leader, he says, ”we have to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations where people don’t agree with each other. Leadership is about putting ourselves in the middle of that in a way that encourages people to listen to each other and learn from each other, not shut each other down.”
Oran credits his Kellogg Fellowship with broadening his perspective about how to bring about change. ”The fellowship helped me see I could have a broader role, and helped me become more powerfully aligned with my passion and purpose.” During his fellowship, he taught in the Crop and Soil Sciences Department at Michigan State University. ”I started approaching my work differently at the university, he explains. ”By the time I finished my fellowship, I was doing leadership development at the university, focusing on helping a group of Michigan farmers to create a leadership cadre and ultimately form a new organization dedicated to agricultural sustainability.”
He also credits the fellowship with bringing about another positive change in his life, ”I married a fellow in my class, Linda Kurtz,” says Oran. [1-05]