Aubrey Martinez, executive director of new local nonprofit Eat Greater Des Moines, has made a career out of connecting business with wellness. Martinez started her career with Principal Financial Group Inc. in the company’s wellness department. She then worked as a strategist with ITAGroup Inc. and the Health and Wellness Institute, where she worked with Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield and the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation to provide health coaching to clients. Martinez has taught health and wellness courses at Grand View University and was a loaned executive for United Way of Central Iowa, which led to her current role heading Eat Greater Des Moines. Although the organization is in its infancy, its goal is to be a connecting point and resource for all spokes of the local food system, ensuring that everyone in the Metro has access to healthful local food.

Describe Eat Greater Des Moines.

Eat Greater Des Moines is dedicated to connecting available resources with the broader community in order to support the entire food life cycle in Iowa, focusing on Central Iowa. For the past six months, we have been reaching out to those working in each sector of the local food system – growers, production, distribution, transformation, food access and consumption, and waste. We talk to those doing the work to learn their thoughts on what is going well, where they want to be in the next few years, and any gaps or barriers that are preventing them from achieving. Our role is to bring together producers who have figured out how to grow an edible product and a sustainable business; leaders who bring together volunteers to have a garden that produces food for their school or community; and nonprofits that have worked out systems with businesses to divert food that would have gone to the landfill to those needing a meal. We don’t do the work for them. We are the connection point.

Who is backing it?

Eat Greater Des Moines is funded by the Des Moines Area Religious Council, United Way of Central Iowa and a Hormel Foods Healthy Communities grant. We are currently housed within DMARC. 

What ultimately made you decide to do this?

I have the ability here to either have a great impact or fail miserably - it depends on how well we can articulate our impact. When people would talk about a dream job, I couldn’t nail down what that would be for me until now. There is no road map for “how” we need to be doing our work and what success ultimately looks like (for now). While that can be scary, it is also incredibly exciting and motivating. 

What’s a typical day like in this role?

During a day, I could be meeting with a group of volunteers at a church interested in stopping child hunger, produce managers from a grocery store interested in buying local produce and donating their excess produce to a food pantry, or collaborating with other nonprofits.

What have you accomplished so far with Eat Greater Des Moines?

We have already started connecting groups. We’ve collaborated with Des Moines Area Community College to offer two trainings for food producers, organized a teacher in-service training on how to incorporate gardens and healthy food into the curriculum and are working with the Iowa Food Cooperative to host a chef-producer “speed dating” event. We also received a capacity-building grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines to start strategic planning.

Why is this something the Des Moines business community should be interested in?

A strong, diverse food system leads to continued success and growth within our community. Everyone is involved in our food system – everyone eats. Consumer demand for local food continues to rise. By making it easier for everyone to make choices that support local growers who supply meat, produce and other products to buyers within the market, the economic benefits spread throughout the community.  

What are the next steps?

We are working through strategic planning with the State Public Policy Group. This allows us to take what we’ve learned and work through this process with stakeholders from each sector of the food system to yield plans for strong governance, infrastructure and concrete organizational goals to ensure impact and longevity.