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Getting fresh: Kris Reid 

She's taking local food beyond farmers markets

If there is a local food crusade going on, then Kris Reid, 39, is Joan of Arc, albeit a more foul-mouthed version. If you haven't met the dark-haired, blue-eyed chef in person (believe me, you would know if you had), then take a look at local food projects in town. They likely have her fingerprints on it.

Since moving to Charlotte in 2006, Reid has been on a mission to create change in the local food system, a desire that grew from a personal place.

"After moving here from L.A., where there were farmers markets every day, I needed to find fresh food to feed my family," Reid says.

That single desire began Reid's journey to connect with local food producers and ignited her passion to bring fresh food to the Charlotte area.

From converting an unused greenhouse at Hope Haven to a living production facility housing 2,500 plants, to cooking 3,000 meals for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, to chairing the now defunct Charlotte Clean and Green Festival, Reid's involvement is, ahem, rooted deep.

"She's this perpetual motion machine," says Thom Duncan, board member of Slow Food USA and former leader of Slow Food Charlotte. "There is a relentlessness to her. She doesn't give a damn about what's standing in her way."

During business hours, Reid dons the hat of executive chef at Southminster Retirement Community in south Charlotte, where she has implemented significant changes to the institution's dining program since being hired in 2010.

At Southminster, she says, her goal is to provide the healthiest food she can within an institutional setting to the 380 aging residents. With that in mind, Reid created a 1,200-square-foot "Chef's Garden" during the summer of 2011 in partnership with Friendship Gardens, a nonprofit network of community gardens that grows food for Friendship Trays, the largest Meals on Wheels program in Mecklenburg County.

At first, the garden was met with some resistance. Reid knew that in order to incorporate fresh foods into the dining program, she had to somehow connect the residents to the memory of food that they grew up eating. Tomato season was the tipping point.

"Residents had forgotten the beauty and taste profile of a tomato," said Reid. "The current food system had numbed out their taste buds."

Reid found residents in the garden, eating tomatoes straight off the vine. Soon, residents were issuing "tomato reports" to keep her abreast on the latest garden developments, and they quickly began investing their time harvesting produce and helping to tend the plot.

To date, the garden at Southminster has donated more than 1,000 pounds of fresh produce to Friendship Trays. It has so reinvigorated excitement for fresh food at Southminster that now, Reid makes 10 percent of total monthly produce purchases from local farms.

Reid's work at Southminster earned her the award for LeadingAge North Carolina's Dining Service Award, which honors excellence in services to the elderly, last summer.

"In a world dominated by passionate people, her passion shines through," says Henry Owen, program director at Friendship Gardens. "She pushes the envelope and tries things that are really hard to do. When she succeeds, she recalibrates how things are done."

Last year, Reid became one of the founding members of the Piedmont Culinary Guild (PCG), a grass-roots cooperative for Charlotte chefs that aims to connect the culinary community to farmers, resources and educational opportunities. In the works for the guild is the "vinegar project," an idea for a new statewide industry that Reid is currently shopping around to chefs and winemakers in the region. For Reid, an idea always equals action.

Her involvement with the PCG earned her nomination as a local leader for the Chef's Collaborative, a national nonprofit network of chefs dedicated to sustainability in the food community.

The next project on the brunette dynamite's list? U.S. military bases.

John Day, program coordinator at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems at N.C. State University, recently approached Reid to assist with NC Growing Together, a USDA-funded project that, according to its website, aims "to bring more locally produced foods to mainstream markets." Reid will work with the military personnel at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville to create healthy food options by modifying existing menus in the dining facilities and identifying opportunities to bring in fresh, local food. Sound like a full-time job? It's not. This is what Reid does in her off time.

Specifically, she will serve the Wounded Warrior dining facility, where 500 to 800 wounded and ill service members come to eat their meals. She will create cooking demos to get people excited about fresh foods and will eventually be tasked with training the kitchen staff to provide palatable, enticing entrees.

If successful, this project will roll out to bases nationwide. Day claims he could not have picked a more perfect person for the challenge.

"I want to prove that local can be done on an institutional level," Reid says. She corrects herself: "No, local is going to happen on an institutional level."

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