A heartfelt thank you from Executive Director, Dru Montri, as she prepares to leave MIFMA for a new role

November 29, 2017

For those who want the full story, please read on. For those who like to skim, please scroll to the bottom for the succinct version.

Dear MIFMA members, partners, colleagues, friends and family,
During this time of year, I always try to carve out some time and space for gratitude. It’s not always easy to do in these hectic lives we navigate, in the nonprofit world of deliverables and reporting, and in the fall when farming and 50-degree temps in late November mean you are prioritizing getting leeks out of the ground over a cozy and quiet day with family and friends. Nevertheless, I have so much to be thankful for and I really want to share that with all of you.

I remember the early months of 2006 so vividly. Adam and I love traveling, seeing the world, meeting new people, eating and learning. We had just finished our Master’s programs at Penn State and were eager to visit farms across the country before we made our way back to Michigan – to our families so we could start our family and our farm. Getting my Ph.D. was always a part of the plan. Starting the Michigan Farmers Market Association at the same time wasn’t. In a lot of ways, the opportunity was a lot like one of the recent job postings that found its way into my inbox. The position description was written for me.

I sent in my MIFMA application shortly after attending a walnut grafting workshop in California on my 25th birthday. We were working on a small-scale vineyard at the time. I interviewed for the position a few weeks later while we were in Seattle. The night before my interview we upgraded from tent to a beautiful hotel room overlooking the Puget Sound courtesy of Adam’s parents who have from day one invested in helping us pursue our dreams. We were in Victoria, British Columbia, the day I answered a call from Scott Corrin asking me to lead the development of a Michigan Farmers Market Association. We crossed the country in a week filled with firsts that set the stage for a decade of firsts with MIFMA. It was the first time we had our car completely unloaded and searched by Canadian border control. It was the first time I saw (not in a zoo setting) a moose and a grizzly – thank you Glacier National Park! It was the first time I saw 100,000 miles on my odometer.

I started working for the Michigan Farmers Market Association on June 15, 2006. I was young, naïve, ambitious and loved a challenge (still do). I had fallen in love with farmers markets, especially Eastern Market in Detroit, at a young age. I loved the vibrancy, the way a market could come to life as the sun rose, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the plants. I believed that I could make a difference – that I could help make this growing sector stronger.
We are stronger… but not because of me, because of us. So, today, let me say thank you.

Thank you for teaching me that it takes hard work. That work ethic was raised into me. My parents were young when I came into this world. My dad is a butcher that works from sunup to sundown (and beyond) most days. He taught me to cut wood, how to use a tow strap, how to package liver sets and then how to make boxes (the butcher life wasn’t my calling – thank goodness it was to both my brothers!), to just get it done, and that attitude reflects leadership (which just also happens to be a football lesson from Remember the Titans). My mom is a mom of four plus really anyone else who needs a mom or listening ear. She taught me how to read, how to be silly (not always natural for me), how to love with the deepest part of me, how to plant and care for flowers (oh, if you could see her flowers!). She also taught me to take a more-the-merrier approach to life and most importantly, that I could be whatever I wanted to be. I knew that it would take hard work. I’ve never been put off by waking up early, staying up late, and taking on more than is reasonably possible. Starting a Michigan Farmers Market Association took all of that and the best part was that I was working side by side with farmers, entrepreneurs, small business owners and visionary market managers who were up for the same thing. No one said this was going to be easy. Let’s not coat it with Michigan sugar and say it was. Thank you for teaching me that it takes hard work!

Thank you for teaching me that our mission is our map. It’s one of those things that’s written in most “How to start a nonprofit” guides. We have the broadest mission – to advance farmers markets to create a thriving marketplace for local food and farm products. Those of you who know me well, know that my creative mind can easily justify any possible project under that mission. I love to say yes and dream up great new programs, policies, and partnerships. Then, in 2010 you reined me in. Our leadership and members asked us, “What’s the plan? What’s our strategy? How are we going to get there? When are we going to say no?” Say no? And, then, just like that we embarked on a collaborative effort to prioritize and to strategize. We hugged our mission tightly, we listened to our members, and we started strategic planning. That gave us focus. We tackled professional development and providing educational opportunities for market managers. We developed the first-in-the-country Market Manager Certificate Program. We started a formal mentorship program. We followed with continuing education opportunities. We invested in increasing access to fresh healthy foods through farmers markets. Every single year, we’ve grown the number of farmers markets accepting federal food assistance benefits and the number of innovative programs we pilot in farmers market settings. We prioritized building strong organizational capacity so that we could serve our members, build new partnerships, and sustain transitions. I hear our national partners say that MIFMA may be one of the youngest, but is also one of the most mature farmers market associations in the country. We stayed focused and grew quickly. Thank you for teaching me that our mission is our map!

Thank you for teaching me about the power of partnerships and that leadership and teamwork go hand in hand. I have met so many wonderful people through this position. People who have great ideas and developing ideas and new ideas. One thing I am now certain about is that our ideas are better together. I’ve learned to listen, to understand a wide variety of perspectives, and how to find ways to work towards shared values and common goals while respecting differences. Diversity and unity coexist. This is one of our MIFMA core values and it is a personal value that has gained strength from being able to reside in an organization with others who recognize we shall not allow our differences to divide us. Thank you for teaching me about the power of partnership!

I am grateful for the opportunity I have had to serve as the Michigan Farmers Market Association’s (MIFMA) Executive Director for the last 11 ½ years. Thank you for these lessons, for your partnership and encouragement as we’ve built one of the strongest farmers markets associations in the country. Our organizational capacity, financial health, and staff capability are the strongest they have ever been and because of that, I have had the space to reflect on not only what is next for MIFMA, but what is next for me. I have loved my work with MIFMA and am proud that the organization is in a position to thrive beyond my executive leadership. After months of reflection and deliberation, I know that the time is right for change. I will be leaving my Executive Director position here at MIFMA effective December 31, 2017, to take on the new role of Director of Governmental Affairs and Stakeholder Relations for Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), MSU ExtensionAgBioResearch and the College of Veterinary Medicine. The formal announcement will be coming from MSU CANR Dean Ron Hendrick on December 1, but I wanted you to hear it from me first.

I’m excited for the opportunity to build on the skillset I’ve developed here at MIFMA, to maintain the strong relationships I’ve built across the food system, and to challenge myself with new initiatives for a university and industries that I am so passionately committed to. I have plans to stay involved with MIFMA as its first-lifetime member, a committee member, and an advisor. Please stay engaged. Your support is needed and your continued commitment will ensure MIFMA thrives under new leadership. This is not a goodbye for me, but a hello to a new role and a new way to advocate for this association that will forever have a part of me.

So, what are our next steps? Amanda Shreve, our Program Director, will step up in an obvious and natural progression to an Interim Executive Director role effective January 1, 2018. Nine years ago, Amanda joined our team. She was charged with providing support to farmers markets accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and leading the expansion of food assistance programs at farmers markets. We had made great progress up to that point (from 3 to 30 markets accepting SNAP) and we needed someone with leadership skills, ambition, and the ability to learn a system, navigate it and help change it for the better. We found that in Amanda! Now, there are 157 Michigan farmers markets that accept SNAP and tremendous resources to support that continued growth. Plus, so many other advances in our work to ensure access to fresh healthy foods through farmers markets.

Amanda has been instrumental in supporting MIFMA as we have grown and developed. She is involved in every single one of our programs. She has helped build the curriculum for our educational programs and supported their expansion both in and out-of-state, she works with partners and our members, she provides oversight and manages the Farmers Market at the Capitol, she advocates for us, she is a listening ear and a good advisor to our entire team. MIFMA would not be where it is today without her commitment, hard work and reason.

At the same time, our Board leadership including Julie Darnton, our President, and Mike Finegan, Vice President, and Search Committee Chair, will lead the process for posting the position and hiring a great new leader. More information coming very soon. Thank you for your support during this time of transition and for all you do to advance farmers markets to create a thriving marketplace for local food and farm products!

With much love and all of my best wishes,

Dru Montri


The Nutshell Version:

I am grateful for the opportunity I have had to serve as the Michigan Farmers Market Association’s (MIFMA) Executive Director for the last 11 ½ years. Thank you for your partnership and encouragement as we’ve built one of the strongest farmers markets associations in the country. Our organizational capacity, financial health, and staff capability are the strongest it has ever been and because of that, I have had the space to reflect on not only what is next for MIFMA, but what is next for me. After months of reflection and deliberation, I know that the time is right for change. I will be leaving my Executive Director position here at MIFMA effective December 31, 2017, to take on the new role of Director of Governmental Affairs and Stakeholder Relations for Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture and Natural ResourcesMSU ExtensionAgBioResearch and the College of Veterinary Medicine. The formal announcement will be coming from MSU CANR Dean Ron Hendrick on December 1.

I’m excited for the opportunity to build on the skillset I’ve developed here at MIFMA, to maintain the strong relationships I’ve built across the food system, and to challenge myself with new initiatives for a university and industries that I am so passionately committed to. I have plans to stay involved with MIFMA as its first-lifetime member, a committee member, and an advisor. Please stay engaged. Your support is needed and your continued commitment will ensure MIFMA thrives under new leadership. This is not a goodbye for me, but a hello to a new role and a new way to advocate for this association that will forever have a part of me.

So, what are our next steps? Amanda Shreve, our Program Director, will step up in an obvious and natural progression to an Interim Executive Director role effective January 1, 2018. Our Board leadership including Julie Darnton, our President, and Mike Finegan, Vice President, and Search Committee Chair, will lead the process for posting the position and hiring a great new leader. Thank you for your support during this time of transition and for all you do to advance farmers markets to create a thriving marketplace for local food and farm products!