At the Heart of CFI: Mary Nally

MSES alumnus driving force behind Athens non-profit

Melanie Rudolf
January 15, 2016


This article originally appeared in College Green Magazine.  Read the article in its original form with pictures included here. 

With the holidays right around the corner, delicious home cooked food is on everyone’s mind. Healthy, local food is something everyone should have access to. This is the driving message behind the Athens non-profit Community Food Initiatives (CFI). Mary Nally, the executive director, is the leader of the community based organization.

Nally grew up in Meigs County. She has a degree in social work and a Masters of Science in Environmental Studies. The diversity of her educational background is one of many reasons why she is such an effective leading force at CFI.

Growing up in Appalachian Ohio exposed her to the poverty throughout the region. Athens County has one of the highest poverty rates in Ohio with 31.7 percent of the population at or below the poverty line (ODSA). It was this firsthand knowledge that led her to social work and later to CFI.

While working on her Master’s thesis at Ohio University, Nally became interested in ecological citizenship, which focuses on reducing one’s ecological footprint and personal responsibility for the environment. Her research involved studying the West Side Community Gardens (formerly managed by CFI) and led her to the question, “Does participating in community gardens give people tools to become an ecological citizen?” Which led her to pursue a position at CFI so she could help create sustainable and vital communities.

CFI works to increase food security in southeast Ohio by empowering individuals through a multitude of diverse programs. These programs include the community garden programsschool garden programs, the Youth Entrepreneurs at Hope (YEAH) kids programsand the Donation Station programs, which all aim to create ways for people to connect with their food systems and inspire individuals to create change in their community.

If you have ever walked through the almost famous Athens Farmer’s Market on State Street, you have probably heard the hollering of the staff and volunteers at the CFI donation station. Every Wednesday and Saturday from 9 to 12 p.m., the donation station engages the community by accepting donations to purchase locally grown produce for food pantries and social service agencies. The locally grown produce is then taken home by individuals and families in need throughout Athens, Vinton and Morgan counties.

CFI also hosts many workshops year round to teach people how to tend their own gardens and grow food for themselves and their families. CFI manages three gardens in Athens: the Athens Southside/Carriage Hill garden, Hope Drive garden, and Athens Eastside garden as well as community gardens in Nelsonville, Glouster, and Chauncey, Ohio.

In addition to community gardens, CFI also supports many school gardens in Athens, Nelsonville, Trimble, and Vinton counties. Children are taught how to plant and maintain a garden, as well as how to harvest and eat fresh vegetables and fruits.

Since appointing Nally as the executive director, CFI has expanded many programs to reach more people and even created a seed company called the Southeast Ohio Seed Savers. The range of programs allows individuals to choose areas that interest them specifically. Nally wants CFI to feel inclusive, involving the entire community, so that every member can feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for the organization.

“I want to give people the opportunity to see themselves succeed,” Nally says. Individual and community empowerment are the heart of her philosophy and a goal of CFI programs.

For more information about Community Food Initiatives go to: http://www.communityfoodinitiatives.org/