Volunteer of the Month: Debra Donaldson

November 12, 2015

CUESA’s Volunteer of the Month program recognizes the dedication and work of some of our most active volunteers. CUESA relies on volunteers to help with education programs, special events, public outreach, and other activities that help fulfill our mission to cultivate a sustainable food system. Learn more about volunteering and sign up here.

Our next volunteer orientation is on Wednesday, January 27. Learn more and RSVP.

CUESA is fortunate to have volunteers of different backgrounds and experiences lend a hand with our myriad of educational programs and fundraising activities. Taking advantage of the variety of volunteer opportunities, former youth summer camp cook and retired physician scientist Debra Donaldson joined the CUESA volunteers in January 2015.

Since then she has immersed herself in just about all our opportunities, including the Saturday market Info Booth, culinary programs, Foodwise Kids, and special events like Sunday Supper. She hoped for “lots of hands-on work with food and kids” and “enjoys active and busy environments and crowds, just like the market,” and CUESA has delivered. And we’ve been fortunate to have found such a versatile, dedicated, and earnest volunteer in Deb!

“Deb is so delightful to work with,” says Culinary Programs Manager Carrie Sullivan. “She’s always positive and gets along with everyone. She is no-nonsense, has a great sense of humor, and is very intuitive about what needs to be done.” Meet Debra.

CUESA: Where does your interest in food come from?
Debra: It started when I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, in my twenties and put a garden into my landlady’s backyard. It was in the city, but the soil was black and beautiful, typical Wisconsin topsoil. I bought my seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, a company in Maine. They specialized in “subarctic” varieties, which come to maturity in a short season, like in Wisconsin! I had no idea how to garden, but I followed the catalog’s detailed planting instructions. They still put out an amazing catalog, and I use it to refresh my knowledge about all things green. Who knew there were so many chicories?

Then I learned how to preserve with a now classic book Putting Food By. My dilly beans were very popular. Also the cooking culture was emerging in Madison with local authors Marge Snyder and Suzanne Breckenridge writing for the Isthmus weekly. They have published a number of books since then. Another inspiration came from Penzeys, a local Milwaukee family-run store. Ruth and Bill sold freshly ground high-quality spices from around the world. Who knew then they would go national? Check out their store in Menlo Park or online.

CUESA: What do you do when you aren’t volunteering for CUESA?
Debra: I am a Trustee for the Burlingame City Library and an ambassador for my alma mater, Case Western Reserve University. Right now I am very busy interviewing undergraduate applicants to Case from the Bay Area.

CUESA: What is your favorite part about volunteering with CUESA?
Debra: I enjoy all the various volunteer opportunities, Culinary, Info Booth, etc., but I feel our most important activity is Foodwise Kids. I am retired so I can come by in the mornings and help our amazing permanent staff during the week teach elementary students how learn to love local food.

CUESA: Do you have an insider market tip or a favorite produce item at the market right now?
Debra: Persimmons are ripe right now. If you are not a fan, ask one of our farmers for a taste of a particularly ripe fruit. I bet you will change your mind.