Volunteer of the Month: Rob McAlister

July 30, 2020

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. Most of our regular volunteer opportunities are currently on hold with the exception of farmers market roles. Learn more about volunteering here.

A veteran in the chip design world, Rob McAlister joined CUESA as a volunteer in January 2020. As a SOMA neighbor, he’s been a market shopper and regular audience member of CUESA’s Market to Table demos, and he wanted to get more involved with food access for the local community. Since the shelter-in-place orders, he has been part of the team helping to ensure safety at the Ferry Plaza Farmer Market.

“We are so grateful for Rob’s commitment and easy-going attitude at the Saturday markets,” says Director of Operations Lulu Meyer. “He has been so amazing at being flexible and assisting us wherever it is needed. Whether he is staffing our handwashing station, assisting with mask monitoring, or managing the CUESA Farmers Market Box pickup tent, he is always positive and patient. As we navigate new challenges to our market operations as a result of COVID-19, volunteers like Rob are a vital part of it all, and we honestly couldn’t do it without them!” Meet Rob.

CUESA: Where does your interest in food come from?

Rob: All the way back to childhood. My mother was determined for me and my brother to eat healthy foods, and she shopped from farmers markets when available. Her parents were farmers and the glimpses of traditional preparations when visiting family—from shelling peas, harvesting foods from a backyard garden, even learning about heirloom tomato seeds passed down in the family—set the stage.

CUESA: What do you do when you aren’t volunteering for CUESA?

Rob: Much head scratching these days! Some projects I’m involved in are related to getting people together are definitely delayed. But the crisis may provide time/opportunity for plan improvements. I’m planning to be a backer of a natural wine shop that also serves small bites in downtown Petaluma by friends of mine. It’s in a very early stage of finding the right location. At the beginning of the year, I helped back a second location of the Kebabery in South Berkeley. Due to COVID, the partners are hard at work to keep the first Kebabery open in Oakland’s Longfellow neighborhood while also raising money for important causes. Longer term, since I’m soon exiting the chip design world, my full time job for the last 25 years, I’ll be available to possibly get more hands-on in one or both ventures and continue volunteering with CUESA!

CUESA: Why are you choosing to volunteer with us at this time?

Rob: The opportunities here seem the most impactful for community building and support for the farms and restaurants.

CUESA: What does the farmers market community mean to you?

Rob: It’s THE place where you can build relationships with the hardworking people who grow, sell, and prepare the amazing foods we are so fortunate to be able eat.

CUESA: Any favorite farmers market foods or home meal prep tips you want to share?

Rob: I’ve been to many a Saturday chef’s demo to learn tips before becoming a volunteer. A most-used one from Chef Josh Even’s demonstration of a market salad a couple years back is to not only rinse tender greens (arugula, lettuces, etc.) but then also soak them in an ice water bath for 10-15 minutes after getting them back home. It refreshes them for using immediately and also extends the storage life. As far as farmers market favorites, I like stone fruits and heirloom tomatoes in the summer and pomelos in the winter.

A recipe I love to make featuring summer produce is gazpacho! A while back I tried a Julia Moskin recipe that is the simplest I’ve found and tastes amazing. First chop and blend 2 pounds Early Girl tomatoes, an 8-inch cucumber peeled (equivalent amount of heirloom varieties are cool), one medium red onion, 1 clove garlic, 1 or 2 cored and de-seeded sweet peppers, like Jimmy Nardello or Corno di Toro. With blender running, drizzle ½ cup of olive oil and add up to 2 teaspoons Spanish sherry vinegar and up to 2 teapoons sea salt, both to taste. Strain if desired and chill before serving.

I’m going to make the southern Thai Khao Yum, but I’m still short a few ingredients to make it. I need to find palm sugar, tamarind paste, and the young harvest Thai rice!