Volunteer of the Month: Vanessa Hellmann

December 6, 2012

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.

Sometimes there’s so much happening at CUESA and the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, we have a hard time capturing it all. Lucky for us, filmmaker Vanessa Hellmann came to CUESA with a passion for local food and farmers markets, and a desire to document our educational programs. This year, she created a beautiful video of our Schoolyard to Market program (see below) and a short video of our Melon Madness festival, and she has spent hundreds of hours filming and editing video footage to bring out the best of our programs.

“Vanessa is a true pleasure to work with,” says Liz Hunt, Director of Marketing and PR. “CUESA is fortunate to have an artist of this caliber offering her gifts and volunteering hundreds of hours to help us communicate our messages through beautiful videos.” You can see Vanessa’s online portfolio here.

Watch Vanessa’s Schoolyard to Market video here: 

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

Vanessa: I’m a cinematographer and editor, so a normal work day is not much different from my time as a volunteer. I’m mostly doing documentary and promotional work, often with local bands. My first love is photography, so I also shoot portrait or engagement sessions every now and then, and I’m really passionate about it. When I’m not working, I like snuggling up with tea and a good book, spending quality time with my friends, and going on road trips.

CUESA: Where does your interest in food come from?

Vanessa: I’m from Europe, and I grew up in a small northern German village. We’ve always had farms and nature around, and our house had a garden with apple and cherry trees, where my mom grew all kinds of veggies. She was very cautious about what we’d eat. I was the kid with the dark rye bread and the cucumber slices in my lunch box, and back then, I would’ve done anything to trade it for Nutella toast. To make up for this, I’m actually eating quite a lot of Nutella today. But at least I still spread it on rye bread.

CUESA: What made you want to volunteer for CUESA?

Vanessa: I love farmers markets, I love good food, and I love to see and think about where it’s coming from. CUESA is such a wonderful organization, and being involved showed me that it’s absolutely possible to shop and cook healthfully and responsibly, even in a big American city. Besides, the visual potential of farms and produce is just incredible.

CUESA: Do you have any interesting stories from your time as a CUESA volunteer?

Vanessa: When I’m volunteering for CUESA, I’m mostly behind the lens. To me, everything and everyone I see through it is interesting and beautiful, and there’s always a story worth being told. My favorites are small in-between moments: an elderly man reaching up to a walnut tree branch on a farm tour, the look on a student’s face while harvesting her first tomato in the school garden, or a top chef sitting on a crate collecting his strength before the great rush at Sunday Supper. These little stories make my day.

CUESA: What’s your favorite thing to make in the kitchen?

Vanessa: Cupcakes. I’m a baker at heart, and can often be found wearing my weird frilly apron way after midnight, experimenting with frostings and flavors while listening to nostalgic indie pop. Right now, I’m loving a vegan vanilla batter with a not-so-vegan peanut-butter-buttercream-honey frosting. 

CUESA: Do you have any seasonal market tips for our shoppers? 

Vanessa: I don’t always know what’s in season because California’s seasons feel different than the ones I grew up with, but I’ve been drawn to squash all of November and made winter squash soup with ginger and garlic almost every weekend, using an amazing recipe by our very own market chef Elianna. Make sure to keep the seeds and roast them in salt and olive oil! I also really love Frog Hollow Farm jams, the Acme Bread Company’s herb slab made with organic rosemary from Knoll Farms, and the fresh basil pizza from Pizza Politana at the Thursday market

CUESA: What has it been like to film and create documentaries about the Schoolyard to Market program? 

Vanessa: It has been, and still is, a wonderful experience. I’ve been learning a lot about alternative forms of teaching, and met so many lovely and inspiring people. I’m excited to be a part of this project.

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