Remember your first love? Jumping in with both feet, opening your heart completely, and floating in a sea of possibilities? It is an incredible feeling and often a time of discovery and growth in our lives that teaches us about our selves in a way that living alone never could. Although in the beginning we adamantly believe it will last forever, it is more common that eventually we will out grow the relationship and move on, leaving a part of our heart behind and always looking back with at the fond memories.

When I first heard about Lowcountry Local First, I definitely had a crush. My introduction was in 2008 at a Sustainability Institute awards ceremony in which Jamee Haley was accepting the Sustainable Communities Award and I had the honor of receiving their Leadership Award. Hearing about the incredible things Jamee had already accomplished with a small but mighty group of volunteers and board members in such a short amount of time, I knew the organization was one to watch. And did I ever watch.

As they developed a Sustainable Agriculture program, I stood eagerly on the sidelines, looking for an opportunity to get engaged. When I spotted a poster in Kudu coffee for their Growing New Farmers program, I immediately applied and before I knew it I was one of the first apprentices in the program. It was a wild ride and true adventure as we all blindly navigated uncharted territory.

Nikki FarmingFrom early mornings harvesting squash blossoms at Joseph Fields Farm to late nights texting chefs about produce, it was a crash course in food systems. Farmers, chefs, apprentices, and staff were all learning side by side to understand what it takes for farm to table to succeed on a larger scale. Although I had really liked previous jobs, this experience was my first career love. For those of you that know me well, I am not one to settle for a job. I grew up watching both of my parents pour their hearts into their careers and I have always sought nothing less than a profession I can be passionate about. When approached with the opportunity to come on-board as the Director of Sustainable Agriculture in 2011, I jumped in with two feet.

12891500_10154046662257389_897871014529749141_oOver the course of the last five years, I have had the honor of working alongside some amazing individuals to serve the hardest working people in the South. No one can appreciate hard work, long hours, and risk like a small business owner and even more so if that business happens to be a farm. When you see ways to make it easier for them to succeed, it is hard not to bend over backwards to do whatever you can to help.

581672_10150728888293288_1002618534_nJust like the businesses that LLF serves, the staff of the organization also must have an all-hands-on-deck attitude and be prepared to put in the sweat equity to build something great. Anyone that works in a small to mid-sized non-profit will tell you that the industry is more competitive and demanding that any corporate position they have ever had. It also an industry that provides you the opportunity to serve the community, build meaningful relationships, and be a part of something greater than yourself. And if you are up for the challenge, you can also build a career, as I have had the awesome opportunity to do.

Reflecting on 5 years, 142 new farmers, 40 farmer workshops, 18 interns, 15 conference presentations, 10 different states, 8 incubator farmers, hundreds of farm tours, thousands of emails, and over a million dollars of funds raised, I am proud to say that I am now a food system leader.

13173100_10154143614617389_3316062361144290121_oThrough all of this, I have had the pleasure of working alongside some the most intelligent, fun, passionate people that I am proud to have not only as colleagues but also as friends. The most incredible part has been watching the organization and staff grow alongside the businesses, farmers, and community members it supports. It is this success that has given me the courage to take the same leap I have watched so many others bravely take before me.

While my love for Lowcountry Local First is still strong, I know that there is value in knowing when it is time to leave. The decision to move on has not been an easy one, as should be apparent by the fact that few of you probably even realized it was happening. It has been a slow process of first letting those most impacted by my decision know, one conversation at a time. Through these conversations, I gained confidence that there were enough opportunities out there for me to launch my own business.


With that in mind, let me introduce you to Wit Meets Grit, a business that provides me the opportunity to share my knowledge, experience, and support to others working in the industry. At this point, my goal is to keep my mind and heart open to the possibilities. My passions are as diverse as they are deep; to know the best path forward I need to welcome all kinds of opportunities. I hope to continue to work with so many of the incredible people I have met over the years and utilize my skills to rebuild the food system throughout the Southeast. Why Wit Meets Grit? Well, you can read about that here. What kinds of things will I be doing? To start the net will be cast wide with evaluation, farming and food system projects, freelance writing, public speaking, and photography. Through out the journey I will be sharing stories through my website.

I have such deep gratitude to Jamee Haley, Lowcountry Local First, my colleagues, all of our supporters (especially the farmers and my mentors Joseph and Helen Fields), and of course my family and friends for giving me the wings to take this leap. I am one of the lucky few that has had the chance to truly love their job and while a piece of my heart is being left behind, I look forward to this next chapter in my life spending even more time embracing my passion for the outdoors. Thank you all so much and wish me luck!


Written by Nikki Seibert Kelley