Armed with her Bachelor of Science degree with a concentration in Marine Biology from Northeastern and a Master’s of Environmental Management from Duke, Caitlin Mandel was on a traditional career path as an environmental planner for the US Navy and then as a project assistant for University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System. With each step, however, the science- and nature-lover felt herself getting further away from a day-to-day ability to make an impact on her local environment. So, she made a switch.
Today, Caitlin is an agritourism consultant to local farmers, creator and blogger of OurNaturalHeritage.org, an online source for fun and easy ways for families to explore and learn about the environment, and as of last April acts as coordinator for the markets at Hope & Main in Warren. The Tiverton native lives in Bristol with her husband Jeff and young daughter Freya.
"The local food movement is not about [an interest in] cooking for me. I’ve always loved nature and wanted to be a marine biologist. Class discussions always led to conversations about conservation issues, declining fish populations, plastics in the water, and what are we going to do about it? Understanding the issues and making sure policy writers and politicians understand is one thing, but it comes down to changing human behavior. I’ve always had a desire to make society aware of these issues. It motivated me to get more interested in the local food movement and farming. Everybody eats, they care about where their food comes from, so it is an incredible connection to nature and the environment.
UVM has an amazing cooperative extension program for agritourism. I attended some of the conferences and spoke at one about social media and farms. I wanted to bring these ideas to farms in Rhode Island. Farmers are receptive to diversifying their income by offering agritourism experiences such as classes, workshops, tours, tastings. I’ll design and plan the program so farmers can focus on their day-to-day farm operations. It can be as simple as a tomato tasting for Roots Farm in Tiverton: We had 30 people show up on a hot August afternoon to eat different types of tomatoes. It was super fun and it brought consumers to the farm for an event both educational and social. I use a lot of my educational program with the markets at Hope & Main.
In the five years since Hope & Main opened, they have issued 200 licenses to members. I love the idea that anyone can start a business using sustainable foods, which in turn creates jobs and supports the local economy. The whole loop of it is endless and it is fascinating to me."
Check out Hope & Main’s “Meet Your Maker” program that kicks off Sunday, November 24, from 10am-2pm.