Elyse Guidas is one of these strong women striving to make a change in her community. Elyse is the executive director of the Fresh Express Mobile Market, a traveling produce market that brings high-quality fresh fruits and vegetables to residents with limited or no access to healthy food options. The mobile market serves communities throughout Phoenix and Tempe. The food on the bus is from growers around Arizona, especially Maricopa County. Under Elyse’s’ leadership, Fresh Express provides affordable food options to those who need it most.
Elyse was inspired to pursue a career in agriculture and food systems work after seeing the growth in Phoenix’s livability.
“I was born and raised in Phoenix,” she said. “Over the years, I’ve watched the immense growth of our city and take pride in the strides we’ve made to make our communities more equitable, livable, and diverse.”
But Elyse also realized there was more progress to be made, and she was determined to be a part of that progress.
“Although we’ve made tremendous progress, I’ve also noticed that many of these opportunities for prosperity aren’t always accessible to everyone, especially those experiencing food insecurity and poverty,” Elyse said. “I want to change that.”
Change is necessary both inside and outside of the industry. In America, the agricultural and food systems industry has traditionally been male-dominated. Women in several places are being left out of the important conversations that happen within this career-path. Elyse said representation is the only way progress can continue.
“Single women with children continue to use food assistance benefits more than any other group in the US, and yet the voices of those experiencing poverty are often left out of the hunger and food security conversations,” she said. “Representation matters and ultimately, we cannot begin to tackle these issues unless those who experience them are at the table. Our organizations, coalitions, and elected bodies must be reflective of the communities we want to help.”
The agriculture arena is working to expand its diversity, and Elyse said with continual efforts women and men can breakdown walls and provide opportunities for future female agriculturalists.
“Many in this industry, including men, have fought hard to make sure that our systems are inclusive and equitable, but disparities still exist,” she said. “It’s so important for us to continue our efforts for more diversity and inclusion so that these current and future female farmers have a just, fair system to help them be successful. I continue to see more women breaking into food system work and tearing down barriers for others, which is so exciting for me.”
Working in the food systems arena isn’t easy, but Elyse said her job isn’t without rewards.
“Food is the ultimate connector, for community, for family, and for individual health,” she said. “I continue to be amazed at the way this industry brings people together. This work transcends ideological divides and politics and creates a sense of belonging for those involved. Working in food policy and systems has fostered in me a deep love for Arizona and all the abundance that our lands have to offer.”
As Elyse helps pave the way for other women, she offered advice to other women who aspire to make a difference in food systems work.
“Don’t give up,” she said. “Find others with similar interests and learn from them. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and always, always know that you are carving a path for someone else, even if you don’t realize it. We do this work to fuel our fires and passions, but we do it so that others can live healthy, productive, and fulfilling lives.”
Women are vital parts of our communities. Take time out of your day to celebrate the women in your life. We are so proud of you and the work you do, Elyse. Happy Women’s History Month!