Modern Farmer: Anneliese Atwell

Anneliese is the Director of Brand Experience at Imperfect Produce, a California company that fights food waste by finding a home for “ugly” produce. We sat down with her to find out how she went from riding horses on her family’s farm to building a movement around the food that gets left behind. 

Tell us a bit about how you grew up.  

I grew up on and around farms–my weekends were usually spent riding horses, mucking stalls, fixing broken water pumps, and tractor-mowing. I loved it, but knew there was an entire world of cities to explore. I knew I wanted to do something creative in business, but had no idea the world of branding existed (full disclosure: I didn’t even know graphic designers existed). I did know that I wanted my world to be bigger than a (very beautiful) 25-acre ranch in Florida.

How did that upbringing influence your career hunt?

Well fast-forward through college and I land a job in management consulting. Not surprisingly, I am drawn to the US Department of Agriculture as a client. At one point, I think I had memorized all of the USDA Organic Guidelines–I actually wrote a training for USDA employees on it! But I wanted to be doing work that was more creative, which I figured was more or less incompatible with the world of agriculture.

What was this more creative work you found?

Branding. I remember I spent all free time building a portfolio of cases (since technically I had no real experience in it), and started networking like crazy. Then I landed a job at Siegel+Gale, a top branding firm. I am incredibly excited and incredibly terrified. But I have zero doubts that this is what my brain is wired to do. I have found my people. I think about brand more or less non-stop, and farming falls off my radar (it’s not exactly at the forefront of your mind while power walking the streets of Manhattan).

What were you working on (between power walks, of course)?

Over several years, I was working with some of the best brands and learning the ropes from branding icons. Shocking no one, my favorite client was Blue Apron. Very quickly, I dive back into the world of farming and am consumed by it. I read every book I can find.

Do you remember something you learned during the learning binge?

Oh yeah, I can name all nitrogen-fixing plants in one breath–seriously. And the more I began to learn about farming again, the more I saw the city as very much… not a farm. So I quit my dream job in New York… and went to farm. For free.

Wow. Where did you go?

For the next six months, I worked on farms across the country. I brushed cheeses, milked sheep, took care of 2-day-old lambs, rotated pastures, made seed blocks, lay irrigation lines.

Wait, brush cheese?

Aha yes, you really have to brush it!

So do you think that’s your calling, are you back?!

Well I’m with a group of people very different from my NYC brand crew.

No more power walks?

Still power walks! Just in boots! But, I again have found my people. I am thrilled, but also wildly confused. How on earth can I ever marry these two parts of myself? I have no idea.

So how do you land at Imperfect?

My gut tells me to move to San Francisco. I get a job in innovation consulting, plan to volunteer on a nearby farm, and am resigned to keeping the world of farming as a hobby. Five months into that job, a friend passes along the role at Imperfect. (Keep in mind, I wasn’t even looking for a job.) I read the description and am a little dumbstruck. This is my job. This is it. And here I am.

Now that you have your dream job, how are you thinking about family down the road?

I'm not married, and the majority of my friends are single or newly in relationships, so children and fertility are not top of mind in my every day. I've only just started to think about it as I near my 30s. But even now, because I haven't yet made the decision to build a life together with someone else, thoughts about fertility often take a backseat to things like career, travel, and of course, dating. Once that decision to partner with someone is made, however, I'm sure it will shift–and it will likely shift fast. With so many of us waiting to have children, the window of fertility is shorter and it forces us to think about these things in a much more strategic way (as unromantic as that sounds).

How do you think fertility information can empower other women?

Fertility is a sensitive, scary subject. It can carry with it a lot of embarrassment and a lot of shame. It is some of women's most private information that inevitably can't be kept private. Yet we know very little about it. When I think about other times in my life when I've had next-to-no knowledge about a new and potentially stressful situation–buying a car, renting an apartment, negotiating a job offer, addressing a critical health issue–the first thing I do is arm myself with as much data as possible so I can make an informed decision. I ask friends, I fall down internet rabbit holes, I find and read obscure publications. Right now, women can't even do that. It's crazy. Knowledge isn't just power–knowledge makes us less vulnerable (in a good way) and less afraid. It allows us to confront the black box that until now, was our uterus and ovaries. It empowers us by allowing us to address reality (even if it's initially kind of terrifying) and take tangible steps toward building the life and the family that we want.



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