Karen Symmington Muendell is someone I truly enjoy knowing. She is a private Chef, caterer, and menu consultant. She also acts, writes, and directs for community and other local theater. As if that was not enough, Karen has recently embarked on a new adventure: Maize Market Management Corp. It is a non-profit company formed to run the Yorktown Farmers’ Market. What I particularly like is that each week, part of the profits are donated to a local charity. Karen took some time to answer a few questions about herself, the market, and what is in store for her in the future.
Blanca Valbuena: Karen, we met through Twitter where I quickly learned that you like to keep yourself busy. Before we chat about Maize Market Management Corp (M3), tell me a bit more about your roles at Serves You Right and at the Examiner.
Karen Symington Muendell: Serves You Right, Culinary LLC is my private Chef/catering company. I cook for clients in their homes as well as cater all types of parties. I write a food column for Examiner Media called Stick a Fork In It that covers culinary topics of all kinds, plus a blog on Yorktown Patch that is all about the Yorktown Farmers’ Market.
BV: When did you come up with the idea to start M3?
KSM: At a community outreach meeting on January 31 at Yorktown town hall. I was inspired by all the charitable organizations in the area, and decided the market should be run as a not for profit and donate proceeds to these very worthy charities.
BV: What was your biggest hurdle when starting this non-profit?
KSM: Mostly just the logistics of getting through the paperwork by myself, learning as I went. My family and the community were very supportive, and they gave me the inspiration to get it done.
BV: How many vendors are currently signed on (you can mention them)?
KSM: We currently have 22 vendors. I keep an updated list on the home page of our web site, maizemarketmanagement.com
BV: Where do you see M3 in five years?
KSM: I hope that we become an asset to Yorktown. There are so many residents doing such amazing, selfless work to help others. It is our great pleasure to put a spotlight on them and an honor to be included among their ranks. It is also my wish that the children come to appreciate the difference it makes to eat local, seasonal foods and to know where their food comes from.
BV: The profit generated goes back into the community. How do you select the organizations that the funds will be given to?
KSM: We invited those groups at the community outreach meetings (now called YOUnited, for Yorktown Organizations United) to be a COW, or Charitable Organization of the Week. Our COWs are 501(c)(3) groups that live in, support or benefit residents of Yorktown and the surrounding localities. We currently have COWs that help the blind, cancer patients/survivors, and school children.
BV: I know you are big into food education. What steps is M3 taking towards educating the community?
KSM: Through my blog in Patch and Chef demonstrations/lectures I hope to reach the adults and parents. Over the summer I will be developing a Market to School program that will be implemented in the fall.
BV: Do you see M3 expanding into other areas?
KSM: We are a proud member of YOUnited and will do whatever we can to further the goals of the group. I have also begun the Arts @ the Market program that invites local visual, performing, literary and culinary artists to showcase their talents each week at 10 and noon under the pavillion at the market.
BV: Who are the other founding members of the organization and how do you split up your roles?
KSM: Our board of directors consists of my husband Ed, Chief Financial Officer, my daughter Danielle Lewandowski, Chief Technology Officer and the COO is myself.
BV: Do you see M3 pairing up with celebrities (like Jamie Oliver) or brands (like Whole Foods)?
KSM: I would love to partner with celebrity chefs, authors or companies that support our philosophy. We offer a unique venue to further the cause of food education while simultaneously benefitting charitable organizations
BV: What advice do you have for someone wishing to start a similar project?
KSM: Enlist help! It was way more difficult and time consuming than I ever expected.
BV: If I were to come visit you, where would we eat?
KSM: I have a couple of favorite restaurants in Westchester: Crabtree’s Kittle House in Chappaqua and Massa‘ in Scarsdale would be my first choices. Of course the best place to eat is at the table on my backyard deck where I serve market sourced meals!
BV: What do you feel is the most important issue in food today?
KSM: Our over-consumption of processed foods. We are getting away from the way we were meant to eat: locally and seasonally. Too many chemicals, unidentifiable and unpronouncable ingredients dominate our diets. As a result we are seeing all kinds of new and increasing medical issues that didn’t exist in our grandparents’ childhoods. We need to bring back the emphasis on knowing where our food comes from.
BV: Any last words?
KSM: I would like to thank the local residents, government officials, charitable organizations, vendors and of course my family for their support and encouragement. This is their market- and I feel fortunate to be a part of the Yorktown community.