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From Breaking Cybersecurity News to Fighting Food Insecurity

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Pamela Hess poses in front of tree

Her career may not have followed a linear path, but for Pamela Hess, SIS/BA ’89, some great stories have come of it. “Everything was just luck,” she says. 

When she came to AU, Pamela thought she wanted to be a Foreign Service Officer. When she graduated, though, in 1989, there was a recession, and she says, “I was getting turned down for camp counselor jobs.”

She landed a job as a program instructor with the Close Up Foundation, a nonpartisan organization that provides experiential education to high school students. One day, after a lecture from a Washington Times reporter, a student raised his hand and asked, “How do you get to be a reporter?” A lightbulb went off for Pamela. She listened intently and afterwards got the reporter’s card. She went to the same reporter’s office for a meeting, but he didn’t show. Then she took matters into her own hands, landing a job at a small Capitol Hill publication called The Hill Rag, and she says, she learned how to become a reporter by doing just that.

To enhance her learning, Pamela contacted an ex-boyfriend’s father who was a Washington Post reporter. She clipped pieces from newspapers and mailed them to him, then he would call her with edits. At some point, he told her she was ready for an “actual job in journalism.”

Pamela went on to become a highly respected national security journalist, breaking important stories on serious cyber-attacks. After a very brief stint on Capitol Hill (which she says was not a fit for her skill set and orientation), she took an 80% pay cut to become editor of a food magazine. One of the first stories she covered was of a non-profit organization looking to increase access to healthy food and encourage sustainable farming practices. Now she is that organization’s executive director. Arcadia, Pamela says, takes a holistic approach to creating an equitable and sustainable food system. 

Founded by Michael Babin of Neighborhood Restaurant Group (owner of Birch and Barley, Churchkey, and several other DC hotspots), Arcadia was born of a desire to get local food to his chefs. Babin found that local food and farmers markets were in short supply and began to wonder, if he couldn’t get this food to his restaurants, what was everyone else doing? He started Arcadia to create a more equitable and sustainable local food system in the Washington area.

“The cool thing about Arcadia,” Pamela says, “is that we take a holistic approach to the problem.” Arcadia seeks to add to the supply of well-grown food through its farm on the grounds of Mount Vernon in Alexandria. It also trains farmers (largely military veterans) to positively influence supply. It works to build demand for healthy food by hosting field trips and summer camps. And it organizes mobile markets, bringing healthy food to underserved communities – ensuring it is both affordable and accessible. 

Pamela says running Arcadia is “not too much different from being a reporter.” As a reporter, she says, she worked to gather information and tell compelling stories. At Arcadia, she shares the compelling stories of her work with supporters and others to encourage their involvement. “I lead an incredible team,” she says. “I see my job as helping them to do theirs by getting them the resources they need, setting them up for success and letting them do what they already do really well.” And it’s a perfect fit. “I have always been deeply into food,” she says.

Learn more about Pamela’s changemaking work at arcadiafood.org.