Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Jones looks to food policy to sustain communities

Erika Jones


Erika Jones is executive director of FairShare CSA Coalition.

Wherever life takes Erika Jones, she intends to always be involved in public service. Her training and experiences through the La Follette School are helping her advance her career interests in fostering stronger communities and public policy that supports sustainable agriculture.

"Through my nonprofit work prior to La Follette, I saw needs in my community such as homelessness and food insecurity," she says. "It is important to understand the challenges we face and to work to improve conditions for all members of our society."

Jones gained a fuller sense of the wider Madison community and its challenges through a project assistantship with United Way of Dane County in 2010. She served on the agency's Public Sector Combined Campaign.

The University of Wisconsin System administration supported a position in a longtime partnership with United Way and the La Follette School. "The Office of the President at UW System has shown a strong ongoing commitment to using university expertise to help the local community," says La Follette School associate director Don Moynihan. "It's a great example of the Wisconsin Idea in action."

Jones says she appreciated the intense training at the beginning of the four-month position. "It gave me insight into United Way's work in Dane County, an insider look at the organization itself, and an opportunity to visit agencies that United Way serves," she says.

Jones collaborated with a team of other loan executives to support employee giving campaigns at university and state government offices. She made presentations, supported employee coordinators, and helped to distribute materials, conduct trainings and schedule activities. "The experience gave me a great chance to network and learn how the various levels of state and university departments interact," Jones says. "Working on the team gave me the chance to learn from my team-members, many of whom are leaders at their companies."

Jones contributed her data analysis and evaluation skills to the annual fund-raising campaign. "I worked on a special project to review and analyze internal data to help inform decisions being made by United Way's development department," she says.

The second-year student found that her five years of work experience in the nonprofit sector before enrolling at La Follette gave her a deeper appreciation of United Way's role in Dane County. Jones spent five years coordinating and managing volunteers at HandsOn Bay Area, a nonprofit organization in the San Francisco Bay Area. The agency works with schools, parks and other nonprofits to identify high-impact, group-based volunteer projects. "Through that work I learned more about the challenges facing low-income communities, and I became particularly interested in food access issues in urban areas," says Jones, who plies her leadership skills as president of the La Follette School Student Association. "My graduate experience has definitely given me the opportunity to learn policy-related skills and integrate that learning into my own practical public sector experience."

The flexibility of the La Follette School program has allowed Jones to pursue her interests in food and poverty policy and community economic development. "Because of those interests, I am focusing my Master of Public Affairs on social policy," she says. "Classes like public budgeting and statistics give me a strong foundation in analysis. I have supplemented these analysis skills with courses like comparative social policy and through real-world application with my United Way project assistantship."

"The La Follette program truly offers a great blend of analysis coursework with management and content-based classes," she adds. "I know that the skills in policy analysis, budgeting and statistics that I've gained will transfer across fields."

Jones spent the summer between her first and second year at La Follette as an intern in the Wisconsin governor's office, where she researched policy and events, wrote policy briefs and answered calls from constituents. She pursued her interests in food policy as finance director and interim administrative director of the F.H. King Students for Sustainable Agriculture, a campus student organization with a budget of more than $60,000 that encourages education and hands-on experience with small scale sustainable agriculture. "I quickly applied the skills I gained through La Follette's public budgeting course," she says. "It was a great way to combine my interest in food with my graduate education."

For the spring semester, Jones is a public policy intern with the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, a Wisconsin nonprofit organization that advocates for federal and state policies that support sustainable agriculture. Again, her courses come in handy, especially the one on the policymaking process.

After graduating, Jones hopes to continue her work in community development and sustainable agriculture. "I want to use my policy analysis and practical skills to develop, analyze or implement policies that foster community economic development," she says. "I hope that I can take this interest into work that furthers environmental and sustainable agriculture goals and builds effective and resilient communities."

—  updated August 24, 2016