A person posing while sitting at a desk

Andrea Johnson – Purchasing Specialist, Sourcing and Demand Planning Team

Andrea Johnson had just graduated college with a background in Business Marketing, Entrepreneurship, and Graphic Design, and had booked a trip to visit her sister in Spain. While in the airport, she realized that she forgot to pack a book for her cross-Atlantic flight. “I happened to see a book on display that a professor of mine had recommended previously. It was called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, and it was about local food systems and how the food system works in this country. I didn’t know anything about the food industry and basically once I started reading about it, I couldn’t stop.”

Andrea started reading every book related to food—how it’s grown, how it is marketed, how it is accessed, and that led her to going back to school for a master’s degree in international food business and consumer studies.

“It was based in Germany, so I moved to Germany. It had a unique focus on sustainability and food justice issues. The tiny little town where it was based was the birthplace of the study of organic agriculture in Germany. I ended up writing my thesis about food waste and I came back to Minneapolis to do that.”

While writing her thesis, Andrea wanted to learn more about food rescue and started volunteering weekly at Second Harvest Heartland at its previous location in Maplewood. “I was there every Friday packing bread. I also worked at a co-op for a while, and then I was at a wholesale coffee supply distributor—just getting experience at different levels in the food sector.”

After working for Habitat for Humanity in central Minnesota, Andrea found her love of working in the nonprofit sector. “Just having mission driven work was what motivates me and gets me going.” Andrea combined her interests in food and nonprofit work by joining the Sourcing Department for The Food Group.

“Everything I did at the time was related to food,” says Andrea. “Like all my hobbies. I was board chair at a small food rescue organization. I was a founding member of a food forest where I lived at the time. I had my own garden and was doing a lot of processing and preservation. I started wondering if I might have more passion and energy to bring to my hobbies and volunteer activities if it didn’t feel like an extension of my job.”

Another book on food systems changed Andrea’s trajectory. “A book came out called Big Hunger that was very critical of the hunger relief system. I couldn’t finish reading it because it upset me so much. I started to look at these systemic issues that were causing people to need food assistance to begin with,” explains Andrea. “I really switched gears and worked for a nonprofit trying to prepare people for the workforce and for jobs where people would be able to make a sustainable living for themselves and their families.”

The wealth of experience gained regarding all facets of hunger eventually brought Andrea back to the hunger relief system and to Second Harvest Heartland as the Purchasing Specialist of the Sourcing and Demand Planning Team. 

“It’s kind of funny. On my team, we joke that the main thing that I’m talking about is milk—it’s a huge part of my job and on my thoughts all the time!” says Andrea. “We distribute roughly a truck load of milk every single day on the four days we make deliveries to agencies—plus some bonus milk from TEFAP [The Emergency Food Assistance Program]. I order milk three different times a week; we receive four deliveries of purchased and grant-purchased milk every week, plus the TEFAP deliveries. So, when I’m looking at my spreadsheet, it’s like ‘what do we have on hand? What’s committed to sales orders? What’s do we have coming in?’ And then, I’m projecting demand for the next week.”

A lot of thought and planning goes into distributing the food that comes into our Second Harvest Heartland facility. “If I’m bringing an issue to my team, if I’m pointing out a challenge, it’s milk related,” says Andrea. Milk has been available for free to partners due to a grant from the state of Minnesota that allows Second Harvest Heartland to distribute Minnesota-produced milk, produce, and protein, and so it is important for grants like these to continue to be offered. It takes a lot on Andrea and her team’s part to manage these funds and making sure that they are planning far enough ahead. This management of funds and food is necessary with the fluctuation of prices and inventory due to a multitude of factors, including weather changes that affect crops and livestock, such as laying hens.

“It’s a lot of anticipating the things that are challenging to anticipate.”

Second Harvest Heartland’s Sourcing and Demand Planning Team works closely with addressing the rising need for food, bringing in more and more pounds each year—but it does not prevent Andrea from continuing to examine the root causes of hunger and encouraging others to examine the models outside of the traditional hunger relief system.

“In my dream world, [Second Harvest Heartland] wouldn’t exist. There wouldn’t need to be an emergency hunger relief system. But things are always going to happen. There are so many people in this country who are doing everything they can, working full time hours, multiple jobs, struggling to take care of their own health, the health of their families, and their loved ones, and they can’t get access to the food they need,” says Andrea. 

“When I started learning about food it all clicked—after water it’s the thing we all literally need to survive.”