Throughout her life, Naomi Curland has felt most fulfilled in moments when she can see the impact she’s making in her community.
Growing up near Twin Cities, Minnesota, Curland constantly observed her mother exercising and preaching the importance of environmentally-sustainable practices. While Curland’s mother grew food in their family’s garden, she taught Curland about food waste, pollution, recycling, composting and “how we take care of the planet,” Curland said.
Her mother’s lessons inspired Curland to care deeply about the environment from a young age. In addition to environmentalism, Curland’s upbringing, alongside a younger brother with down syndrome, made her interested in activism and being involved in her community.
Throughout high school, Curland volunteered in her school’s special education programs. From these experiences, she could “really see how everyone is involved and how we all rely on each other,” giving young Curland a “holistic view of the world and how to participate in society,” she said.
Despite receiving a college degree in architecture, Curland decided not to pursue architecture professionally and, instead, used her minor in special education to return to the classroom.
“I wanted to be directly involved in the work I was doing,” Curland said.
Following college, Curland spent a year working as a high school classroom assistant teaching students with developmental and cognitive disabilities. The year after that, her boyfriend at the time — now her husband — told her he was moving to Los Angeles.
Seeing that her job teaching special education at the time was transferable, Curland joined her partner in the move.
While in California, Curland pursued careers in special education and, for a little while, in the entertainment industry.
Throughout each of these preliminary career phases, however, Curland found that she felt most fulfilled while acting upon a passion she had since childhood — addressing environmental, food waste and food access issues in her community -- and, in the end, decided it was her calling.
“I was already kind of being pulled in the direction (of activism) and I knew I wanted to be more involved in it,” Curland said.
Early on, Curland became involved in Food Forward, a food rescue program where people who grew their own food could pick and donate the food to people in need, she said. Inspired by Food Forward’s mission as well as California’s 12-month growing season, Curland founded Westside Produce Exchange in 2009, a program designed for people with excess food to repurpose it to prevent waste.
“In Los Angeles, there’s always food you can find growing in people’s backyards and in trees and so much of it was just falling and rotting,” Curland said. “Since childhood, I’ve always (been opposed to) wasting food.”
Further inspired by the cause of lessening food waste in her community, Curland also conducted food waste assessments of school lunchrooms in west Los Angeles.
“I would sort through trash in lunchrooms after service and pick out anything that could have been donated or put on a sharetable,” she said. In this process, Curland would record statistics of a school’s waste levels and later present her findings to the school district, hoping to enact change.
While sorting through high schoolers’ lunchroom scraps may sound like a tedious chore to others, Curland was determined to “make an impact in how school food was being served.”
In an effort to combat environmental issues, Curland volunteered with her local Transition Towns Movement -- a group whose “mission is to catalyze and strengthen a national network of people-powered groups who are building local resilience through community action.” Additionally, she taught educational workshops as a facilitator with the Pachamama Alliance — a group dedicated to helping indigenous communities dissect the western ideal of consumerism and teach people about its effects on the environment.
“What I loved about working with Pachamama Alliance is they’re very hope- and solution-oriented,” Curland said about her experience. “That’s what energizes me, talking about the steps we can take in our communities, businesses, government organizations (to mitigate climate issues).”
In 2018, Curland and her husband decided to leave Los Angeles behind and “move somewhere with nature,” she said.
While visiting Longmont during the family’s search for a new home, Curland was drawn to the city’s sense of community and “the feeling that you can make a difference, an impact here,” she said. By spring of 2019, the Curlands were calling Longmont “home.”
It was only months before Curland began facilitating workshops with the Pachamama Alliance group in Boulder. By the end of the year, Curland became familiar with the work of Sustainable Resilient Longmont and “very quickly started going to the Zero Waste Committee meetings,” she said.
In 2020, Longmont Food Rescue, or LFR, offered its first paid position in the organization. Curland heard about the job opportunity, put in her application and was awarded the position of executive director.
“That’s what I had been wanting to do,” Curland said. “I had been very passionate about that sort of work for over a decade at that point.”
According to LFR’s website, the program’s “mission is to redistribute nutritious food that retailers have deemed food ‘waste’ to feed hungry, homeless, and low-income populations directly.”
In addition to being LFR's executive director, Curland is the vice-chair on the board of Sustainable Resilient Longmont, a chair on the Zero Waste Committee and serves as the secretary on the board of Colorado EcoWomen.
For Curland, assuming these titles and performing the subsequent duties make her feel at her best.
“I feel best when I’m giving back to my community,” she said. “I like the direct action and involvement of my current work. My happiest and most fulfilling days are when I’m out distributing food or picking up trash with the Zero Waste Committee or somehow making an impact in that moment. I feel like Longmont is a city where you can really do that and people are interested in supporting that work.”
CORRECTION: The article has been altered to reflect the correct name of the Food Forward program.