Reflection Pool by Red Tomato's Angel Mendez

As I approach year-end and I prepare to put 2018 in my rearview mirror, I am feeling a deep sense of gratitude for the work and learning that I have been a part of with the Wallace Center’s Food Systems Leadership Network. 

To begin, I’ve been working at Red Tomato, a Plainville, Ma - based food hub wholesaling fruits and vegetables in the northeast region, for 18 years. I always knew that this “city boy” arrived in the sustainable Ag workspace for a reason.  I have always carried huge empathy for others, and I believe this comes from my need to help and share lessons learned.  I have never been an advocate for “reinventing the wheel,” so instead I like to build off existing infrastructure as we built Red Tomato.


Working with the Wallace Center’s FSLN, I have been able to take all of the knowledge and wisdom gained over the years and share it with organizations that I am passionate about.  Thus far, I have completed two rounds of mentorship with six amazing organizations.  I have been able to guide them in food hub operations, financial reporting and metrics, and transportation logistics.  It has been awesome to understand the variety of challenges organizations face due to the different demographics & geographies, and think about how one would amend a Red Tomato model of a food hub to work in different parts of the region and country.

The mentorship work this year feels like I was able to reach another plateau of the endless mountain of learning, in support of my own leadership journey.  Sharing knowledge with others has helped me work on my own brevity, active listening, and to organize my thoughts.  In addition, this work has helped me boost my own self-esteem and confidence. 

Mental Models and Artificial Barriers

As a Latino man that grew up in the urban core of Boston, MA, the transition from environment to environment was a huge challenge throughout my career that created a lot of mental models for me along my journey.  Mental models are the beliefs and ideas that are consciously or unconsciously formed from our lived experiences and subsequently guide our thoughts and actions. If you have experience with these types of mental models, you know that they are “REAL” for you at the moment and can lead to assumptions, or as I like to call them “artificial barriers.”  These barriers are made up of untested assumptions that get in the way of progress and slow down productivity.  These assumptions/mental models can also hinder self-esteem and confidence, so I learned about the 3A’s of managing stress and used these as a temporary tool to support me while I figured this all out:

1. Altering – refers to either removing or lessening the source of stress by changing something.   This may occur through such actions as communications, problem-solving, time management, planning ahead, coordinating, or organizing.

2. Avoiding - refers to the ability to remove yourself altogether from a stressful situation or to figure out how not to be there in the first place.

3. Accepting – is necessary in those situations that you cannot alter or avoid.  Accepting does not mean that you are helpless.  It does mean that you must equip yourself by building resistance to the stress encountered.[1]

This helped, but it was the Food Systems Leadership Retreat in Kansas City that put all of this into a more scientific perspective for me. Learning the language of systems thinking, and being equipped with more tools, helped it all make sense! 

Looking Ahead

My goal for the next 10 years of my career is to take lessons learned and share them with others in the food system looking to do similar types of work, specifically targeting the urban core and underserved communities, both rural and urban.  I have always had a dream that all food hubs would show up to a huge garage with all their tools, dump them out, and explore how we can share tools through collaboration to be more effective and efficient.  Collaboration is no small task, which is why I am thankful for the work the Wallace Center is doing to support and foster collaboration with food hubs and the food system. Looking ahead to 2019 for more learning, perspective, and collaboration.

[1] Unknown. “The Three A's for Managing Stress.” Humor at Work: Do's and Don'ts, Harris, Rothenberg International, LLC, 2018,

FSLN Admin


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