Stand and Deliver: Providing Inclusive Access to Safe and Affordable Foods with Emily Brown
by Lisa Gable · 10 Apr 2023 · 7 min read
My Stand and Deliver series highlights women who lead through inspiration and aspiration. Today’s article is about the importance of ensuring everyone has access to affordable foods that fit their medical needs. No one understands this issue more than Emily Brown who struggled to find foods she could feed her own children when they were diagnosed with severe food allergies. Dauntless, Emily was determined to ensure there are resources for other families who face similar barriers due to cost and the lack of availability of the right foods to meet their health needs.
Today, she is focused on her tech startup, Free From Market, which recently closed a $2.1M seed round. (Congratulations, Emily!) Prior to founding her company, Emily was the founder and chief executive officer CEO of the Food Equality Initiative, a nonprofit committed to ending hunger for individuals with diet-related illnesses like food allergies, celiac disease, Crohn’s Disease, and more.
Emily, please introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about your personal story, your career, and what excites you about your current stage of life.
I am a social entrepreneur, patient advocate, wife, mother, and disciple of Christ. My work over the past decade has been focused on health equity and rooted in lived experience.
I often say this work found me, and I am grateful every day I get to spend my time pursuing my passion. It is a privilege, and I try to honor it everyday.
My journey starts as a mother with limited resources and sick children. We were on WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and still could not afford the foods needed to keep my daughters healthy. Initially, I started a nonprofit, Food Equality Initiative, to get special dietary foods into food banks and food pantries.
Recognizing the need for high-quality data to change policies, I became a co-investigator on food-related conditions and food insecurity. I became obsessed with finding the best ways to connect people to the foods they needed.
During this time, I also began serving on the Family Advisory Board at Children’s Mercy. The hospital’s commitment to patient- and family-centered care has given me a unique opportunity to serve my community and develop a deep understanding of healthcare quality. I now serve also on the Children’s Hospital Association’s Steering Committee for the Next Generation of Quality working to expand domains of quality beyond safety.
All of this has led me to my current work at Free From Market, where every experience before helps inform my work as a social entrepreneur building a startup in the food is medicine space.
Tell us about a major transition period in your life (major move, career move, family, unique opportunity) and what prompted the change.
In many ways, 2022 was a major transition year for me.
Just at the close of 2021, my family moved across state lines into a new home, and I began working full-time at Free From Market. In many ways, it felt like the beginning of a new chapter.
Like many, the pandemic highlighted what was most important to me—my family.
I wanted to live in a home that provided more space for my family to gather. Our new home has made it possible for my dad to live with us full-time. This was important to me, as I grew up in a multigenerational home and wanted my children to experience the many blessings of having a grandparent in the home.
Building Free From Market has also allowed me to transition from the nonprofit community to a socially minded for-profit. I’ve embraced business as a force for good and truly believe I now have the right business model to best serve my community.
What are the three top tips you have for a woman trying to assert her influence and ideas?
My first tip is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Building influence and sharing new ideas takes courage. You have to be willing to do new things and meet new people.
Secondly, it is important to bring others along. I am reminded of the African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Finally, never give up. Persistence is the key to success. There will always be challenges, but you must hold fast to your vision.
How do you help unleash leadership at all levels?
I believe that leadership is not a title, but rather a set of actions that everyone can engage in. I believe this starts with empowering all employees to lead by giving them autonomy and independence in their roles.
It is important for leaders to be challenged. Free From Market is an early-stage company, so there are lots of opportunities for team members to be challenged by taking on new projects and stretching their skills.
Tell our readers about a passion project of yours, why it’s unique or special, and what attracted you to it.
I am deeply passionate about health equity. That is why I give my time and charitable gifts to my local children’s hospital. I believe pediatric institutions are uniquely positioned to improve the lives of children and families. I continue to serve on a host of hospital committees, as this institution impacts over 300,000 pediatric lives in my community. Most of all, they are committed to treating all patients, regardless of their ability to pay.
Who inspires you today and why?
My girls continue to inspire me each day. They are kind, smart, and braver than I ever was at their age. I know they’re watching me and that inspires me every day to be brave and never give up.
What is a future aspiration?
Today, I am focused on building Free From Market into a business that does well by doing good. In the future, I aspire to continue to make an impact in my community.
My Key Takeaways
What strikes me the most about Emily is that she shows up as a whole person in every setting. She transparently shares her struggles, triumphs, and faith in God, making her one of the most remarkable leaders with whom I have had the pleasure to work.
I have attended forums where Emily brought tears to our eyes as she shared her family’s food insecurity and how medical personnel and WIC coordinators ignored her appeals for assistance. She speaks of racism encountered as people questioned the validity of the medical data she presented about the unique complexities of her children’s diet-related diseases.
Yet, Emily is not only defined by her confidence and her sense of self but also by her tenacity. As she fought and won her battles, she immediately pivoted to focus her energy on leading solutions so other families would have the resources that were not available to her.
That is why my favorite Emily quote is:
I believe that leadership is not a title, but rather a set of actions that everyone can engage in.
Life never seems to follow the perfect plan we created when we graduated from high school. The career ladder we anticipated rarely plays out as we hoped. Sheryl Sandberg said it best in her 2013 bestseller, Lean In: “[Career[ ladders are limiting… Jungle gyms offer more creative exploration. There are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym. The ability to forge a unique path with occasional dips, detours and even dead ends presents a better chance of fulfillment.”
Life is never linear. Personal struggles may define us as individuals who forge ahead, getting stronger along the way, or as people who reach a standstill, unable to advance out of fear, anxiety, and insecurity.
How we react to success or failure at life’s inflections reveals who we are. It is our confidence in our decisions, our cheer squad (the personal team with which we surround ourselves), and partnerships forged that enable us to advance on our journey. Most importantly, our willingness to strive forward and never give up enables us to create impact with every step we take.
What lessons did you learn from Emily’s interview? Let me know what inspired you by connecting with me on Instagram or LinkedIn. You can also sign up for my newsletter and buy my book, Turnaround: How to Change Course When Things Are Going South, at www.lisagable.com.