Introducing Hannah Packman: animal lover, musical enthusiast, food systems reformer, and more! Keep reading to learn about Hannah’s inspiring work in sustainable agriculture and how that ties into her Jewish identity.
GatherDC: What brought you to the DMV and what made you stay?
Hannah: I studied agricultural policy in grad school, and when I was looking for jobs all the opportunities I found were in DC. Now I’ve been here for the past five years. It’s been a little tricky living here during the pandemic because I feel like my favorite parts of DC have been less accessible. However, DC is home to so much exciting art, food, and culture. There’s a ton of great stuff going on and a lot of it is free or at least cheap, which is incredible. DC is also full of really passionate people. Everyone I meet is fascinating, has an incredible job, and/or is doing something really cool.
GatherDC: Could you describe your ideal day in the DMV from start to finish?
Hannah: First of all, food has to be involved. I would probably grab a pastry and coffee from Fare Well, which is one of my favorite vegan restaurants in DC [Editor’s note: Fare Well is now called Sticky Fingers Diner]. One of my favorite activities is walking, so I would take a walk around the mall and if there weren’t any lines I would check out one of the museums. Later I would hit up an afternoon baseball game with some of my friends. In the evening, I would either go to a comedy show or see a musical at the Kennedy Center.
GatherDC: Sounds like a fantastic day! What’s something you like to do in your free time?
Hannah: I volunteer for the Humane Rescue Alliance doing data entry for their foster program and taking photos of their community events and adoptable animals. It’s a great way to interact with animals without adopting a million. It’s nice to support the community and help folks keep and care for their animals by providing them with vet care, food, and other necessities.
GatherDC: Do you have pets of your own?
Hannah: Yes! We have two cats that started out at Humane Rescue Alliance, Small Fry and Poutine. (They even have their own Instagram account!) . They were part of the same litter and all had potato-themed names. We still keep in touch with the owners of the cats’ other potato-named siblings too.
GatherDC: Switching gears a bit now: what led you to your current job?
Hannah: One of the main reasons I wanted to get into agricultural policy is because our food system contributes significantly to climate change. However I feel like it’s not always a central part of the conversation when we’re talking about solutions. I wanted to work in the political sphere to find ways to reform our food system to make it better for the environment. I currently work with the Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition, which is part of The Nature Conservancy. It’s a program led by farmers—mostly oyster growers—who are concerned about the ways climate change affects their businesses. My job is to help them share their stories on social media and with the press to get the word out about how climate change is affecting agriculture and people right now.
GatherDC: Wow, that’s incredible work! Do you have a favorite part of your job?
Hannah: Every once in a while I get to visit a farmer in person and I always learn so much from those visits. A couple of months ago, I visited an oyster farm in Cape Cod. I put on waders to walk to the farm, and spent the day out there, helping the farmers sort oysters by size, and chatting with them about the experiences they’ve been having. It was a really grounding experience. Sometimes sitting at my desk by myself it can be hard to remember the value of the work that I’m doing, but every time I interact with a farmer I’m reminded why it’s important.
GatherDC: How do you connect with your Jewish identity?
Hannah: To me, the work that I do connects me to Judaism. The Jewish idea of tikkun olam (“repairing the world”) is a driving force behind a lot of what I do professionally. In the last few years, I’ve also been learning about shmita and discovering ways that these ancient agricultural ideas are still relevant today. Outside of work, I cook a lot of Jewish foods that I grew up eating. and I started learning Hebrew recently, which has been a new way to connect to and understand Judaism.
GatherDC: You mentioned that you feel really connected to Jewish food. Do you have a favorite Jewish food?
I love matzah ball soup! It’s hands down one of my favorite foods. I recently found out that I’m severely gluten intolerant so I’m trying to rework all my favorite Jewish recipes. Hopefully I can find a good matzah ball alternative!
GatherDC: Last but not least, can you complete this sentence – When the Jews of DC gather…
Hannah: We go see musicals! At least in my experience I meet a lot of DC Jews who love musicals.
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