After an extensive history in community outreach for political and social causes, Solana Patterson-Ramos finds herself in a new space.
Patterson now serves as the first executive director of the Milwaukee Food Council. She started in February.
The Milwaukee Food Council is a nonprofit dedicated to building a food system that is sustainable, healthy and community driven.
In its early years, the council was involved in legalizing ownership of chickens and beekeeping within city limits. Recently, the organization has focused efforts on drafting large-scale food system strategies on issues such as food waste and equitable food access.
With the hiring of Patterson-Ramos and seven new additions to the board of directors this year, the organization seeks to build its capacity for community engagement with people who are not already involved in food-system advocacy.
“Education and community outreach is my thing,” she said.
The Milwaukee Food Council will be Patterson-Ramos’ first role that is explicitly about food security.
“Going through the interview process, I realized how much my views on the food system ties into everything I do,” she said.
A history of outreach
Patterson-Ramos has held communications and outreach roles in organizations such as MKE Black, Citizen Action Wisconsin, the Milwaukee branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union.
She also has worked in several political campaigns for state and local offices, including her own campaign for Milwaukee County supervisor in 2015.
In all of these roles, Patterson-Ramos says there is common theme: getting reliable and digestible information to people for events or causes that matter.
Danielle Nabak, who joined the Milwaukee Food Council in 2017 and sits on the council’s board of directors, said Patterson-Ramos stood out in the hiring process because of her “lived experience with inequities in the food system.”
Patterson-Ramos “has a lot of experience building from the ground up,” Nabak said. “Our mission is to build a food system that is community-driven, and we’re excited about engaging new folks.”
A lifetime of service
For Patterson-Ramos, service comes naturally.
As a kid growing up in multiple neighborhoods on both the north and south sides of Milwaukee, her mom instilled in her the viewpoint that community service was not a special act but “just something you do.”
“I come from a low-income household, and I remember going to the soup kitchen (for meals) but also volunteering in it,” she said.
But if you met her while she was attending Bradley Tech High School or in her early college days at UW-Milwaukee, she would probably have told you that she was destined for a career in electrical engineering. It was her focus in high school and her first declared major.
However, Patterson-Ramos remembers attending an out-of-town convention for the Society of Black Engineers in college that shifted her focus toward community outreach and education.
“Seeing all these Black and Brown people suited and booted and just seeing how a Black organization works, I came back pumped to do whatever I could (to) give people the help they needed to thrive and graduate,” she said.
Patterson-Ramos sees community outreach as a necessary ingredient for building a just and equitable society.
She said that often there is an assumption that people don’t care about an issue, when in reality they are simply unaware.
“A lot of times people just don’t know who’s involved or who they should talk to,” she said. “And a lot of times that’s because communication isn’t the best.
“If you don’t have a Facebook event, an Eventbrite, a press release and all that, how are people going to know about it?”
“There’s a lot of tools in the toolbox for fighting oppression, and education is one of those tools,” she said.
Rick Banks said he met Patterson-Ramos at a conference his first year in college.
“I remember thinking: ‘Wow. This woman is really passionate, informed and knowledgeable and creative,’” he said.
Ever since, the two have made a dynamic duo, whether on student government and other groups at UW-Milwaukee, working on political campaigns (including each other’s) and on developing MKE Black, a business directory focused on Milwaukee’s Black-owned businesses.
Although Patterson-Ramos takes pride in her work, she also is equally proud of what she does outside of it.
She’s worked in multiple haunted houses for about 10 years, including at Six Flags and Hauntfest.
She’s also an avid cosplayer and gamer. She takes part in tournaments at the annual Midwest Gaming Classic, and used to be involved in Anime Milwaukee.
On top of all that, she’s taking care of four cats.
“I do a lot of random stuff, man,” she said. “Outside of the work, I’m a geek.”
For more information
Both Nabak and Patterson-Ramos said that the best way to get involved and stay up to date with the Milwaukee Food Council is to sign up for the organization’s newsletter, which summarizes what the organization is working on as well as upcoming events and opportunities to get involved.