Since it’s only been five months, you may not have noticed that Tami Hughes is no longer an anchor and reporter on your local airwaves. That’s OK, she gets that all the time.
In fact, the former FOX6 personality has not only left television, she’s taken a completely new career path. The Ohio native is now working for Will Allen’s Growing Power, the urban farm on 55th and Silver Spring. It’s the kind of job that Hughes didn’t expect to have but at the same time, knew was totally right for her.
We caught up with Hughes recently to talk about both her new and former careers, as well as how the single mom is adjusting to life in a "normal" job. Enjoy this latest Milwaukee Talks.
OnMilwaukee.com: If we did this interview six months ago, it probably wouldn’t start with me asking you how life is on the farm.
Tami Hughes: I told my family I was leaving TV, and they said, "What are you doing?" I said, "I'm going to go be an urban farmer."
OnMilwaukee.com: What does that mean?
TH: It means we're growing fresh food in the city, and we are doing what blows people's minds: that this really can be done in cities and it needs to be done in cities like Milwaukee. There's a lot of land now that's vacant. What are you going to do with that land? Let's build hoop-houses or let's put gardens there and grow food locally.
OMC: This may be a ridiculous question, but are there not enough farms in Wisconsin?
TH: Oh my gosh. Think about when you go to the grocery store. Where does your food come from? It's not coming from Milwaukee. It gets trucked in from somewhere else. Not only are we local, but we don't use chemicals, either.
OMC: Is it about freshness or contributing to the local economy? Why should I care that my vegetables are coming from Belize?
TH: Number one, you're employing people here locally. This is important. We are at 55th and Silver Spring and we have a cafe that we started on King Drive because these are communities that need to be served that don't have the same access to fresh, healthy food. It's not just about having local food. It's also making sure that everybody has that same access to local food.
OMC: This is the concept of the "food desert," right?
TH: Yes. There was that big fight. I'm sure you saw. Milele Coggs, the alderwoman, trying to not have that dollar store going in and that was near our cafe because there is not fresh food.
OMC: How important is fresh food to Will Allen?
TH: That's why he started it. He's a farmer. He was looking for places to sell his food, but right away, kids from the neighborhood started showing up and were needing something to do. He saw a need right away.
OMC: How did you find yourself working at Growing Power?
TH: First, as a mother, a couple years ago, I saw "Food Inc." and was completely disgusted by it. As a person, I tried to care more about and think more about what I was feeding my kids and where it came from. Number two, I would see this guy on TV that always had a Miami Hurricanes hat on and when I first got here, I was like, "Who is this guy?" because I went to the University of Miami and there aren't very many of us around here.
I saw his bio and I was like, "Holy moly, this guy is doing so many great things." He was in our ACC Hall of Fame. He's the first African American athlete at Miami, period. He's just done so many great things and he made me really proud to say I'm a Miami Hurricane. I had him on "Wake Up" when I was filling in for Nicole when she was having her baby and it was right when his book came out and I said, "I want to come work for you guys some day. I think you could use help in PR."
OMC: You had that feeling while you were still working for TV?
TH:Yes. I just had a vision. I felt like God put this voice in my heart. It was weird once I started thinking of it. Everywhere I turned, it was almost like he would show up on Miami's Facebook page and I'm like, "Whoa, that's kind of strange." It took a year, but it worked out. My contract was up.
OMC: Prior to this, your entire career had been in journalism and news and now you're out of that. Was that a tough choice for you?
TH: No. It really wasn't.
OMC: Were you burned out?
TH: I had worked some form of weekends for pretty much my entire career. The schedule, working holidays, not having nights home, or at least most of your night to be with your kids and family, and working on Saturdays, that really wears you down. Also, to be honest, I was jaded. Someone said that this job doesn't reflect the world in which I live and I felt that way. Nobody really does as many fun light-hearted stories anymore. A a parent, it got harder to do stories about kids that have been abused or things like that.
OMC: Especially without any context. In local TV news you talk about fire, you talk about murders, you talk about sad stories, but just these disconnected things.
TH: Right. You don't have enough time and I felt that way, too. People criticize the media sometimes for bias and I've said a million times, 90 percent of what people usually think is biased is either laziness or not having time to do as thorough of a job as you would like because you have so many hard deadlines.
OMC: So describe your new job, your new life. Tell me about what you do.
TH: What has been refreshing to me is what I loved about being a reporter and meeting people and telling their stories every day. I'm still doing that. You think you're totally changing careers, but you really aren't, and now the stories I get to tell are all happy ones, about all the great things Growing Power is doing, and it's that same skill of knowing what makes a good story and knowing how to relate to people, is still, I think, what makes me good at this job.
OMC: What's a day in your life like now?
TH: It depends. I come in at eight – and that's the one thing that's taken me some time to get used to – is sitting at a desk a lot more than I would like. I was an outdoor dog as a journalist and I liked going out. I do sit at my desk a lot. It could be writing a press release, setting up interviews for Will, making flyers for upcoming events – it really varies.
OMC: This job did not exist before you got it, right?
TH: You know what was the hardest thing for me, was going from having so many hard deadlines and having to be so efficient with your time and get things done very quickly to realizing it's OK if this doesn't get done right this second. I don't have to return every single email right now, and it took me months to adjust to that. I put way more pressure on myself than I needed to.
OMC: You look more relaxed than the last time I saw you.
TH: I've heard that from a lot of people. People actually tell me I look younger, too.
OMC: Maybe all that good eating.
TH: I have been eating healthier. We get our market basket every week.
OMC: What’s it like working for Will Allen? He's a larger than life personality. Is he like that in person?
TH: Yes. He's really fun, though. He says that his second job could be a comedian. He's one of those people in life who been successful because it doesn't occur to him that there is another way.
OMC: I've never seen him not wearing that cut-off sweat shirt. Does he really wear that every day? That's his uniform?
TH: Yes. He has a sweatshirt with sleeves. Sometimes I've seen him wear it. He said it's very easy for his family to shop for him.
OMC: What’s going on outside of work now that you have normal hours again?
TH: My daughter's in Girl Scouts. I could never take her to the meetings because I got home so late.
OMC: Where are you from originally?
TH: Southern Ohio.
OMC: You came here for work?
TH: I did have a job here at the WB when we moved here, when I did news. That was nine years ago.
OMC: What about Milwaukee made you want to stay?
TH: What I love about Milwaukee is what you see is what you get. It's not fancy, you don't have to dress up for the party, but you're certainly invited if you want to come. I love it. We're not trying to be something we're not.
OMC: A little different than your college experience?
TH: Oh my gosh. We went out in South Beach. My girlfriend came down, she was going to school in Dayton. She was like, "Why does everyone look like they're going to prom and it's just Friday?" I'm like, "I don't know. It's exhausting."
OMC: Milwaukee is the place that you want to stay?
TH: Yes. My fiancée, we're both here now, this is where our kids are and yes, I like it. It's nice. We're close enough. His family is in Minneapolis. Mine is in Ohio. I do feel like I've grown a lot as a person and I feel like I'm just getting to a point where ... I just feel more grounded, more happier. I've let go of stuff that just doesn't matter.
OMC: Do you think Growing Power can change the world? It's changing Milwaukee, for sure.
TH: I think it is. It's blown my mind. We have people at our workshops from all over the world. People from Latvia, the U.K., who've said, "I'm going to go to Africa and do this," or Haiti, because there are people there who are, literally, they're trying to build a food system because otherwise, they don't eat. It's that basic.
Will has been doing this for 20 years, which is why he's considered such an expert, but so many people are starting to do what we've been doing and it's refreshing to see.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.