Julie Burford of Sebastopol’s Ceres Community Project wins Nonprofit Leadership Award

Julie Buford, ambassador for Ceres Community Project, Sebastopol


Julie Burford of Sebastopol’s Ceres Community Project has won one of North Bay Business Journal’s Nonprofit Leadership Awards.

Describe your organization

At Ceres we create a healthier people, healthier communities, and a healthier world through love, healing meals, and empowering the next generation. We do that in three ways:

• We provide beautiful, delicious and nourishing organic meals to people in our community who are facing a health crisis.

• The meals we deliver are prepared by teen chefs who volunteer their time in our kitchens and garden where they learn about growing, preparing and enjoying healthy whole foods, and discover the joy of giving to others.

• Ceres’ Nourishing Connections Cookbook and Healing Foods classes support our clients, volunteers and other community members in learning to cook and eat in a way that supports the health of both people and planet.

We do this from three program kitchens in San Rafael, Santa Rosa and in Sebastopol where our headquarters are located.

Ceres Community Project was founded in Sebastopol in 2007. Since that time they have delivered more than 500,000 meals to 3,700 families, and brought 2,300 teens into the kitchens and the garden to learn and to find the joy in giving back to the community. They launched an ambitious program in Santa Rosa, working with Social Advocates for youth, and they have aided and encouraged a dozen “inspired by Ceres” projects in cities around the country. The Marin program launched in 2010 and has delivered more than 70,000 healing meals prepared by young volunteers in a rented kitchen two afternoons a week.

Tell us a little bit about yourself

I am a San Francisco native who has lived in Marin County since 1969. I have been married to Stan Burford for more than 50 years, have two children and five grandchildren. I had a successful career as a consultant for a national firm, a long run in tourism and facilities management at the Moscone Center, and the opportunity to “retire” and pursue my interest in the connection between food and health – first as a recipe developer and cookbook collaborator and then in launching Ceres in Marin.

I have long been a passionate home cook. I enjoy sharing my enthusiasm for healthful and delicious food with friends and family, and I have especially enjoyed teaching my grandchildren to cook and eat mindfully with an eye to the future of our planet and their own health and well-being.

My role was to establish Ceres in Marin County in order to bring the benefits of Ceres’ healing meals and youth development programs to the Marin Community based on the practices and values of Ceres in Sonoma County. I did this in the fall of 2010 at the request of Ceres founder, Cathryn Couch, and with the help of a committed volunteer partner and small but dedicated team, we succeeded in delivering more than 50,000 health supportive meals over 5 years working two afternoons a week in a rented kitchen.

The opportunity to launch Ceres in Marin was one of those rather “out of the blue” moments that truly was a game changer for me. I found myself working well outside my comfort zone for much of the time in the early years, learning a whole new vocabulary, and doing something difficult for me — asking people for money. Then, after five years of doing a lot of improvising, albeit within a policy and value framework, it was time to fully integrate Marin into the larger Ceres family of programs, and in so going, step out of a management role and letting go of the operating responsibilities

What is your role in the organization?

I began as the founding program manager for Marin. Today I am an ambassador for Ceres – helping to make connections and raise funds to ensure a strong future. My role has always been that of a volunteer, both as the founder of the Marin Ceres program and continuing today as an ambassador, fundraiser, and kitchen team member.

What achievement are you most proud of?

Having accepted the challenge to launch a new non-profit program in Marin, initially as an independent entity, and with the help of Ann Wathen, an amazing volunteer partner, growing the Marin program successfully over five years, fully funding an annual budget of up to $200,000 by 2015. I had no background in the non-profit world but love a good challenge, and I am committed to the work of changing the foodscape in my small corner of the world and helping young people to understand how good food connects people and supports life.

What is your biggest challenge today?

Expanding our fundraising base in Marin County. Although Marin has a largely affluent population, there is exceptionally strong competition for funding among an abundance of non-profits doing good work.

What is the next major project either underway or on the horizon?

Planning for a capital campaign in order to either build our own kitchen or, by some means, acquire adequate kitchen space and time to grow our program to meet the demand for our services.

Most admired businessperson outside your organization: Mary Kay Sweeney, CEO of Homeward Bound of Marin.

Current reading: "The Well-Tempered City" by Jonathan Rose and "A Gentleman in Moscow" by Amor Towles

Most want to meet: Elon Musk

Stress-relievers: Cooking, walking, reading, enjoying classical music.

Favorite hobbies: Collaborating on cookbook writing and recipe development with Rebecca Katz, author of five successful books published by Ten Speed Press; I have been part of Rebecca’s culinary team through the writing of four books including the national award-winning The Cancer Fighting Kitchen

Social media you most use: I’m not much of a social media user.

Typical day at the office: These days I have no office and all days are unique.

Best place to work outside of the office: My kitchen.

Words that best describe you: Tenacious, focused, loyal, energetic

Anything you want to add?

Since it was possible to nominate only a single individual for this honor, Ceres leadership nominated me as the founder of Ceres Marin. But it’s important for me to say that, without my extraordinary friend and partner, Ann Wathen, I can’t imagine we would be here today. What we did was hard but thoroughly rewarding, and we did it together.

While I launched the program on my own, within a few short months Ann joined me and worked tirelessly to help build our small organization into something with “legs” and a future. For much of the next five years, we both made Ceres a full time commitment, and together we transitioned Marin fully into the Ceres family.