Alverno at Work: Tracy Hrajnoha
Tracy Hrajnoha ’15 turned her passion for social justice into a career at Neu-Life Community Development. But she knew she needed additional skills to help take the youth-focused nonprofit to the next level.
“Being in the nonprofit sector, I felt that having business acumen could help grow the organization,” says Hrajnoha, Neu-Life’s director of strategy and innovation. “Both sectors do a lot of things well. We can learn from each other, and with that, we can be really powerful.”
That’s what brought Hrajnoha to Alverno’s Master of Business Administration program in 2013. As the program coordinator at Neu-Life, located in Milwaukee’s Lindsay Heights neighborhood, she was able to take what she was learning and apply it immediately to her job (earning a promotion in the process).
During her studies, Hrajnoha brought a budding idea for a new venture into the classroom and worked with her peers to develop a business plan. That business was Farmfork, which Hrajnoha originally envisioned as operating tours of area farms.
“It’s important to know where your food comes from and to honor who grows your food,” she says.
While the business showed promise, Hrajnoha quickly realized she could unite her interests in food and community service. So she brought Farmfork under Neu-Life’s umbrella, transforming it into an after-school program in which teens plan, plant and manage gardens at four locations. The teens also learn how to cook recipes using the fruits of their labor.
“I realized Farmfork would be more meaningful and have more of an impact as a nonprofit,” she says.
Now in its fifth year, Farmfork was recently honored with a $100,000 grant from Impact 100, the women’s philanthropy collective. Farmfork used the money to construct a commercialgrade kitchen featuring a stainless steel hood, grilltop, deep fryer, ample prep space, a large freezer and roomy layout.
Hrajnoha and her students got to break in the kitchen at the most recent Farmfork Feast, the capstone event of the program and a fundraiser. Guests are invited to view the gardens the teens planted and then enjoy a four-course meal prepared from their harvest. The most recent menu included roasted shrimp parmesan risotto, chicken and strawberry lemon basil cheesecake mousse.
“It’s pretty incredible to have a four-course meal from teens using the vegetables they grew during the summer,” she says.
Hrajnoha is grateful to her MBA classmates and the skills she learned during her studies for helping get the Farmfork program off the ground.
“It’s been so successful because of the time I was able to work on it at Alverno,” she says.
Hrajnoha looks forward to continuing to grow Farmfork, the perfect mix of her two passions. She’s constantly inspired by the transformation of the teens she works with, like one student who wowed her family with a home-cooked meal of fettuccine alfredo.
“This student was known as someone who’s going to burn everything, yet she made something delicious for her family. They ate the meal and loved it,” she says. “That’s why I’m doing this. Cooking is love.”
This article originally appeared in the spring 2018 issue of Alverno Magazine.