Peter Ruddock: A Passion for Sustainable Food Production

Many of us dream of ditching our day jobs to follow our passion, but few people actually do it. Former software developer Peter Ruddock is one who successfully made the leap. In 2011 he switched fields to focus on organic food, initially volunteering with a number of organizations, including Slow Food and the San Mateo County Food System Alliance, where he got a taste for food policy work. Over time, he branched out to focus more broadly on sustainable food production and food’s environmental impact, which eventually led him to his current focus on the regulatory environment for small food businesses. He is the founder of Resilient Foodsheds, curator of Green Omnivore, and Board President of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.

In the early years, Peter learned on the job rather than pursuing formal training in his new field. In 2018 he participated in the Green Foothills Leadership Program to get more formal training in advocacy. “My work included a lot of contact with politicians,” he said. “You do learn by trial and error, and by working with other people. But when I found out about the Green Foothills Leadership Program, I thought, here’s a way to dive in deeper on learning some other things that I might not know. It was useful to dive in and learn new techniques….For example, our first class meeting in 2018 was with (Santa Clara County Supervisor) Joe Simitian,” who provided valuable insights.

“I switched careers because I have a passion for food in all of its aspects — environmental, nutrition, societal, social justice,” Peter explained, and “the Leadership Program helped me hone the way I operate. It taught me techniques, it gave me contacts, it gave me information.”

Peter arrived at his current focus on business regulation because he saw that public health regulations often inadvertently discourage sustainable food businesses. “From 2011 to now, the trajectory of my work changed,” he said. “The first work I did was on organic food. I am passionate about getting chemicals out of our food and environment…  I found out, in many ways, that people who wanted to do the right thing had a hard road in front of them to do it, which certainly included people who wanted to grow and sell organic….There are other challenges to starting a food business that does the right thing. You can be steered in a number of ways toward doing the mainstream thing, by policy and regulation as well as by the market and by price…to me the sweet spot would be working in the intersection of helping a business do the right thing and that business being organic, regenerative, good for the earth…but working in that sweet spot is perhaps too small a space to make a living or to focus on…so my trajectory has me working on improving the regulatory environment that small businesses work in, regardless of what they produce, and then as a part of that, steering them toward organics.”

“My main focus these days is on home-based food businesses, cottage food and MicroEnterprise Home Kitchen Operations (MEHKO, aka Home Restaurants), though I also work on farmers markets, farm stands and other local food business issues,” Peter said. “I helped get Santa Clara County to adopt a MEHKO ordinance and am assisting a number of counties around the state, including Santa Cruz; Monterey adopted one out of the blue just last month.”

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