This Woman Is Contributing To The Changing Landscape Of American Cities


America’s infrastructure and culture are changing. Once relegated to segregation and isolation, women are breaking barriers, and walls, and in the cracks, green is sprouting up.

As the owner of a Landscape Architecture Firm specializing in creating public spaces for cities, you can find my team and me engaging in a wide variety of activities - from designing plans to engaging in public meetings, visiting project sites or nurseries, or a myriad of other activities. There are a wide array of components necessary to the process of beautifying our cities, but which are crucial in the role of implementing public spaces that can be enjoyed during work or play and which contribute to America’s rapidly evolving communities.

Women today are living in a challenging social climate, with the very idea of basic morality being tugged along a partisan divide. When we’re having public debates about just who women should be allowed to have lunch with, there’s a problem. And while I would never pretend to have the solution to our societal dilemma, I can’t help but look to our cities to seek a better understanding.

I have always loved gardens, and have dreamt of their designs my whole life. A passion that’s been instilled in me since I was a little girl, my entire life has been influenced by the natural world of my surroundings. There are some who would view gardening as a “feminine” pastime, but no one would disagree more than my father. A thorough bred Englishman, the comforts of the garden were among my dad’s only consistencies as a young boy. While the Nazis pummeled London, my dad was evacuated along with thousands of other children to safer parts of the UK. He spent his early years shifting between England and Ireland, never sure of what the next day was going to bring. This state of constant change taught my dad to be patient and ready for anything – qualities that lent themselves well to a long life of gardening.

Eventually, his love of gardening brought him to America and to my mother. If he was the example of the quintessential Englishman, my mother was the quintessential American. Able to trace her American roots all the way back to the Revolution, and proud of her heritage – they were a mix of Old World and New.

Together, they instilled in my sisters and me, a sense of pride and independence. I did not grow up defined by my gender and felt no limitations as a woman, yet, as my career picked up, I found that some men did. Whether a doctor, lawyer, scientist, or any other “untraditional” role, women everywhere have the same story. Mine happened in the field. Dressed in steel-toed boots and a hard hat, I was overseeing the installation of a rain water system. My team of workers were all men, and as manly as they professed to be, they did not know how to properly install the equipment. It was up to me to get in the dirt and guide them through the installation, but they looked at me – this little woman, with faces clearly registering doubt. When I explained that the rain water system had a filter over it, which was knotted at the end like socks from the laundry, one of them quipped that his wife did the laundry. With humor and deflection, I quipped right back, got the crew laughing and to drop their defenses, they learned how to properly install the system and throughout the rest of the project to see me as a leader, no different from them.

I’ve led many design/build projects, and found this to happen many times since. I admire my male colleagues, and count many as my closest friends, but without a doubt I have faced doubt or discrimination and have had to integrate that into my daily dealings.

But, what do my experiences say about America, and how does my role at the helm of a design firm affect how women are viewed professionally? Sexism is, in many ways, rooted into the ways cities are built. Think of the classic images of a business-driven city – men in suits rushing to and fro, from sun blocking skyscrapers lining city streets. After a day’s grind, they return home to doting wives and respectful children and sit down to dinner for a home cooked meal. When America returned from WWII as the leader of the free world, this was the ideal, the American dream – and its cities matched that vision. Impressive skyscrapers challenged the clouds and hard concrete lined the streets. Business was purely business in this masculine rush for American dominance, and there was no need for anything else.

However, society has evolved, and proof of that is built into the framework of modern cities. It is through the creation of a space that makes one feel connected to their community. It is when designers thoughtfully incorporate a level of detail that facilitates connectivity, social engagement and comfort, that the design becomes invaluable to the framework that draws people to that space, and makes them want to use it.

As a contributor to city design and beautification, this evolution is nowhere more apparent than in the design of our cities and communities. Because many of the projects I work with are publicly funded, I feel that my work represents the desires of everyday Americans, and how they see the future, no matter where their political ballots lie. As we become a more open and diverse society, we’re melding our personal lives with our business. Developers are adding room for parks, where meetings can be held in the sunshine. Offices have common areas that promote friendship and connectivity. Public transportation stops are lined with trees, flowers, and walking/biking paths that support our health. Gone is the “nostalgic” stereotype of a man at work.

We’re already living in a time where “lunch” and “business” are not separate activities, but hand-in-hand with our daily duties. Americans – male and female – have moved past the idea that business is an entity disconnected from the rest of our lives.

As a woman, I’m proud to contribute to this evolving nature of American life and American professionalism. While the debate rages on about women’s role in society, let those who cling to the past look to America’s cities to see that change is built into the very framework of our communities, and that it won’t stop. When men of a certain mindset head to the office every morning, let them know that women like me are cultivating the public spaces that form their environment.

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No Funding Necessary: How I Built My Business In 9 Steps

Organic growth has made all the difference for my company. Since its start in 2010, Fresh n' Lean has delivered more than 7.2 million organic meals that are free of pesticides, hormones, GMOs, and other additives. The business itself has grown organically, too, without the help of any outside capital. Over the past decade, Fresh n' Lean's bootstrapped operation has grown into a 220-employee company with nine-figure revenue.

Here's how I've been able to successfully build my business without taking on a penny of outside funding.

1. A Hard Decision

The decision of whether or not to take on outside capital is a difficult one.

I was lucky— I relied on personal savings to fund Fresh n' Lean at the company's onset. I thought Fresh n' Lean was a meaningful endeavor, and I believed in myself and my vision.

Not every business owner would be financially able to make the same decision I did. Either way, it's important that your company's growth happens gradually and naturally.

2. Start Small

I was an 18-year-old college student when I launched Fresh n' Lean.

I would regularly work upwards of 20 hours a day— cooking dishes, arranging the meals in tupperware containers, handwriting the labels, and personally delivering them to some of our earliest customers.

Pretty soon we were shipping meals nationally, and I began renting a commercial kitchen space.

We generated a ton of enthusiasm from our customers, and that support prooved that we were on to something. But the early days featured lots of trial and error. We made mistakes and learned from them before scaling the business.

3. Rely On Your Network

Fresh n' Lean started with a team of five people. My friends and relatives chipped in, and my brother Thomas joined Fresh n' Lean as co-CEO.

Relying on those close colleagues was so meaningful in helping me get the company off the ground. I often look at Fresh n' Lean's employees as a family, and that mentality was especially true in those early days.

As I ramped up the hiring, my experiences with every aspect of our operation made me sharp at understanding the company's needs— and helped me to hire employees with the right skill set and mentality to drive the company forward.

4. Hold Firm

Fresh n' Lean embodies a lifestyle choice, a chance for everyone in the United States to have access to nourishing meals amid their busy lives.

We probably could have driven more sales by offering non-organic meal options, but I wanted the company to remain true to my mission.

A decade later, I'm so proud to see the impact Fresh n' Lean has made in redefining fast food.

5. Capitalize On Industry Trends

We live in a society of instant gratification— we want everything now, and our world is completely focused on convenience.

When Fresh n' Lean was launched, the idea of receiving ready-to-eat meals on your doorstep was a strange concept. But a decade later, we're used to having everything delivered to our homes. Recognizing and capitalizing on those changing consumer habits was a big part of our growth.

6. Don't Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

For years, I wanted to open our own kitchen facility— it was a top priority.

But building the space was a difficult and extensive process that could have financially devastated us if we attempted it too soon. In those early years, the project would have left the company too vulnerable.

Instead of moving forward with the project, we waited. In the meantime, we continued renting commercial kitchen space. One day a week turned into two, and then three and four, and eventually we were renting the space five days a week.

In time, we had no other options but to build our own kitchen facility— and our restraint before moving forward with that project was crucial, even if it was frustrating for the short-term.

7. Focus On You

As you build your company, it's easy to try to compare it to the growth other companies experience.

But headlines and press releases don't reveal the full story, and outside funding can mask structural and foundational problems. One example is the online ordering and meal delivery service Munchery, which secured more than $125 million from lenders before closing in early 2019.

Every company's story is unique! You can't judge your company's success based on the ups and downs of others. Focus on making your company the best you can.

8. One Thing At A Time

Our meal offerings have expanded through deliberate, strategic planning and extensive customer feedback.

We started with vegan meals and followed with protein-based meals. Other meal plan options, Paleo and Keto, were added to the menu in the past few years.

Building the recipes takes time— we want to be sure to get it right. And our customer feedback ensures that there's built-in interest before rolling out new meal options.

9. Be Resourceful

Building the company without outside capital forced me to be more resourceful. I couldn't throw money at everything I wanted to change— I had to be patient and find alternative solutions.

It's similar, in a way, to cooking a dish without having every ingredient listed in the recipe. You must have the key ingredients! Our executive chef was one of our earliest hires.

But you can adjust and improvise on some of the secondary ingredients, using whatever alternatives you have available and relying on tried-and-true methods to fill in the gaps.

Who knows? Through experimentation, you just might find a better way to cook your dish or guide your company forward.