This month, YFM has said farewell to a piece of its DNA. Joanna Baker, one half of our dynamic founding duo, is setting sail on a new adventure after a huge 5 years at the helm of YFM.

To mark this important moment, we are going to do something a little different. At Jo’s farewell drinks, held two weeks ago at The Commons in Darlinghurst (where it all began round a table, many moons ago), we toasted to Jo and everything that she’s created. This speech, delivered by YFM’s Community Manager Thea Soutar, captures just a small fragment of what we think of Jo. Enjoy.

“I want to speak briefly tonight, if I dare, on behalf of the many people who have had the immense honour of working with Jo Baker these past 5 years.

For the past four of those years, I’ve had the great pleasure of watching Jo in her element at the helm of this organisation. What has become so obvious over that time is the gravity of what Jo gives people as a leader of YFM. You don’t actually have to spend very long around Jo to see what that is.

To spend time with Jo, whether it’s over a coffee, a paddock, or even a boardroom table, is an experience of being heard, of being valued and fundamentally of being seen.

Before I met Jo, I don’t think I’d ever truly appreciated this as a skill of leadership. I’d thought that listening was a skill reserved just for the quiet introverted people who were always going to sit in the corner of the room. Seeing Jo in action has taught me, as I know it’s taught many of us, that leadership – true, deep leadership – is about being able to listen, to seek to understand (even when it’s hard), and to make space for the people around you to stand up. That’s what Jo brings in swathes. She enables people to stand up.

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Jo bringing her amazing dance skills to our first national retreat, that brought together volunteer leaders from six chapters across Australia

This is, of course, to say nothing of her own ambition and her own drive to do good in the world. The lightness Jo brings to the world makes it easy to talk only of her warmth, her openness, her massive heart. But Jo is more than a lover, she’s a fighter. Today, of all the days, is one to celebrate these other parts of Jo – her immense drive and her visionary ambition, both things which mean that it’s no accident that she’s shared the helm with Alex all these years and fought for so long to make YFM what it is today. As an organisation full of so many strong capable women, let’s celebrate not just Jo’s heart but her power and her formidable strength of conviction.

Last night I went to a workshop on How to Be a Food Advocate held as part of a conference held at USyd on Food Governance. The workshop was attended by about 60 people, leaders in Australia’s food movement, academics, advocates, government representatives. As I looked round that room, I counted 10 young people sitting in there who represented not one but four of YFM’s teams – from Sydney and Western Sydney, but also of Melbourne and of Wollongong. That meant that around one in every 6 people in that room was either a current or a previous part of the YFM community. It occurred to me that many of those young people were there because you Jo, and you Alex, created something that had at some stage given them an identity, a purpose, and a reason to be in that room. It didn’t matter that you guys weren’t in that room yourselves, the impact of your work was as clear as day. I’d hedge my bets that one day, one of those YFMers is going to be standing out the front, running that very workshop.

So Jo, if you’re wondering what kind of legacy you’ve left, know that there are young people, in so many different rooms around the country, that are there because you gave them license to be. Thank you for giving so many of us the time, the strength and the space to find our voices.

Before I wrap up I just want to pay tribute to her parents who are in the room tonight. Thank you for bringing this amazing woman into our lives. A woman who has impacted the lives of many of us so profoundly..

And Jo, know how many of us have your back as you go out into this exciting new part of your journey. We’re so proud to see you giving yourself that same time and the space that you so freely offer to others. I can’t wait to see where you will put the full force of your energy next. The world needs so much more of what you have.”

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Image credits, top to bottom: Amanda Sacks, Zo Zhou

Thea Soutar