Scott Kemp ’84: Raising the Bar to Fight Food Insecurity
Scott Kemp ’84 spent more than two decades in sales and delivery operations and business development in the corporate world—for both PepsiCo and Coca-Cola. But about three years ago, he says, he had an epiphany while contemplating life in his field.
To describe it, Kemp paraphrases some of the lyrics from the Talking Heads song “Once in a Lifetime”: “This is about my beautiful house. This is about my beautiful life. My God! What have I done?”
And then he asks, “Who have I helped?”
In the summer of 2021, Kemp joined the Connecticut Food Bank and Foodshare as its director of food operations. He works with 8,000 volunteers to pick up, deliver, and distribute 50 million pounds of food annually to 700 community-based hunger-relief programs, including food pantries, community kitchens, and emergency shelters. Kemp is also responsible for engaging food donors and ensuring that the organization complies with food safety and worker and volunteer safety regulations.
His motto? “Treat people with dignity. Do things with passion, compassion, and enthusiasm.”
Kemp’s desire for change intensified while attending a University of Pennsylvania centennial celebration which was hosted by his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Penn’s Wharton School in marketing and finance.
“As I was talking to different people, I realized they were facing the same challenges,” he says. “I spoke to brothers in the clergy, nonprofit, and for-profit worlds who were doing well but saying, ‘What am I doing? Can I do more? Can I raise the bar higher?’”
Kemp left Coke soon after and—in a stroke of serendipity—the same day he walked out of his job, he was accepted to the University of Connecticut’s Encore! Program, which helped transition his corporate skillset and experience into working for nonprofits.
Through Encore!, Kemp not only learned the nitty gritty about nonprofits but also identified his passion and the area of work he would pursue. “When I was growing up, my father had a part-time farm, so I began looking into agriculture and food equity,” he says. “I narrowed [my focus] to food equity, food security, and skill development.”
For those interested in working in the nonprofit world, Kemp recommends volunteering first.
Before landing his job at the Connecticut Food Bank, he volunteered for a farm in Albany, New York, and then worked with Foodshare during his time at Coke before Foodshare merged with the Connecticut Food Bank.
Kemp has also volunteered as a member of Mercersburg’s Alumni Council and is a member of the school’s Black Alumni Association, which is working to develop bylaws and a mentor program as well as hosting some social events with alumni. The group plans to also do more regional gatherings.
“In the corporate world,” he says, “it's about ‘How much money are we going to make? How much money will we save?’ And making people happy is about how they can produce more.”
In contrast to the corporate world, Kemp says he enjoys working in the nonprofit sector because “people are willing to take the time to talk with you” and they are helpful.
"I am happy,” he says. “I am privileged to be here. I have never been welcomed to a job like I was in this role… I love coming in every day. And I have a lot to do.
“Sometimes I write down good memories of the Connecticut Foodshare, memories with warehouse folks and drivers,” he says. “They have conversations with me about what’s going on in the world and society that are so on-point and so insightful that it makes me tear up. I joke with them now, because I did it early on, saying, ‘You guys got me crying again.’”
One such conversation was a discussion with a driver who expressed his concern for fentanyl addicts in the New Haven area. He recalls the driver saying, “Scott, we can’t just lock these people up and expect the problem to be solved. We need to help them get well and then find them work.
"The volunteers are very good people and the people we serve every day are just amazing.”
In addition to his work at the Food Bank, Kemp and his wife, Melba, have established the Two Acres and a Bull Micro Farm, based in Ridgefield, Connecticut, where he is creating herbal teas and she is cultivating flowers.
Research for his farm led to Kemp becoming a founding member of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s Working Group to Improve Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The newly established group is committed to helping diverse farmers get started, be successful, and help them grow and network. The group is still narrowing its scope of work, but planned projects include resourcing, land acquisition, financial preparation, and access to resourcing and planning.
Having grown up working on his father’s 100-acre farm in western Pennsylvania, Kemp understands the importance of finding resources. “When I think of my father [Leonard], when he had a farm, access to resources was tough,” Kemp says. “There was no Internet. We drove around looking for information. Financially, it was difficult to get access to capital and there was a lot of borrowing among the community versus banks.”
A variety of farmers have joined the Connecticut group. “Some have small farms, some are urban, and some are in the country too," says Kemp. “When someone hears about ‘diversity’ in agriculture, they immediately think ‘urban.’”
The group has lists of working farms, and Kemp's job with the Food Bank allows him to network with individuals at the state’s Department of Agriculture. “We’re not going to solve everything, but we will pick one or two things and do them right,” he says.
Kemp attended Mercersburg for three years. He lived in Swank Hall—which was then a boys’ dorm—and later Main Hall, where he enjoyed his senior-year location, “on the first floor, under the steps, where you could sneak girls in through the window.”
The faculty members he remembers most are Wirt Winebrenner ’54, Bo Burbank, and Jim Malone. “They were all good, but the teacher I should really thank the most is Mr. [Ernie] Staley,” he says. “I had that hard Pennsylvania accent. It was cool to say ‘ain’t.’ He broke me of it. He really did, and he did it in such a nice way.”
Kemp was class president in the 10th, 11th, and 12th grades. He wrestled for a time and played football all three years, serving as team captain his senior year. He recalls his days at Mercersburg as fun and has returned for Reunion Weekend to catch up with classmates and faculty and to see the campus with its new facilities. “We went into the Hale Field House and found it amazing,” he says.
When Kemp is on campus, he is pleased to see that a piece of his family remains at Mercersburg. “Near the water fountain at the end of the football field, there’s a sweetgum tree,” he explains. “We didn't have a lot of money, but my dad was so proud. He loved Mercersburg. He brought this sweetgum tree up and planted it. It is still there, and it is kind of cool, because I think of it as watching over the football field.”