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Employee Profile: Rebecca Petee

Every nonprofit is blessed to have employees who see their positions as being more than mere jobs—people who are sincerely dedicated to the mission of the organization. Such is the case with Rebecca Petee, who came to ABC from New Hampshire where she helped manage a natural pharmacy that dispensed many herbal and homeopathic preparations (and no conventional pharmaceutical drugs, even though there are two pharmacists on staff).

One of Rebecca’s main roles here at ABC (and I do not think this is stipulated specifically in her job description) is to play “kitchen herbal mama.” Indeed, she has made our historic house a home. Hardly a day goes by when there is not an email from her to ABC staff members inviting them to come to ABC’s large kitchen area for some fresh pesto, made that day with basil from the ABC gardens, or for fresh mint and lemongrass tea she has just prepared. Recently, Rebecca has been guiding ABC interns who are interested in creating healthier, herbier food options. Together, they modify existing recipes for cookies and other desserts, and the resulting treats—made with agave instead of table sugar, beans in place of white flour, plus added herbs—have been a sweet success.

Her tutelage does not stop there, of course. Rebecca is constantly showing our pharmacy and dietitian interns how to make herbal preparations such as fresh echinacea tincture—again, from the ABC gardens—or jars of calendula cream. And, she has a traveling bug, which she constructively channels into field trips for the interns to local herb gardens and organic farms, herb shops, compounding pharmacies, and more.

Rebecca’s job at ABC also includes responsibility for maintenance of the 2.5-acre ABC herb gardens—no easy task without the aid of a full-time gardener, as we have had in the past. Garden duties entail ensuring that plants are watered (a significant challenge in Texas summers!), pruned, and cared for, as well as ordering plants in the spring and starting new seedlings from seeds collected from the previous year’s plants. Other vital tasks include protecting certain plants from freezing in the winter, and ensuring that the greenhouse, rainwater harvesting system, drip irrigation system, and all garden tools and equipment are in working order.

In addition to directing the ABC pharmacy and dietitian interns, Rebecca oversees ABC’s volunteer program, helping to elicit volunteers from the local Austin community and organizing and supervising them when they are here at ABC, particularly in the gardens, where there is no such thing as too much help.

Rebecca also responds to and conducts research for ABC member inquiries. Whether the query is submitted by an individual or a company, Rebecca is always prepared to craft a thoughtful response—utilizing her years of acquired wisdom and ABC’s extensive library—or to refer members to another expert source. While it is true that she is providing a service to the herbal community, as Rebecca sees it, these inquiries can also be a valuable teaching tool for ABC’s interns.

Building community is central to Rebecca’s life outside of work, too. Hospitable to the last drop, she enjoys facilitating convivial atmospheres by cooking for family and friends, and also while sharing her herbal and epicurean skills with younger generations of women. She finds joy in trying ethnic cuisines, and in creating original dishes by combining whatever she may have in the pantry with fresh herbs from outside.

Elsewhere, Rebecca is an avid knitter and reader. She even narrates books to her out-of-state granddaughters, Brisla and Adalyn, over Skype video chats. There is no question that Rebecca brings people together, from reaching out through modern technology to gathering and educating communities the old-fashioned way: around the kitchen table.

—Mark Blumenthal and Ashley Lindstrom