When the city of Walla Walla, Washington hired Lydia Caudill in 2021 to be the Community Development Block Grant Coordinator, Caudill brought her unusual experiences to the table.
The grant program helps connect federal funds to local programs and projects, benefiting residents in need through various agencies and services such as Blue Mountain Action Council.
Caudill had spent three years in Paraguay (2011-14) with the Peace Corps, where she worked in agriculture and food systems, part of the connection between food and community development.
When the mission ended, Caudill embarked on her next adventure: biking from Paraguay to Colombia — alone — for 5,000 miles. She was pedaling a human powered bike, no gas or electric motors involved.
Caudill’s travel allowed for her to explore her Mexican-Colombian heritage and form relationships with the indigenous people she often stayed with. She learned about their food systems with a special focus on indigenous communities maintaining control of their own food.
That passion for food sovereignty led her home and ultimately to earn a master’s degree in the field.
For her thesis, Caudill worked with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) and examined what bridges and barriers the tribes have in passing on traditions and knowledge of “First Foods” — those indigenous peoples have had relationships with for millennia — to their children and their children’s children.
Caudill’s passion and enthusiasm for the people she worked with is evident. “Working with the CTUIR on my master’s thesis was my shining star during COVID,” she said, and the experience doubled down her belief that developing trust through relationships is critical to her work.
Caudill brings her core relationship values to her work with the block grant program.
“Whenever anybody reaches out to me, I really try to make time to meet with them,” she said. “Everyone’s a stakeholder in the city of Walla Walla, anyone can be a potential partner be it community member or organization. And that’s all relational.”