*all speakers are subject to change.
Judson Todd AllenCEO and Executive Chef of Healthy Infused Cuisine, LLC.
Chicago native, Judson Todd Allen is the CEO and Executive Chef of Healthy Infused Cuisine, LLC, a premier cuisine company with clients such as national radio and TV talk show host Steve Harvey and Walgreens. Chef Judson is currently partnering with the Former CEO of McDonalds, Don Thompson, on his new venture – Cleveland Avenue, LLC, a food and beverage accelerator and venture capital firm. As Culinary Lead and Head Chef, Judson consults with clients and entrepreneurs as well as oversees the menu ideation and development for their restaurant – Taste 222.
Chef Judson had a passion for food early in life. It led him to earn a degree in Food Science/Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. In addition, Chef Judson has traveled the world in search of hidden culinary treasures. While in Paris, he studied at the world-renowned Le Cordon Bleu and the Ritz. Recently, Chef Judson traveled throughout the Islands of Jamaica and Bahamas to uncover the indigenous spices, ingredients and techniques used in food preparation. With diabetes and hypertension being a huge concern, he carved a niche providing his culinary fusion of healthier cultural food experiences.
Known as the ‘Architect of Flavor®’, Chef Judson’s mission is to design powerhouse flavors sourcing seasonal, local and sustainable ingredients, that change the way people think and feel about healthier foods. Chef Judson struggled with weight for a significant part of his life and now maintains a weight loss of over 160lbs. His current book The Spice Diet shares his personal story of being addicted to food, encourages weight loss and shows you how to pair the perfect spices and ingredients, excluding salt, sugar and processed foods, to yield simple and flavorful meals that happen to be healthy.
In 2013, Chef Judson introduced his signature All Purpose and All Natural CHEF BLEND Hot Sauce. This tasty low-sodium product offers a “Less Hot More Flavor” taste. With a mission to eradicate childhood obesity, in 2015 Chef Judson launched CHEF BLEND Weekend, an annual event designed to celebrate the inspiration of flavor through healthier, locally sourced foods and the chefs/purveyors behind the art. With an MBA in Entrepreneurship from DePaul University’s Graduate School of Business, Chef Judson is a current Advisory Board Member of the DePaul University School of Hospitality. For more information on Chef Judson visit: www.JudsonToddAllen.com
Ryan AndersonLead, Programs, Delta Institute
Ryan provides technical and strategic leadership around Delta Institute’s initiatives in land stewardship and regenerative food systems. Since joining Delta in 2007, he has contributed to research, design, and implementation efforts on a wide range of programs. Among these efforts, Ryan managed a soil carbon credit program on behalf of farmers and forest owners in 18 states then led the development of the world’s first verified project to reduce nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizer use. Ryan also co-founded the Artisan Grain Collaborative, a Chicago-based value chain partnership launched in 2016 to build local and regional markets for whole grains. He is an active member of ReGenerate Illinois and Green America’s Carbon Farming Innovation Network.
Dr. Damon ArnoldCol. Damon T. Arnold, M.D., M.P.H., M.A., CMT, USAR (Ret.)
Dr. Damon T. Arnold serves as a medical director at Health Care Service Corporation, where he is responsible for reviewing service delivery by providers in the Special Investigations Division.
Prior to joining HCSC, Dr. Arnold worked as director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, has previously served as the Assistant Dean for the College of Health Sciences at Chicago State University and as the medical director for occupational medicine at Mercy Hospital. Dr. Arnold also served for 26 years in the Illinois Army National Guard and Active Duty Service, achieving the rank of Colonel. In 2011, he was awarded the highly-coveted Legion of Merit (LOM) medal by President Barack Obama, three Army Commendation Medals, two National Defense Service medals and other battle field awards.
Dr. Arnold holds a master’s degree in Homeland Defense and Security Studies from Naval Post-Graduate School and master’s degree in Public Health from the University of Illinois. He is the author of several health articles published in Institute of Medicine publications and Homeland Security Journal, among others, and is the author of the book “The Theory of Social Disruption.”
Carrie BalkcomExecutive Director of the American Grassfed Association
Carrie Balkcom Is the Executive Director of the American Grassfed Association. AGA is the National, multispecies entity organized to protect and promote Grassfed and pasture based farmers and ranchers.
AGA is the leader in pasture based production and the oldest grassfed certification in the United States. AGA certifies ruminants and dairy.
Carrie grew up on a Florida cattle ranch and has stayed connected to the agriculture and livestock industry. She has spoken, presented or coordinated numerous regional and national conferences; and is well known in agricultural, culinary and sustainable agricultural circles.
Robert J. BarenSenior Advisor at Office of Illinois State Treasurer Michael W. Frerichs
Robert Baren joined the office of Illinois State Treasurer Michael W. Frerichs in 2015, and is currently a Senior Advisor. Among his duties, Robert acts as liaison to communities and organizations throughout western and southern Illinois on Treasurer’s office programs, with a focus on economic development and intergovernmental relations. Robert and his family live in rural Schuyler County and he is a member of the Schuyler County Farm Bureau.
Rick BaylessChef & Founder Frontera Restaurant Group and Frontera Farmer Foundation
Most people know Rick Bayless from winning the title of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters, beating out the French and Italian with his authentic Mexican cuisine. His highly rated Public Television series, Mexico–One Plate at a Time, is broadcast coast to coast and has earned him multiple Daytime Emmy nominations for Best Culinary Host.
Rick has nine cookbooks. His second book, Mexican Kitchen, won the Julia Child IACP cookbook of the year award in 1996, and his fourth book, Mexico–One Plate at a Time won James Beard Best International Cookbook of the Year award in 2001. Fiesta at Rick’s spent a number of weeks on the New York Times best seller list.
Rick’s side by side award-winning restaurants are in Chicago. The casual Frontera Grill was founded in 1987 and received the James Beard Foundation’s highest award, Outstanding Restaurant, in 2007. The 4-star Toplobampo, which served its first meals in 1991, earned the Beard Foundation’s award for Outstanding Restaurant in 2017 — a unprecedented feat for side-by-side restaurants. The wildly popular, LEED GOLD-certified, fast-casual Xoco has been around since 2009, serving wood-oven tortas, steaming caldos, golden churros and bean-to-cup Mexican hot chocolate. In 2014, he opened Fonda Frontera (formerly Xoco Bistro), a Mexico City-style family restaurant offering a mouthwatering array of Mexican classics to Chicago’s bustling Wicker Park neighborhood. Rick’s quick-service Tortas Frontera have changed the face of food service at O’Hare International Airport, while Frontera Fresco has brought Frontera flavors to several Macy’s stores and Northwestern University. His award-winning Frontera line of salsas, cooking sauces and organic chips can be found coast to coast.
In 2016, he opened two new restaurants in Chicago’s bustling West Loop neighborhood — the Baja-inspired, wood-fired Leña Brava and the adjacent Cervecería Cruz Blanca, a craft brewery and Oaxacan-style taquería. Both have earned critical acclaim. Also in 2016, he opened Frontera Cocina in Disney Springs.
Rick and his staff established the Frontera Farmer Foundation in 2003 to support small Midwestern farms. Each year, grants are awarded to farmers for capital improvements to their family farms, encouraging greater production and profitability. To date, the Foundation has awarded nearly 200 grants totaling nearly $2 million. In 2007, Bayless and his team launched theFrontera Scholarship, a full tuition scholarship that sends a Mexican-American Chicago Public School student to Kendall College to study culinary arts. In 2007 Rick was awarded the Humanitarian of the Year by the International Association of Culinary Professionals for his many philanthropic endeavors.
Rick has received a great number of James Beard Award nominations in many categories, and he has won seven: Midwest Chef of the Year, National Chef of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year, Who’s Who of American Food and Drink, Best Podcast, plus two for his cookbooks.
Recently, Rick finished up a sold-out 5-week run on stage at Lookingglass Theatre, where he created Cascabel–offering theater goers the story of a meal, told through flavor, memory, song, dance and amazing physical feats.
Justin BehlkeCulinary Director, Pilot Light
Justin Behlke is the Culinary Director of Pilot Light. He joined the Pilot Light team most recently from Kitsune and Elizabeth Restaurants, where he was Culinary Director and lead Research and Development Chef. Justin attended both UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee where he focused on studying cultural anthropology through food justice related issues. Over the last eight years, he has focused his career in professional kitchens and small bakeries. He found a home with Pilot Light as a way to combine his work as a chef, his education around food and social justice related-issues, and his desire to connect kids and underserved communities with healthy food. In his free time you can find him on his bike training or in races, and spending time with his two pitbulls, Horatio and Hamlet.
Kimberly BentzSupplier Support Group Manager, UNFI
Kimberly is part of the UNFI Next, Emerging Brands team. This regionally-based team, positioned throughout the country, is responsible for sourcing and qualifying key trend-worthy up and coming brands to UNFI. The program main goal is streamline distribution for these emerging brands and support their ability to scale their growth to National brand with UNFI. Kimberly brings her nearly 20 years in retail merchandising, product management, and vendor management to the UNFI Next program.
Lenore BeyerDirector of Conservation Programs at Kinship Foundation
Lenore Beyer is the Director of Conservation Programs at Kinship Foundation where she manages Food:Land:Opportunity, a multi-year initiative that looks to increase the supply of local food in the Chicago region, and supports the strategic planning for Kinship Conservation Fellows, an international program that trains conservationists in the application of market-based tools to conservation challenges. Prior to joining Kinship, Lenore was the vice president of policy and planning at Openlands, a regional conservation land trust where she planned and implemented Openlands’ policy and advocacy agenda and managed specific projects to protect land, water and natural resources including creation of the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge and integration of farmland protection with local food initiatives.
Terra BrockmanFounder of The Land Connection
Terra Brockman is the fourth of five generations of a central Illinois farm family, founder of the educational nonprofit The Land Connection, and a James-Beard-nominated author. When she’s not writing or speaking about food and farming, you’re likely to find her working for food on her brother Henry’s vegetable farm or sister Teresa’s fruit farm.
Jordan BuckerFounder and CEO of Tea Squares
Founder and CEO of Tea Squares
Kara BuffardiOwner of Craveity Marketing
Kara has spent most of her career handling website creation and digital marketing at traditional advertising agencies. But in 2015, she decided to make a greater impact through her work and founded Craveity Marketing. Craveity isn’t just an agency that helps businesses make money; They’re on a mission to improve the U.S. food system.
Through Craveity, Kara works to educate and guide clients on their website, social media and online communications. Most of her clients are businesses and non-profits in healthy, local & sustainable food. Kara uses her years of digital marketing experience to help these businesses reach their audience and make a greater impact to their communities.
Lauren CalvertExecutive Director of Advocates for Urban Agriculture
As Executive Director of Advocates for Urban Agriculture, Laura Calvert brings more than 10 years experience in the sustainable agriculture field. She has farmed on various operations throughout the country, most recently with the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Windy City Harvest program. There, she trained hundreds of youth and adult program participants in agricultural practices and managed the business operations of the program. Laura is also a founding board member of the Illinois Farmers Market Association and appointed member of the Illinois Farmers Market Task Force. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in business management from Bradley University.
Rikkisha CandlerAttorney, Candler Law and Bakery Owner
Rikkisha Candler is a commercial attorney in Chicago, IL. Throughout her career she has worked extensively on behalf of commercial clients in various industries, particularly in the area of contract drafting and negotiation. She also regularly acts as in-house counsel to local and international organizations. Prior to starting her own firm, Ms. Candler worked as an associate and a staff attorney at large law firms in Chicago.
Ms. Candler earned her J.D., cum laude, from Southern University Law Center and her B.A. from Louisiana State University. She is an active member of the Chicago Bar Association Food Law Committee.
In addition to her law practice, Ms. Candler owns a local bakery and supplies baked goods to retail and wholesale customers.
Irv CernauskasFounded Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks
Irv Cernauskas founded Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks in 2006 with his wife Shelly Herman to provide new market opportunities for farmers and to help stimulate the re-growth of Chicago’s local food system. Fresh Picks’ home delivery service now brings great food to thousands of area residents, and adds hundreds of thousands of dollars to the annual incomes of local farmers. Irv’s path to this venture began with a concern for social and environmental justice, and wound its way through years of travel in developing countries, a Masters degree in Economics, an MBA from MIT, and a six year stint as a corporate executive. Several years of service on the boards of Seven Generations Ahead and The Land Connection helped forge friendships with local farmers and convinced Irv of the importance of reclaiming agriculture from agribusiness.
Diane ChapetaPrograms Manager at Illinois Farm to School Network Seeven Generations Ahead
Diane’s career in food service spanned thirty-two years. She committed the last fifteen to school nutrition, working in Wisconsin school districts. Diane developed successful and prosperous farm to school programs, building relationships with many Wisconsin farmers and processors. During that time, she formed the Northeast Wisconsin (NEW) Farm to School Initiative, which assisted over sixty school districts working to create sustainable farm to school programs.
Later, Diane acted as the first Operations Manager for the newly created Fifth Season Cooperative, in Viroqua, WI. She built the six-member class co-op from the ground up, aggregating product from twenty-eight individual farms, three farm co-ops (totaling two-hundred farms) and thirteen processor members. Utilizing returning trucks and existing distribution routes with distribution member Reinhart Foodservice, and later Sysco Foods, the co-op successfully moves Wisconsin foods to Wisconsin institutions and restaurants.
Diane now builds programming for the Illinois Farm to School Network. She educates and trains school food service staff expanding farm to school participation in Illinois, her home state. She firmly believes that kids of all ages can learn to truly enjoy fresh vegetables with education and a side of fun.
Robert ColangeloCEO of Green Sense Farms, LLC
Robert. Colangelo is an author, scientist and environmental entrepreneur who founded several leading for profit and not-for-profit organizations. He currently serves as Founding Farmer/CEO of Green Sense Farms, LLC and is responsible for building a network of indoor vertical farms.
Mr. Colangelo is recognized as a national expert and an authoritative source on indoor vertical farming, brownfield redevelopment and sustainability; he is the author of several books and numerous articles on the subject and is the host of the nationally syndicated radio show Green Sense. He has appeared worldwide on TV and radio shows and been quoted in newspapers and magazines on the subject.
He holds both a Master and Bachelor’s Degree in Earth Science (Hydrogeology/Geology) from Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, IL
Abe Conlon and Adrienne LoOwners of Fat Rice
Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo are the co-owners of Fat Rice, a Portuguese-Chinese fusion restaurant.
Casey CoraMedia Director at Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and XOCO
Rodger CooleyExecutive Director of the Chicago Food Policy Action Council
Rodger Cooley has worked for 17+ years in urban agriculture and sustainable urban food systems developing policy and projects. Rodger previously spent 9 years with Heifer International, supporting the development of urban farming projects in Chicago and the mid-western United States. He has a Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago and Bachelor of Arts from Oberlin College.
Anne CuddyTeacher (4th grade), Kinzie Elementary School, CPS
Anne Cuddy teaches fourth grade at Kinzie Elementary School in Chicago. She has taught in CPS for ten years and, before that, worked in different educational settings with refugees, teenage mothers, and low income families. She helps to coordinate the planting and maintenance of the school garden at Kinzie and implements curriculum that helps students understand how plants grow and the importance of eating healthy food. Ms. Cuddy facilitates a Garden Club that is working to raise funds, plant native plants, and increase community involvement in the school garden. In her free time, she enjoys reading, biking, cooking, and spending time with her two children.
Jacqueline Davis-SlayDirector Office of Public and Private Partnerships Natural Resources Conservation Service
In 2014, Mrs. Jacqueline A. Davis-Slay assumed the position of Director for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Office of Public and Private Partnerships. The office provides vision, expertise, and leadership in order to build NRCS’ public-private partnership program to advance conservation activities through strategic coordination and planning with other USDA agencies, customers, stakeholders and agricultural industries.
Mrs. Davis-Slay has over 20 years of Federal service with experience in legislative and policy development, statistical analysis, fiscal and program management, service delivery and marketing with a particular interest in developing innovative partnerships and opportunities to assist vulnerable populations, socially disadvantaged, beginning and limited resource producers.
Prior to the Office of Public and Private Partnerships, Mrs. Davis-Slay served as the USDA Senior Policy Advisor for the StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative. She also held the position of Legislative Director for the Rural Development mission area, providing legislative guidance and direction for over 42 programs in three agencies. In 2009, she served as Legislative Specialist for USDA’s Office of Congressional Relationship where she was one the primary liaison between the United States Congress and USDA. She spent most of her career with NRCS, serving in a multitude of positions, such as Legislative Affairs Branch Chief, Acting State Conservationist, Program Manager, Program Analyst and Special Assistant.
A native of Port Gibson, MS, Mrs. Davis-Slay attained her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Alcorn State University in Agricultural Economics. She is married to Denmark V. Slay and the mother of one son, Denmark V. Slay, II.
Atina DiffleyOrganic Farmer
Atina Diffley is an organic farmer, public speaker and author of the 2013 Minnesota Book Award winner, Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works–a memoir based on Atina’s life running the Gardens of Eagan organic vegetable farm. Her advocacy has addressed the pressures of suburban development, and she successfully led a legal and citizen campaign against the notorious polluters, Koch Industries, to create an Organic Mitigation Plan for organic farms in Minnesota. Subscribe to Atina’s on-line blog at www.atinadiffley.com.
Matthew DillonSr. Director of Agricultural Policy and Programs Clif Bar & Company
Matthew Dillon is senior director of agricultural policy and programs at Clif Bar & Company, a leading maker of nutritious and organic foods and drink for people on-the-go. Guided by five bottom lines – Sustaining our Business, our Brands, our People, our Community and the Planet – Matthew works with state and federal officials, academia, ingredient suppliers, farmers within Clif agriculture supply chain and the organic industry to improve the success of the rural communities from which we source our food.
Raised in an agricultural family and community in Nebraska, Matthew has held diverse roles in the organic agriculture field since 1982, including farmer, non-profit advocate and consultant to organic food companies.
Prior to joining Clif Bar, he founded Organic Seed Alliance where he launched the nation’s first organic plant breeding programs. In 2012 he was appointed to serve on the National Genetic Resource Advisory Council, advising the Secretary of Agriculture on strategies for maintaining agricultural crop diversity. In 2016 he was honored by GOOD Magazine as one of the GOOD 100, an award recognizing 100 people from who are improving our world in creative and innovative ways.
Tracy DykstraWellness and Sustainability Coordinator, UIC Dining Services (Chartwells Higher Education)
Tracy Dykstra is the Wellness and Sustainability Coordinator, UIC Dining Services (Chartwells Higher Education)
Kevin EchevarriaCO Founder & CEO of Dream HUB
However, early on Kevin demonstrated a different passion. He loved to build things and find out how concepts work together. Meanwhile, his friends were into the latest TV show or games, he was building tree houses in his backyard. Kevin would his friends, and build treehouses.
They would build a tree house to completion and then tear it down. Kevin would have it teared down because he wanted to see how it could be done differently or better. At times, his friends would want to do something else, but Kevin had developed a work ethic very young, and would deny to go play with them, in order to finish the tree houses. He grew up in a loving family that had strong values. Kevin grew up just like the majority of people with life’s challenges, mostly during high school. Even with those challenges, in the back of his mind he knew he needed to be something worthy for him and his family. Ultimately, he wanted to be accomplished in something he loved to do.
With Kevin at the helm of PKE Enterprises Inc. April of 2014 Shared Dream Kitchen was acquired. Shared Dream Kitchen an incubator Kitchen located in Elgin combined the best of both worlds. The “Rental business” a long time family affair and the Food industry which PKE Enterprises core investment where in.
On April 20, 2014, (Easter Sunday) during a normal day out with family, Yesenia went into Preterm labor. Elaine Echevarria was born April 20th at 26 weeks weighing 1 lb. 15 oz. Within days of labor both Kevin and Yesenia relocated to Chicago to be closer to Elaine. Elaine was transferred to Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago within hours of birth. After 3 months, Elaine was discharged from the hospital and life with a new born baby continued just as planned. Elaine is a healthy active child and has never suffered from any of the medical complications some preemies tend to suffer from.
In 2012 Kevin brought about a change at PKE Enterprises Inc. that would change the direction and growth of the family company. Divesting from Delicia Tropical Cafe via a buyout agreement, in which would be the first company asset sold in order to pursue a focused growth strategy. November of 2012, the deal was signed with new managing partners taking over the daily operations of Tropical Cafe. By December of 2012, PKE Enterprises Inc. launched RRIA Foods, a food manufacturing company based out of west side of Elgin. Within months the work began to build a food manufacturing processing facility and finalizing the market strategy that would allow RRIA products to get into market. RRIA settled on one product line branded as RRIA Empanadas with its production and distribution beginning in March of 2013.
Under Kevin’s leadership, PKE Enterprises Inc. to this date continues to make investments via his strategic vision.
Tracey FavreDirector, Quality Assurance International (QAI)
Tracy oversees all aspects of the QAI’s organic, transitional and NSF/ANSI 305 personal care certification programs. She is an experienced organic veteran, having been appointed to a five-year term on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsak, with her final role as board chair from 2015 – 2016.
Previously, Tracy was an independent consultant and organic inspector, spending a great deal of time out in the field, meeting, engaging and supporting farmers, handlers and other organic operations. Tracy is an experienced entrepreneur, having run her own successful, independent businesses and having held leadership and Senior Executive positions at her previous companies. She and her husband live and work on a diversified family farm in north-central Texas.
Jennifer FilipiakMidwest Director for the American Farmland Trust
As the Midwest Director for the American Farmland Trust, Jennifer Filipiak works collaboratively with farmers, farmer organizations and government agencies to overcome barriers to conservation practice adoption and advance common ground solutions for agriculture and the environment. Filipiak also leads AFT’s new “Women for the Land” national initiative which addresses the obstacles that women landowners, particularly those who do not farm but lease their land to farmers, face in accessing conservation programs and resources. Filipiak brings more than 15 years of project management experience in conservation and sustainable agriculture having previously worked with organizations such as the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, The Nature Conservancy of Iowa, and the Lake County (Illinois) Forest Preserve District. Filipiak holds a B.S. in Ecology from Northern Michigan University and an M.S. in Wildlife Ecology from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
Charlotte FlinnCo-founder and President of Flinn Consultants
Charlotte Flinn is co-founder and president of Flinn Consultants, a 25-year-old consulting firm assisting industrial, service, professional, academic, government and not-for-profit clients to achieve and sustain optimum levels of business, leadership and organizational effectiveness. Consulting strengths include strategic planning, leadership and management development and executive coaching. She is Chair of FamilyFarmed board and has been associated with the organization for some 15 years. Charlotte is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate in Philosophy from Queens College in New York and a graduate in Organization Development from the Center for Organization Development at Loyola University in Chicago. Her leadership with environmental firms, sustainability and urban agriculture initiatives supports her long-standing interest in the environment in a sustainable economy. Flinn Consultants is best known for its long-term client relationships and its ability to partner with owners, entrepreneurs and senior executives. She lives with her husband in Highland Park, Illinois from which they have launched their four children into independent careers.
Ryan FlynnFounder of Charmac Solutions, LLC
Ryan Flynn founded Charmac in 2014. The company’s mission is to partner with brands to create and manage their presence on Amazon. Charmac is comprised of a team of Amazon experts who believe every product has a place on the Amazon marketplace, and every brand can be doing more to tell their story through the platform. For brands already on Amazon, they have partnered to 5x their revenue; for brands not on Amazon, they have grown their sales from 50 units sold per month, to 1,000+ units per month.
Eliza FournierUrban Youth Programs Director - Windy City Harvest
Eliza Fournier has served in the Windy City Harvest department for more than 15 years. In that time, she has helped more than 200 communities and schools plan and implement gardens in their neighborhoods. She now oversees all programming aspects of the Windy City Harvest Department including Youth Farm, Windy City Harvest Apprenticeship and Entrepreneurial workshops and courses. Fournier earned her bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Illinois, and her master’s degree in public affairs from Indiana University, where she concentrated in urban management.
Steve GaitherFounder of JB Chicago
Steve Gaither is the founder of JB Chicago, an integrated marketing agency whose clients have included DMI, Tetra Pak, and Hershey’s. A mentor at the Good Food Business Accelerator, ICNC and The Hatchery, his relationships with the food and bev sector led him to cofound the Windy City Troublemakers, an early-stage food entrepreneur group in Chicago. Steve is also a partner at Spiral Sun Ventures, a food advisory and investment group focused on healthy food, where he and his fellow CPG experts provide the operational know-how and go-to market strategies that help brands accelerate their growth.
Ami GauriOwner of Black Dog Corp
Black Dog Foods LLC is a MBE/DBE/ACBE-owned and certified food distribution firm that prides itself for providing unparalleled service and quality products at a competitive cost. Black Dog aims to bring healthy, organic, and natural foods to underserved markets including school districts, corrections, and other governmental users. Amit Gauri, a Chicago native, founded Black Dog Foods in 2006 as part of a larger group that focuses on the government sector. Black Dog was awarded supplier of the year in 2017 by the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council.
Will GlazikCCA-4R NMS – BCS, LLC & IDEA Farm Network
I am a second generation organic farmer in Paxton, IL. Our operation is currently 640 acres between my parents, my brother and myself. I grew up and help manage a mixed row crop and livestock farm. We raise corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, barley, peas, grass finished cattle, pastured hogs and pastured chickens. We recently started producing a seed to spirit wheat vodka using a wheat variety that has been selected and adapted to our farm. I also work as a crop adviser and organic consultant. I specialize in agronomic planning as well as organic transition and certification.
Melissa GrahamFounder and Executive Director of Purple Asparagus
Melissa Graham is the founding Executive Director of Purple Asparagus, an award-winning 501(c)(3) non-profit that educates children, families and the community about eating that’s good for the body and the planet. Though its Delicious Nutritious Adventures program taught at over thirty Chicagoland sites, Purple Asparagus teaches parents and children about healthful eating. From 2005-2010, Melissa was also the chef-owner of a boutique catering company, Monogramme Events, and cooked for luminaries most notably First Lady Michelle Obama at a private dinner party in her home. Until 2005, she was a partner at McDermott Will & Emery LLP resident in the State and Local Tax practice group in the Chicago office.
Melissa has received several awards for her work including a 2011 Chicago Tribune Good Eating Award, the International Association of Culinary Professionals Culinary Youth Advocate Award of 2012, and the 2012 Chicago Children’s Empowerment Award. In July 2012, Greatist.com named Melissa one of the 15 Top Crusaders for Health in the Food Industry by Greatist.com alongside Alice Waters, Michael Pollan and Jamie Oliver. In April 2015, Melissa was named one of the Chicago’s NewCity Big Heat 2015: Food and Drink 50 — the Dining and Drinking Cultural Leaders of Chicago, an honor also bestowed upon restaurateur and television personality Alpana Singh and former Top Chef Stephanie Izard. Finally, in 2012, Melissa was inducted into Les Dames d’Escoffier, a professional honor society for women in the food industry. Melissa received her bachelor’s degree, cum laude, from Colgate University in 1991 and her law degree from the Washington College of Law, The American University in 1994.
Melissa has been involved with and has taken a leadership position in many local and national organizations including Slow Food Chicago (as Advisory Board member), Green City Market (as membership chair), and the International Association of Culinary Professionals (as chair of the Kids in the Kitchen Section), and the Pew Charitable Trust (as delegation member of Supermoms Against Superbugs).
Sarah GruenebergChef and Owner of Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio
Since her childhood cooking with her grandparents on their ranch in Victoria, Texas, Sarah Grueneberg knew she was destined to work in the culinary world. Originally from Houston, Grueneberg moved to Chicago in 2005 to join the team at the award-winning Spiaggia under the leadership of Tony Mantuano. Beginning as a line cook, she quickly rose the ranks to Chef di Cucina in 2008 and then Executive Chef in 2010. During her tenure as Executive Chef, Spiaggia was awarded one Michelin Star for three consecutive years.
After graduating from culinary school in 2001, she started her first career-changing job with a position at the iconic Brennan’s of Houston and by 2003 was named the restaurant’s youngest female sous chef. Grueneberg has traveled throughout Italy, Asia, Europe and the U.S., which has inspired her culinary approach of “following the food” and truly understanding “the dish” by knowing the people and culture that created it.
In 2017, Grueneberg received her first James Beard Foundation Award for “Best Chef: Great Lakes.” Grueneberg was a contestant on Bravo’s “Top Chef: Texas” making it as runner-up for the season. In April 2017, Grueneberg returned to TV as a competitor on Food Network’s “Iron Chef Gauntlet.” She has also been named a “Rising Star Chef” by Chicago Social magazine in 2009 and 2016 and Eater Chicago’s “Chef of the Year” in the 2011 Eater Awards.
Grueneberg is currently Chef/Partner of Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio in Chicago’s West Loop, which she opened in November 2015 with business partner and long-time friend Meg Sahs. The restaurant has received acclaimed reviews from various outlets, including three out of four stars by The Chicago Tribune. In 2016, Monteverde received accolades including: one of Food & Wine’s “America’s Best Restaurants,” a top 50 finalist in Bon Appetit’s “Best New Restaurants” list, Eater’s “21 Best New Restaurants in America,” GQ’s “12 Best New Restaurants,” Eater Chicago’s “Restaurant of the Year” in the 2016 Eater Awards, the “Worth the Wait” award in Chicago Tribune Dining Awards, and named one of Chicago Magazine’s “15 Best New Restaurants.”
Sonya M. HarperState Representative, 6th District at State of Illinoisr, State Representative, 6th District at State of Illinois
Sonya Marie Harper has been a community activist on the South Side since
she was 16 years old. Her passions include promoting community, economic
development and civic engagement in an effort to create more peaceful and
Sonya runs a public relations and community organizing consulting firm, Sharper PR Communications. She is the Executive Director for Grow Greater Englewood and for nearly 3 years served as Director of Outreach at Growing Home, Inc. Prior to that she spent 10 years working in television news as a producer, writer and reporter for NBC, FOX and CBS affiliates throughout the Midwest. Sonya began her journalism career as a legislative reporter covering state capitol news and issues in Jefferson City, Missouri. Sonya returned home to Chicago, specifically West Englewood, to help non-profits and community organizations there with their communications and public relations needs. As a community organizer, she has also worked for local and national political and issue based campaigns.
An advocate for food access and education, Sonya co-founded the Wood Street Meet & Greet Community Garden and spearheaded the Grow Greater Englewood Coalition, a non-profit organization which advocates for and advances development projects, economic and educational opportunities related to food, urban agriculture and healthy living. Committed to youth leadership development and under the direction of Imagine Englewood If, she created Growing Citizen Leaders, a community organizing training program for teens in Greater Englewood.
Sonya is a member of the leadership team for the Resident Association of Greater Englewood, serves on the Appointed Local School Council at Lindblom Math & Science Academy, a co-founder of the Englewood Votes! Coalition, and leads efforts to organize the yearly neighborhood clean-up, Greater Englewood Unity Day.
Sonya Marie Harper resides in West Englewood, with her 7 year old daughter. She is a member of The Faith Community of Saint Sabina Catholic Church.
Elizabeth HauckePresident of Plovgh, Inc.
Lizzy Haucke (pronounced Hawkee) is the President of Plovgh, Inc., a boutique grain company based in Viroqua, Wisconsin. A leader in perennial, rotationally grown, and variety-specific crops, Plovgh develops niche supply chains with the intention of bringing more ecological and culinary diversity from farmers’ fields to the ingredient lists of your favorite foods and drinks. One of Plovgh’s noteworthy crops is Kernza, a new perennial wheat crop that reached the market in 2016.
Carol HaysExecutive Director at Prairie Rivers Network
Carol Hays is Executive Director at Prairie Rivers Network, Illinois’ advocate for clean water, healthy rivers and abundant wildlife and the Illinois affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation. Carol brings over 15 years experience in systems change, strategic collaboration, policy change, and evaluation. She holds a Ph.D. in Political Science.
Ben HelphandExecutive Director of NeighborSpace
Ben Helphand is the Executive Director of NeighborSpace, a nonprofit urban land trust dedicated to preserving and sustaining community managed open spaces in Chicago. NeighborSpace shoulders the responsibility of property ownership for a network of more than 100 flower, vegetable and prairie gardens across the City, so that community groups can focus on gardening and community building. Helphand came to the organization in 2007 and has grown it from 52 to 114 protected community spaces. In that time he expanded the scope of the land trust to include emerging interest in urban agriculture and nature play. Helphand is also the co-founder and board president of the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail, an all-volunteer, community-based organization that was instrumental in the conversion of the under-used Bloomingdale rail embankment into the heart of The 606 parks and trail network. Helphand has also served as a board member of the Active Transportation Alliance, the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee, and in 2012 was awarded a Chicago Community Trust Emerging Leader Fellowship. Originally from Oregon, Helphand came to Chicago to pursue a degree in the history of religion from the University of Chicago and then went on to Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.
Sharon HoyerGeneral Manager, Dill Pickle Co-op
Sharon Hoyer is the General Manager of the Dill Pickle Food Co-op, currently the city’s only operating consumer-owned cooperative. Sharon has been on staff at the Pickle since it opened in 2009, became General Manager in 2012 and shepherded the store’s expansion from an 1,300 square foot corner store to a 10,000 square foot full-service grocery store, which opened September 2017. She is a passionate believer in the power of good food to bring people together across lines of difference, and of cooperative business models to build wealth in communities, steering our economy toward a path of justice. Sharon is also an enthusiastic gardener, seamstress, knitter and serves as dance editor for Newcity Magazine.
Angela HuffmanDirector of Communications and Research for Competitive Markets
Angela Huffman is the Director of Communications and Research for the Organization for Competitive Markets, a 20-year-old think tank and advocacy organization focused on corporate power and consolidation in agriculture. Angela is responsible for developing and implementing OCM’s communications plan and research projects and is the organization’s lead on advocacy engagement.
Marni KarlinPrincipal, Karlin Strategic Consulting LLC
Marni advises clients on food and agriculture policy, particularly in the organic and natural space. Marni has over fifteen years of experience in law, policy, and nonprofit management. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Government Affairs and General Counsel for the Organic Trade Association, where she developed and implemented government affairs strategies in the interest of Organic Trade Association’s mission and its members, and engaged Congress and federal and state agencies to further those policy goals. She also served as the North American representative on the International Working Group on Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), and was a member of Food Policy Action’s Vote Advisory Council. Before working in the organic sector, Marni was counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and an attorney in private practice in Washington, DC. She also served as Managing Director of The Cookbook Project, a nonprofit engaged in expanding food literacy through education and trainings. A native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Marni graduated from The George Washington University with a degree in International Affairs, and received her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School. Besides her professional skills, she has a passion for sustainable and organic food, and received a Culinary Arts diploma from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, France.
Stephanie KatarosFounder of Bright Beat
A social entrepreneur, thought leader and business strategist, Stephanie founded Bright Beat in 2010 to raise consciousness and activate environmental stewardship and social responsibility across sectors. Bright Beat builds valuable partnerships and programs with municipalities, corporations, stadiums, food purveyors, beer makers and special events (including the Good Food Expo! Say hello their Eco Educators when you responsibly dispose of your event materials). Stephanie leads the Chicago Sustainability Task Force, serves on the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition Board of Directors and iHeartMedia Advisory Board. Her sustainability programs have earned several awards from the US-EPA, Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Awards, FestForums: Best of the Fests, A Greener Festival: Highly Commended, and Stephanie was named the 2014 Illinois Recycling Association Educator of the Year.
Dr. Kim KidwellDean at College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
Dr. Kim Kidwell, Dean and Robert A. Easter Chair in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, is a nationally respected scholar and award-winning teacher. She is a proud alumna of ACES where she earned bachelor’s degrees in both genetics and development and agriculture science. She received her master’s and Ph.D. degrees in plant breeding and plant genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She previously held the role of executive associate dean of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. In addition, she is an accomplished spring wheat breeder and geneticist, developing more than 20 wheat varieties for Washington State farmers. Her research has led to multiple patented discoveries, and addressed basic questions involving gene discovery, genetic characterization, and genetic mapping of important traits for wheat improvement. Dean Kidwell’s goals are to improve student learning; drive sound, innovative research; and cultivate industry partnerships to improve the lives and livelihoods of the residents of Illinois, in support of the land-grant mission of the University of Illinois.
Wes KingPolicy Strategist at National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
Wes has worked on sustainability and food policy issues for nearly ten years. He staffs NSAC’s Marketing, Food Systems and Rural Development Committee. Before joining NSAC, Wes spent the previous six years at NSAC member organization, Illinois Stewardship Alliance, working on food access, farmers markets and working-lands conservation policy; and leading efforts to create a more risk and scale appropriate regulatory environment for farms and local food businesses. Prior to that he worked for the Illinois Environmental Council. Wes holds an M.A. and B.A. in Political Science from the University of Illinois.
Marcy KirshenbaumOwner and founder of Enhance Nutrition, LLC.
Marcy Kirshenbaum is the owner/founder of Enhance Nutrition, LLC in Northbrook, IL. Marcy works with both individuals and families to help them get back into balance through diet and nutritive supplementation To assist in addressing health issues, she assesses each person using functional medicine tests—those that measure nutrient imbalances, gastrointestinal dysbiosis, food sensitivities, and genetics—to identify where the body has short circuited.
Marcy holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Illinois where she graduated with Bronze Tablet designation (top 3% of the class), an MBA from the Northwestern Kellogg Graduate School of Management with majors in Finance and Marketing, and a Master’s in Human Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport (Summa Cum Laude). Marcy is a Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (LDN) in addition to being a Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN) and a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS).
Megan KleinMegan Klein President of Here
Consumers are hungry for a consistent source of locally-made and locally-sourced value-added products created by a local farm that they trust. Here satisfies growing consumer demand for local foods by providing great-tasting products that incorporate local and organic produce and are made locally by members of the Chicago community. By increasing the amount of healthy, locally-sourced, and locally-made foods available throughout the Midwest, Here aims to position itself as a leader in local food production, and provide customers with a much-needed source of local foods available 365 days per year.
Megan Klein is president and general counsel of the Here. She has extensive experience in food and small business law, food safety, and local foods advocacy, and she is committed to inclusive hiring practices throughout the Here companies organization.Prior to joining Here, Megan worked with the City of Chicago and nonprofit groups to improve Chicago’s permitting and licensing of urban farms. She also served as an associate in Chadbourne & Parke LLP’s energy practice group, and later worked at Earthjustice as an environmental and sustainable foods advocate.
Her food policy experience includes having served as the Chair of the Chicago Bar Association Food Law Committee (2014-2015) as a Board Member of the Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council (2011-2015), and advocating extensively on behalf of the aquaponic and hydroponic industries.
She holds a J.D. from Fordham University School of Law, a certificate from the New York City Environmental Law Leadership Institute, and a B.A. from Boston College. She lives in the West Loop of Chicago and strives to eat local produce every day.
Beth KregorDirector of the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship
Beth Kregor is the director of the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship. Under Beth’s guidance, University of Chicago law students take their first steps into the practice of law by providing legal advice to lower- income entrepreneurs. Beth is passionate about her clients and her causes. She has advised restaurants, moving companies and baby-sitting agencies as they navigate regulatory mazes. She has counseled a creative character factory, a lawn care business and a carpenter on their most vital plans and contracts. She also has published a study and scholarship that have set the agenda for reform of licensing laws in Illinois. She was interviewed on the REWORK podcast about the work done by the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship. And she has become a prominent spokesperson for low-income entrepreneurs in City Hall, Springfield and beyond. She speaks for entrepreneurs who do not normally have a lobbyist working for them in the room—the poor and the yet-to-come. She has especially focused on street food, with a passion for good tamales and hardworking vendors. Don’t get her started!
Fred LechlitnerDirector of Sales at Miller Poultry
Trista LiCo-Founder and Chief Executive Officer KitcheNet LLC
I Co-founded KitcheNet, an award-winning social enterprise because I believe quality fresh food could unleash everyone’s potential! KitcheNet utilizes part meal box and part hub-based pickup concepts to revolutionize fresh fruit and produce access in inner-city urban areas. Prior to starting KitcheNet, I helped build a microfinance market in Chicago with Kiva.org, where I become increasingly in love with the food startup scene in the midwest. I have a background in Psychology and Economics from Case Western Reserve University and am currently completing my MBA/MPP at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Harris School of Public Policy. I am a Shanghainese native, a Cavs fan, and a taco enthusiast.
Kolter LivengoodExecutive Chef Co-Founder of Brightwok Kitchen
A Dallas native, Kolter arrived in Chicago in 2007 after enrolling in Kendall College’s culinary program. His first kitchen experience was an internship at nationally acclaimed TRU, a Lettuce Entertain You flagship. After Graduation, Kolter moved to Sonoma California to join the team at two Michelin Starred Cyrus, but was called to rejoin the team at TRU some months later. Having lead every station at Tru over three years, he recognized the value of experiencing a different style of food service and entered a management track at another LEYE venue, MBurger, where he met his future business partner. Over the course of two years, Kolter and Jeremy Klaben developed the Brightwok Kitchen concept and built their first store, opening in August 2015.
Irma LopezOutreach Manager for the Business Enterprise and Veteran Business Programs
Irma Lopez is the Outreach Manager for the Business Enterprise Program (BEP), within the Illinois Department of Central Management Services agency (better known as CMS). She represents the Business Enterprise Program at major conferences and organizational functions, to promote and accomplish the agency’s mission to ensure businesses owned by minorities, females, and persons with disabilities are awarded at least 20% of the total dollar amount of State contracts.
The Veteran Business Program (VBP) qualified service disabled and veteran-owned businesses gain access to State of Illinois contracting opportunities and promotes participation in the competitive procurement process.
Irma is committed to informing small business owners of the benefits and advantages of becoming certified through the Business Enterprise Program and/or the Veteran Business Program.
Michelle LorgeVice President of Marketing at Simple Mills
Michelle Lorge is Vice President of Marketing at Simple Mills, a ‘clean food’ company that leads the natural channel in baking mixes and crackers after just four years in the market and is rapidly gaining market share in newer categories including cookies. Before joining Simple Mills in 2015 and spearheading all of the company’s product introductions since then, she spent 12 years with Kraft Foods in Brand Management & Innovation spanning products such as A.1. Steak Sauce, Grey Poupon, Cool Whip, Philadelphia, Kraft MilkBite and Cracker Barrel cheese. She holds an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, a BA from Michigan State University and a Health Coaching certification through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
Nick LucasPrograms Manager, Advocates for Urban Agriculture (AUA)
Advocates for Urban Agriculture (AUA) is a 2,000+ member grassroots coalition of urban farms, community gardens, school gardens, and individuals working to support and expand sustainable agriculture in Chicagoland.
As AUA’s Programs Manager, Nick Lucas brings 12 years of multi-disciplinary professional experience spanning the fields of public health, education, social service, and urban agriculture.
Ben LustbaderChef and Owner of GIANT
Originally from Pennsylvania, Ben Lustbader moved to Washington D.C. after graduating with a degree in political science and Judaic studies to pursue an internship at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. It wasn’t until he took a kitchen job in D.C. that he realized his true passion was cooking. Ben worked his way up to one of the best restaurant in D.C., Michel Richard Citronelle, where he learned that food could be as beautiful as it is delicious.
A brief but formidable stint working with Chef Ashley Christensen in Raleigh taught Ben a great deal about respecting seasonality. In 2007, Ben moved to Chicago to begin what would become an illustrious culinary career. He worked his way through the kitchens of North Pond and then Lula Café, where he met his now-business partner, Chef Jason Vincent.
The two chefs immediately connected and together in 2009, opened Nightwood, Lula Café’s sister restaurant. For five years, the duo shared the kitchen at the acclaimed Pilsen restaurant, gaining acclaim from the likes of Michelin’s Bib Gourmand and a glowing review in the Chicago Tribune. Ben moved on in 2014 to pursue other culinary experiences, including learning butchery at Publican Quality Meats and farming at City Farm.
In 2015, Ben teamed up with Jason and Josh Perlman (general manager) to open Giant in Chicago’s Logan Square, which launched in July 2016. Together in the kitchen, Ben and Jason create an ever-changing menu featuring unpretentious, Midwestern fare.
Andrew MargenotAssistant Professor, Crop Sciences at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Dr. Margenot addresses the literal foundation of all agricultural systems: soils. His research team at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign evaluates how human activities can enhance or compromise services provided by soils to human societies, with an emphasis on food security from urban and rural agroecosystems in the U.S. Midwest and East Africa. Dr. Margenot’s team is currently investigating methods to identify and mitigate soil heavy metal contamination, with a focus on metro regions of Illinois. Additional research in the Margenot lab includes soil health and phosphorus management.
Dr. Rupa MahadevanAssociate Director of Education, Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, Northwestern Medicine
Rupa Mahadevan completed a specialized fellowship in Integrative Medicine through the University of Arizona after her pediatric training which sparked her passion to educate and promote wellness in children. Prior to medical school, Rupa worked as a nutrition counselor, and she is passionate about educating parents to cook healthy, low-cost meals for their children. She believes ‘Food is Medicine’ and tries to incorporate nutrition based counseling during all her pediatric clinic visits. She is also one of the ‘Cooking up Health’ facilitators offered at a Chicago based medical school. She currently practices general pediatrics in Chicago. Her research interests include mindfulness-based therapies for children exposed to toxic stress, culinary medicine, as well as reducing physician burn out through wellness.
Laura McCordSr. Director Category Management - KeHE Distributors
Laura McCord began her retail career in 2001 working for an independent retailer. From there, she obtained employment with KeHE, a nationwide distributor of natural, specialty and fresh products. Laura has experience as a merchandiser and account manager, with the majority of her time spent in category management. During her career, she has worked closely with vendors on new item introductions and their go-to-market strategy. Currently, she is the Executive Director of Category Management as well as the co-founder of CAREtrade, a committee within KeHE that focuses on vendors that share KeHE’s mission to serve to make lives better. In addition, she is presently working on her Master’s degree in Sustainable Management.
Dr. Ed McDonaldTrained Chef and Doctor, The Docs Kitchen
Dr. Ed McDonald is a trained chef and board certified physician dedicated to improving the health of individuals and communities through nutrition education. He obtained his undergraduate education at the University of Michigan and his medical education at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. During medical school, he developed an interest in community health education and subsequently developed program focusing on training local hip-hop and spoken word artists as health educators with funding support from the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship. This program was inspired by his experience of training barbers as health educators at the CNN featured, Project Brotherhood, a clinic focusing on the health of African-American men in Chicago. His experience at Project Brotherhood made him keenly aware of the impact of social determinants of health, but he was most interested in the effects of nutrition on health and disease.
David MontgomeryAuthor and Professor of Geomorphology at the University of Washington.
David R. Montgomery is a MacArthur Fellow and professor of geomorphology at the University of Washington. He is an internationally recognized geologist who studies landscape evolution and the effects of geological processes on ecological systems and human societies. An author of award-winning popular-science books, he has been featured in documentary films, network and cable news, and on a wide variety of TV and radio programs, including NOVA, PBS NewsHour, Fox and Friends, and All Things Considered. He lives in Seattle, with his wife Anne Biklé and their black lab guide-dog dropout Loki. Connect with him at www.dig2grow.com or follow him on Twitter (@dig2grow).
Dr. Julie MoritaCommissioner - Chicago Department of Public Health
Dr. Julie Morita was appointed as commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) in early 2015. Under Dr. Morita’s leadership, CDPH developed and launched Healthy Chicago 2.0, a four-year plan to assure healthy equity by addressing the social determinants of health. In addition, under her leadership, CDPH led efforts to pass several tobacco prevention initiatives including raising the age for purchasing tobacco products to 21 years.
Previously, Dr. Morita served as CDPH’s Chief Medical Officer leading the city’s response to the pandemic influenza outbreak and the city’s efforts to prevent the introduction and spread of the Ebola virus. Dr. Morita has served as a member of the National Academy of Medicine’s Committee on Community Based Solutions to Promote Health Equity, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the National Vaccine Advisory Committee, and the Illinois Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics.
Prior to her time with CDPH, Dr. Morita served as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer with the CDC and worked in private practice. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical School.
Arthur L. NealDeputy Administrator, Transportation and Marketing Program, USDA
Arthur L. Neal, Jr. serves as the Deputy Administrator of the Transportation and Marketing (TM) Program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) in Washington, DC.
Arthur provides leadership and direction for the agency’s multi-million dollar grant programs that support the development and growth of local and regional food systems, as well as fund research that addresses marketing challenges for agriculture industries.
Micheal Newman-BrooksProject Manager of Urban Agriculture for the Sustainable Division of the Department of Planning and Development with the City of Chicago
Micheal Newman-Brooks serves as the Project Manager of Urban Agriculture for the Sustainable Division of the Department of Planning and Development with the City of Chicago. She is also an instructor of Business and Agriculture courses offered by City Colleges of Chicago in conjunction with Chicago Botanic Gardens Windy City Harvest Programs. Her passion for environmental and food justice lends to her 15+ years experience in non and for profit businesses include Marketing and Advertising, Project Management, Construction and Escrow, Investments, Finance and Accounting as well as Community Organizing and Engagement. She also serves as Chief Financial Officer of Canaan Community Redevelopment Corporation in the Englewood Community as well as partnering with several local urban gardens and community organizations in various roles. Micheal earned degrees in Business, Agriculture and Horticulture!
Kathy NyquistFounder and Principal at New Ventures Advisors, LLC.
Kathy has a unique background in the food industry. Once an advertising and marketing executive for Fortune 100 food companies, she now advises their smaller rivals that deliver on consumer demands for healthier, local, artisanal and sustainably-produced products from transparent and socially-responsible companies.
Ten years ago, Kathy left Kraft Foods to found New Venture Advisors, a consulting firm that specializes in local food systems and sustainable food business strategy. NVA’s clients are changing the food landscape, and capitalizing on the extraordinary growth of the good food movement, a seism that is reconfiguring shelves, menus and plates in every channel of the food industry.
Celeste Pepitone-NahasOrganizer, Mighty Earth
Celeste is an organizer working on the Mighty Earth “Clean It Up, Tyson” Campaign to reduce pollution from the meat industry. In the Fall of 2017, she began building public support for the campaign in Chicago, Illinois, and she is currently organizing on the Eastern Shore of Virginia where Tyson Foods has built over 270 new CAFOs. Celeste works with communities who are tired of corporate control of food and want to see real changes from America’s largest meat company. Celeste grew up in Portland, Oregon, eating a lot of home-cooked and garden-grown food. She is working towards a world with a transformed food system and clean water for all.
Dave RandCo-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Local Foods
Dave began his career working in the commercial Salmon industry in Bristol Bay, AK. At Bluebird Grain Farms in Winthrop, WA, an organic heirloom grain farm in Washington, he managed all aspects of the fresh milled flour operation and field work.
Back in the Midwest, Dave served as Farm Forager for the City of Chicago and the Green City Market. He most recently left his post as Partner at Quarter Circle Seven (Q7) Ranch, a local, all-natural, grass-fed cattle ranch based out of Marengo, IL. There, he focused his efforts on the direct sales and marketing of grass-fed beef to many of Chicago’s finest restaurants and grocers, in addition to participating in the horseback ranching and pasture management at Q7 Ranch.
For the past 5 years, as Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Local Foods, Dave oversees all aspects of procurement, sales, and distribution. Local Foods is Chicago’s only wholesale distributor of strictly local, sustainably raised, farm-direct foods from the Midwest. Their first retail store opened in Chicago in June of 2015, and features a whole-animal Butcher Shop called The Butcher & Larder, and an all-day café.
John RichardsCEO of Kishr Tea, President Dream Distributors, Partner/Co-Founder of Dream Kitchen EDU & Super Mentor at The Good Food Accelerator
John is a highly creative and results-driven CEO and General Manager with a deep sales and marketing background in consumer-packaged goods. John’s experience spans Fortune 100 Companies (Pepsico, Kellogg’s and Wrigley) to Private Equity Start-ups including expertise in both branded and private label offerings. In addition to his CEO role at Kishr Tea, John is a partner in The Elgin, Il- based Dream HUB food accelerator. The group was recently selected to build and execute Kane County’s local food equity program.
Dr. Melinda RingExecutive Director of the Northwestern Medicine Osher Center of Integrative Medicine
Dr. Melinda Ring has served as the Executive Director of the Northwestern Medicine Osher Center of Integrative Medicine since 2007. While earning her medical degree and completing her residency at the University of Chicago, Dr. Ring’s passion for complementary and integrative medicine evolved along with her holistic philosophy of needing to treat the whole person to achieve true health and healing. Following residency, she completed a Fellowship in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona with Dr. Andrew Weil.
In her roles at Northwestern, she oversees the clinical programs, medical trainee education and research in the emerging field of integrative medicine. Her expertise is reflected in her contribution to textbooks, lectures and research articles and she published her first book on integrative women’s health, The Natural Menopause Solution. She is also active on several national policy committees, including the board of the credentialing exam for integrative physicians, Her interests include women’s health, food as medicine, dietary supplements, mindfulness and the healing power of nature. She is passionate about raising awareness of the power of integrative medicine to heal ourselves and our healthcare system.
Corenna RoozeboomGarden Educator at Big Green
Corenna Roozeboom is a Garden Educator for Big Green, a national nonprofit organization building a healthier future for kids by connecting them to real food through Learning Gardens and food literacy programs. Big Green has built over 150 Learning Gardens in Chicago public schools, with plans to reach 200 by 2019. Before joining Big Green, Corenna worked as a school garden coordinator at the Academy for Global Citizenship and led youth garden and environmental programs for the Chicago Park District and the Morton Arboretum. In addition, Corenna’s passion for bringing people together through gardening and good food led to the founding of a community garden in the Chicago neighborhood where she lives.
Lauren RosenthalAttorney at Law
Lauren Rosenthal is an attorney from Chicago focusing on real estate law and land conservation. She has been a Commissioner on Illinois Nature Preserves Commission since 2007 and served as Chair of the Commission from 2010 to 2012. Ms. Rosenthal has recently joined the board of the Illinois Environmental Council, a statewide organization that promotes sound environmental policy and protections for land, air, water, wildlife, and human health. She has been a committed advocate for sound environmental policy and has organized environmental leaders in support of various political candidates including President Obama, Governor Quinn and congressional candidates. She Chaired Environmentalists for Obama in the 2008 Presidential Campaign, served on the Executive Committee of the Energy and Environmentalists for Obama in the 2012 campaign and worked on the transition team for President Preckwinkle at the Forest Preserve District of Cook County in 2010. A graduate of the University of Illinois College of Law (1982) and Northwestern University (1979), Ms. Rosenthal loves shopping for, preparing and eating local, good food.
Luke SaundersFounder, CEO of Farmer's Fridge
Luke Saunders is the founder and CEO of Farmer’s Fridge, a Chicago start-up helping make fresh, wholesome food easily accessible. Luke ran his first business, Bears’ Bikes, as an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis majoring in International Studies. Shortly after graduating, a move to Michigan prompted Luke to take a role as a traveling salesman. Regularly challenged by finding fresh food on the road, Luke arrived at the concept for Farmer’s Fridge: good health starts with what we eat and eating well shouldn’t be hard. Drawing on his experience as an entrepreneur, Luke set out to build a disruptive yet simple way to provide fresh, healthy food for all via automated Fridges. Today, Farmer’s Fridge operates in 100+ locations across Chicago and Milwaukee.
Raghela ScavuzzoLocal Foods Program Manager in the Governmental Affairs and Commodities Division Illinois Farm Bureau
In that position, Raghela is responsible for developing and coordinating farmers and food market channels for local food initiatives and food safety. This includes business development outreach to county farm bureaus, monitoring organic production regulations and food safety issues, and coordinating Farmer-Buyer meetings. Raghela oversees local and regional food development and local food workings groups. She establishes relationships with corporate and regional buyers while serving as the local food spokesperson for the farm bureau with statewide local food organizations.
Beginning in 2014, Raghela helped develop and coordinate a local food hub and food access program in Birmingham, Alabama. She helped build infrastructure, provide technical assistance, and develop marketing centered around local food to increase revenue for farmers and the state of Alabama. Her previous experience includes: local-supply chain coordination, food packaging and quality control management, local food marketing campaign coordination, operations process and system development, training and workshop implementation, consumer education management, and farmer-buyer relationship coordination.
Raghela holds a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and a bachelor’s degree in classical studies with a focus in Latin from Westminster College. She earned a master’s degree in public health from Tulane University with a focus in global community health, behavior science, and nutrition.
John ShapiroPartner, Freeborn & Peters LLP
John Shapiro is a Partner in Freeborn’s Litigation Practice Group and is co-Leader of Freeborn’s Food Industry Team. John focuses his practice on solving clients’ complex business disputes, counseling clients on litigation, employment and business issues, drafting supply and related contracts, providing general corporate and management advice, and assisting clients to establish and maintain productive business relationships and to use those relationships to avoid conflict.
As co-Leader of Freeborn’s Food Industry Team, John provides ongoing legal and business counseling to a variety of food clients. Among other areas, John focuses on food safety, regulatory compliance, supply chain management, recall and other crisis management, and litigation. John believes that keys to success in the food industry include establishment of productive supply chain relationships and careful contracting that memorializes those relationships, allocates risk, and accounts for the applicable regulatory regimen.
John’s litigation experience includes handling numerous cases involving a wide array of disputes and proceedings in federal and state courts, in arbitration and mediation, and before administrative agencies, many on an emergency basis. Among other subjects, John’s litigation matters have involved international and domestic supply chains, breach of contract, fraud, torts, corporate governance, non-compete and non-disclosure agreements, theft of trade secrets, real estate deals, wages and hour discrimination and other employment-related laws, and constitutional issues regarding public sector retirement benefits.
John also serves as General Counsel of award-winning Inspiration Corporation, a Chicago-based non-profit that assists people affected by poverty. Among other programs and services, Inspiration Corporation offers Inspiration Kitchens, a 13-week culinary, restaurant and catering skills training program designed to provide participants with experience and other tools needed to obtain jobs and a career pathway in the food service and hospitality industries.
John is the recipient of the 2017 Leadership Excellence in the Law Award bestowed by the National Diversity Council and the Illinois Diversity Council. John also has been selected by his peers in a statewide evaluation as one of “Illinois’ Leading Lawyers” in Commercial Litigation and Federal Regulatory Law. He also is Chair of Freeborn’s Pro Bono Committee and a member of the firm’s Professional Review and Diversity & Inclusion Committees.
Natalie SchmulikCEO at The Hatchery Chicago
Natalie Shmulik is the go to resource for everything food business related. Along with an M.L.A. in Gastronomy from Boston University, she has a wide range of experience working with supermarkets, culinary publications, consumer packaged goods companies and food service establishments. After successfully operating her own restaurant, Natalie was hired as a specialty consultant for one of Ontario’s largest supermarket chains where she enhanced consumer experiences through educational initiatives. Discovering her passion for innovation, Natalie was brought on as a brand strategist for the first cold brew tea company and later moved to Chicago, IL to run a food business incubator. With over 5 years of food incubation experience, Natalie has gained a unique perspective on the industry and what it takes to launch and grow a successful business. She was recently featured in Forbes and continues to play a valuable role in branding and marketing for food businesses around the country, with her specialty in trend forecasting. She is now the CEO of The Hatchery- Chicago’s premier food business incubator.
Jim SlamaFounder & CEO of FamilyFarmed, Founder of the Good Food EXPO
Jim Slama founded FamilyFarmed at a time when few people recognized the term “Good Food movement,” and demand for locally, sustainably, humanely, and fairly produced food was still a tiny sliver of the overall consumer market.
Under Slama’s leadership during more than 15 years since, FamilyFarmed has become an important catalyst in the booming, consumer-driven rise of the movement. He has helped to build a robust Good Food cluster in the nonprofit’s home base of Chicago while expanding the national scope and impact of its work.
In 2004, Slama created FamilyFarmed’s highest-profile event, the Good Food Trade Show. Held each March in Chicago, the event — the nation’s oldest and biggest trade show focused on local and sustainable food — evolved into the three-day Good Food Festival and Conference (which is being rebranded as the Good Food Expo beginning with the March 2018 show).
It includes tracks on financing, food policy, school food, producer issues, and food trade issues — plus a Festival that is a public celebration of the growing Good Food movement, with chef demos, DIY workshops, and more. In the event’s 13-year history, more than 700 unique speakers have participated. And the March 2017 Festival & Conference attracted a record attendance of more than 7,500.
This event has produced several evolutions in FamilyFarmed’s program lineup. The Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference was launched in 2009 in partnership with the University of Chicago Booth School of Business to help better connect rising food and farm businesses with Good Food investors and buyers. Businesses that have participated in the Good Food EXPO have raised more than $38 million in financing in the last five years.
The Farmer Training program is a comprehensive program that gives farmers the resources and tools they need to make sure their produce is of the highest quality, to manage food safety and other risks, and to nurture the relationships with customers that they need to be successful. FamilyFarmed has emerged as a national leader in farmer training, and with support of the USDA, we have trained over12,500 in 42 states.
The Good Food Business Accelerator (GFBA) evolved from the Financing & Innovation Conference in 2014 and over its first three years has graduated 27 competitively selected food and farm entrepreneurs who received an intensive six-month curriculum, technical assistance, mentorship, networking opportunities and connections to the growing community of investors in this sector.
FamilyFarmed never stands still under Slama’s leadership. The organization on April 30 co-produced the successful Frontera 30th Anniversary Celebration fundraiser with Chef Rick Bayless’ Frontera Farmer Foundation. The organization has also recently held two Good Food is Good Medicine symposiums and is working to develop a broader program focused on the major impact food has on health.
Liz Moran StelkExecutive Director of Illinois Stewardship Alliance
Liz Moran Stelk is Executive Director of Illinois Stewardship Alliance. Liz is a veteran organizer with experience in sustainable agriculture policy and building powerful organizations. She previously served as a Regional Organizer with the Western Organization of Resource Councils in Montana where she worked with farmers and ranchers in seven states on local, state and federal food and agricultural policy. She formerly organized healthcare workers and led a variety of grassroots and electoral campaigns, then worked on a small produce farm and found her calling organizing to fix our broken industrial food system. Liz is on twitter @lizzieb.
Jeff TkachChief Growth Officer at the Rodale Institute
Jeff Tkach serves as the Chief Growth Officer for the Rodale Institute. Jeff is responsible for expanding Rodale Institute’s global influence in healing people and the planet by unlocking the full, transformational power of regenerative organic agriculture.
Tkach served on the Rodale Institute’s Board of Directors in 2016, where he was instrumental in galvanizing relationships between the organization and business leaders in the organic food industry. With the commencement of his role as Chief Growth Officer, Tkach will resign from his position as a Board member.
From 2015 – 2016, Tkach served as Managing Director, Vice President for Rodale’s Organic Life and Prevention Magazines, where he oversaw business objectives and day to day operations for both brands, leading efforts across print and digital advertising, sales and marketing functions, digital, live events, and e-tailing components to maximize growth opportunities.
Previously, Tkach served as vice president of sales and marketing at Life Time Fitness. He also served as group publisher at Active Interest Media (AIM) from 2013-2015, overseeing Yoga Journal and Vegetarian Times. He was responsible for leading Yoga Journal’s relaunch in 2014, which led to record-breaking 40th year of publication for the brand.
A Pennsylvania native, Tkach earned a degree in business marketing from Kutztown University and a post graduate “Authentic Leadership Certificate” from Naropa University in Boulder, CO. He regularly speaks at various industry organizations on behalf of Rodale Institute, in an effort to help people come alive to the power of regenerative organic agriculture and its ability to heal the world.
May TsuprosExecutive Director and Co-founder, Gardeneers
May has an undergraduate degree in Conservation Ecology and Biology and a MA in Teaching. As a Teach For America alumnus, she worked first as a science teacher and then Dean of Analytics in Title 1 schools in Chicago before co-founding Gardeneers. Her experience as a permaculturist and long-time member of grassroots community gardening organizations was the catalyst for her work in food education. May attributes the inspiration for the Gardeneers service model to her several years of direct classroom experience and the students she was privileged to teach and learn from along the way.
Chef Tom Van LenteExecutive Chef Tom Van Lente at Purple Asparagus
Chef Tom Van Lente has cut his teeth with some of Chicago’s highest profile restaurant groups – The BoKa Restaurant Group, One Off Hospitality and Four Corners Tavern Group. Being recognized from organizations ranging from The Michelin Guide, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine and Plate Magazine has helped Van Lente push for the highest of standards in both food and hospitality. Recently, Van Lente added a new position to his resume: business owner. Van Lente started his own company, TVL Culinary, in the fall of 2017. His passion for top tier products, high quality execution and relentless approach to hospitality has never been stronger. Van Lente now has the ability to bring his own flair and expertise into your home, office or any space in need of an event or party. TVL Culinary is in full swing with dinners, consulting opportunities and even has a couple weddings filling up the calendar. When he’s not cooking, consulting or throwing the best dinner parties around, Tom can be found working with the not-for-profit organization, Purple Asparagus, as well as keeping a close eye on his family run business, Drury Lane Theater in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois. He calls Roscoe Village home with his wife Shannon, son Benson and 2 dogs – Piper and Mr. Bananas.
James VincentChef and Co-Owner of GIANT
Working in a kitchen is deeply engrained in Chef Jason Vincent, who started cooking at age 15 at a pizza restaurant in Cleveland, OH. Jason studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and then moved to San Sebastian, Spain, where he cooked at Michelin three-starred Arzak. This formative experience taught him the importance of proper technique and how to transform ordinary ingredients into an extraordinary dish.
After moving back to the States, Jason honed his skills at a number of notable restaurants around the country, including James Beard Award winners Fore Street in Portland, ME, and Commander’s Palace in New Orleans.
In 2005, Jason moved to Chicago to helm the kitchen at Lula Café and eventually went on to help open its sister restaurant, Nightwood, where his uncomplicated yet refined Midwestern menu earned national acclaim. While at Nightwood, Jason received the highest culinary accolades, including Food & Wine “Best New Chef;” COCHON 555’s “King of Pork;” a JBF semifinalist nomination for “Best Chef: Great Lakes;” and Michelin Guide’s “Bib Gourmand” award.
In 2014, after 25 years working in restaurants, Jason very thoughtfully and deliberately decided to take a break from the industry to begin planning a place of his own. During his hiatus, he spent precious time with his young family and traveled for inspiration and a fresh perspective. Giant is the result of this “pause,” a representation of Jason as a chef, a father, a husband and a friend. His concept for Giant is simple—a special little neighborhood spot with great service and honest, unpretentious and delicious food.
Greg WadeHead Baker, Publican Quality Bread
Milwaukee born and bred, Greg Wade grew up baking with his mother and grandmother, but it wasn’t until he took a baking class at The Illinois Institute of Art’s Culinary Program that he found his calling. As Publican Quality Bread’s Head Baker, Wade oversees the bread program for all of One Off Hospitality Group, with a focus on local farm whole grains and natural fermentation. At Publican Quality Bread, Wade received a nomination for the Outstanding Baker category of the James Beard Awards in 2017.
On graduation from culinary school, Wade worked at Taxim, specializing in breads and pastries. From there, Wade joined the opening team at Girl & the Goat in 2010. Wade excelled under Chef Stephanie Izard’s tutelage, and in 2013, he moved to Little Goat to oversee bread baking at Girl & the Goat, Little Goat and Little Goat French Market. Now at the helm of Publican Quality Bread’s bakery operations, Wade works hand in hand with the company’s chef de cuisines to develop new breads to fit each restaurant’s menu.
Jennifer WallingExecutive Director at the Illinois Environmental Council
Jen obtained her law degree and master’s degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Law School in 2006, after gaining her undergraduate degree in NRES at the University of Illinois, as well.
Gilbert WilliamsFounder of Lonesome Stone Milling
Gilbert Williams founded Lonesome Stone Milling in 2009 and has managed it since then. Our mill is put together with repurposed buildings and equipment in the rural small town of Lone Rock WI. Working with family farmers in the driftess region of Wisconsin, the mill cleans, stores and produces fresh local stone milled flour for the upper Midwest. Before being economic and social entrepreneur, Gilbert was an environmental chemist and food processing quality control manager.
Kristen WilkMS, RDN, PR Director at Pre Brands
Kristen Wilk is PR Manager for Pre Brands, a Chicago-based premium fresh foods startup. A registered dietitian nutritionist with interests in consumer behavior and nutrition communications, Kristen joined Pre Brands’ team of Beef Geeks™ in 2017. With years of professional experience in communications and brand management for food, health and wellness companies, as well as expertise in individual nutrition, public health, business and public relations, at Pre, Kristen continues her ongoing efforts to spread nutritional knowledge and rectify misconceptions about what constitutes a healthy diet.
Kristen holds a BA in psychology from Yale University and an MS in nutrition from Boston University, and she completed her dietetic internship at Boston Medical Center. Prior to Pre Brands, Kristen served as a nutrition consultant and Senior Account Executive at Edelman Public Relations, where she completed a variety of work for commodity and industry association groups such as the Egg Nutrition Center, Dairy Management, Inc., the Mushroom Council and the National Frozen and Refrigerated Foods Association; as well as consumer package goods and other companies including Barilla, Bush’s Beans and more. Part of Edelman’s Global Food Sector, Kristen delivered internal nutrition counsel and led food and nutrition environment awareness through her role as Lead Editor of the Food Bites newsletter. She continues to write for various wellness outlets including WomensForum.com.
When Kristen isn’t busy spreading food and nutrition knowhow, you’re likely to find her perusing the local food, beverage and restaurant scene or getting her fitness fill. Kristen played Division I varsity volleyball at Yale and is always looking for her next athletic challenge. Kristen holds a Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 Award in Wines & Spirits.
Walter S. WillisExecutive Director of the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County, Illinois
Walter Willis has been the Executive Director of the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County since 2007 and is responsible for overseeing the Agency’s solid waste and resource management programs, and implementing the Lake County Solid Waste Management Plan. Mr. Willis is a board member of the Illinois Chapter of SWANA, an honorary board member of the Product Stewardship Institute, and was selected as Chairman of the IL Food Scrap Coalition for 2016 and 2017.
Prior to joining SWALCO, Mr. Willis worked in the waste industry as a consultant for approximately 20 years developing solid waste management plans and assisting with solid waste facility development projects throughout the United States. He began his solid waste career with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in 1987 after receiving his Masters in Public Administration from Southern Illinois University.
Ronald R. Whitmore, Ed.D.Principal, “John M. Smyth IB World School-Chicago Public Schools”
Ronald Whitmore, Ed.D. is an educator with over 25 years of experience in both suburban and urban settings. Dr. Whitmore was born and raised in Evanston, Illinois and attended Evanston public schools. His decision to become an educator was based on his passion for learning. He sees himself as an advocate for children, particularly disenfranchised youth in urban settings. His goal is to assist students in reaching their potential by unpacking their “authentic” self. He attended University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, received a Master of Education degree from National Louis University , an Educational Leadership (Administrator) certification from Loyola University, an Ed.D from Argosy University in Educational Leadership, and receive an additional 28 hours from Argosy University to receive is Superintendent Certification. He also received a Distinguished Alumni Award from Argosy in 2012. He has served the Chicago Public Schools for the past 20 years as both the Officer of Early Childhood Education (ECE), and currently, as the Principal at John M. Smyth IB World School, an elementary school in West Loop. Over the past nine years, student achievement has improved as evidenced by ISAT reading scores increasing from 28% to 54% and 22% to 73% in math. Currently the NWEA MAP results are 3.9 on a 4.0 scale which results in Smyth becoming a Level 1 School. . Dr. Whitmore is the author of a children’s book, Jermaine’s Journey. He received Kohl International Teaching Award and was recognized as Educator of Year. He is an active member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. In 2016 he was inducted into the Argosy University Distinguished Alumni. Dr. Whitmore is a proud father of three and grandfather of one.
Andrew ZimmermanExecutive Chef at Sepia
Guided by bold flavors, time-honored techniques, and curiosity, Andrew Zimmerman’s culinary perspective makes him an industry leader. Zimmerman serves as the executive chef at nationally acclaimed Sepia and newly opened Proxi, both in Chicago’s West Loop. Since taking the lead at Sepia in 2009, Zimmerman has garnered international attention for his inventive, American cuisine, earning the restaurant a Michelin star every year since 2011, as well as a AAA Four-Star rating. He has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation as a nominee for the “Best Chef: Great Lakes” award and StarChefs.com chose him as a 2011 Rising Star Chef.
In his 20s, while following a life-long dream to become a musician, Chef Zimmerman supported himself by working in restaurants in New York City. When he realized he enjoyed being in the kitchen more than the clubs, he pursued a career as a professional cook. Chef Zimmerman worked as sous chef for three years under Renato Sommella, whom he cites as one of his strongest culinary mentors. He then enrolled in the prestigious French Culinary Institute in New York City, graduating first in his class in 2000. In 2003, Zimmerman moved to Chicago to assume a chef position at the Park Hyatt Chicago and the following year, met restaurateur Terry Alexander, who was impressed with his capabilities and hired him as executive chef at MOD and opening chef for del Toro. Zimmerman returned to the Park Hyatt as chef de cuisine at its restaurant, NoMI, working with Chef Christophe David. In 2008, he was introduced to Sepia Owner Emmanuel Nony, and the following year, Nony offered Zimmerman the executive chef position at Sepia. As their business partnership strengthened, Nony and Zimmerman set their sights on a second concept, and together created a second space inspired by their travels and passion or ethnic food. In 2017, Zimmerman and Nony opened Proxi, right next door to Sepia. Proxi gives Zimmerman a chance to experiment with new techniques and flavor profiles as the contemporary American restaurant pulls inspiration from global street food.
When he’s not in his own kitchen, Zimmerman can be found cooking at a variety of local and national events. He’s participated in a number of festivals including the national Cochon 555 tour; Cochon Heritage Fire in Napa, CA; Food & Wine’s Entertaining Showcase; Charleston Wine + Food Festival in Charleston, SC; Park Hyatt Tokyo’s Guest Chef Series; Food Network in Concert; and James Beard’s Celebrity Chef Tour. Zimmerman has also appeared on several national television shows including Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” where he successfully defeated Iron Chef Marc Forgione in Battle Cream Cheese; NBC’s The TODAY Show; and CBS This Morning’s “THE Dish.”
Zimmerman and his wife, Lindsey, live in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood with their daughter and son. When not working, he can be found traveling with his family—and finding culinary inspiration all along the way.
Michele ZurakowskiPhD, Executive Director of Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry
Michele was the first employee of Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry and helped oversee its growth from a $70,000 program of another agency in 2008 to a $2.5 million stand-alone agency in 2018. During that time, the Pantry’s reach grew from serving 16,000 to 47,000 individuals each year. As Executive Director Michele has led an aggressive food rescue program, recruiting local merchants to donate over 60,000 pounds of perishable groceries and 13,000 meals from cafeterias each year. Prior to her anti-hunger work, Michele was an assistant professor and department chair in Communication Studies. She lives in Oak Park with her husband and two teen-aged sons and tries not to recall too much about her own teen-age years.