Meet the Food Policy Leadership Institute Fellows
Alexa Arnold has worked on food, agriculture, health, community development, and social justice issues for nearly a decade. She currently serves as the School Food Procurement Manager at FoodCorps and is on detail with the Urban School Food Alliance. There, Alexa helps leverage the buying power of some of our nation’s largest school districts to improve the health, quality, sustainability and financial health of school meals. She started her career in food systems in Kentucky, where she advocated for policies that support small-scale sustainable farmers, built networks across the Central Appalachian region that connected schools, institutions, communities and farmers, and managed farmers markets. Alexa holds a B.A. in Political Science and Geography from the University of Kentucky.
Amber Bell is Program Director for the Southwest Georgia Project. Amber is a graduate of Armstrong Atlantic State University and went on to receive a Master’s in Public Health from the Jiann Ping Hsu College of Public Health at Georgia Southern University. While at Georgia Southern, she served as Research Assistant and Project Coordinator of the CHANGES Project for the Rural Health Research Institute. Amber joined the SWGPs team in 2013 as Project Coordinator, and in 2015 she was selected as a 2015-2016 Maya Wiley Fellow. The Maya Wiley Fellowship program celebrates and supports grassroots leaders seeking to achieve racial equity through structurally transformative policy strategies and campaigns.
Kendal Chavez is the Farm to School Director at Farm to Table, a non-profit based in Santa Fe, NM that focuses on food systems work at local, regional and national levels through innovative and community-driven programs and partnerships. Kendal’s work is rooted in both program and policy, with a focus on capacity, coalition building and systems change. Prior to joining Farm to Table, Kendal served as a service member in the inaugural class of FoodCorps in 2011, and then the state
fellow for the FoodCorps New Mexico program. She is a proud Chicana from the San Joaquin Valley of California, where farmland and orchards stretch as far as the eye can see.
Emily Cumbie-Drake is the Director of Programs at Georgia Organics, where she strategically manages the organization’s community focused programs. Previously as Georgia Organics’ Farm to School Coordinator and then Farm to School Director, she led statewide efforts to integrate hands-on food and garden-based education into the classroom and incorporate delicious, locally grown food in school cafeterias. Prior to working at Georgia Organics, Emily was the Sustainability Programs Coordinator at Emory University’s Office of Sustainability Initiatives. Originally from Des Moines, IA, Emily holds a B.A. in Anthropology and minor in Global Health, Culture, and Society from Emory University and studied at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland as a Robert T. Jones Scholar. Emily is an active member of Atlanta’s food community and has served on the boards of Slow Food Atlanta and Generation Green of the Georgia Conservancy.
Nick DeMarsh serves as Food Systems Director for Groundwork Milwaukee, where he has worked to develop a farmers’ cooperative to support emerging urban and peri-urban farmers through education, infrastructure, and market access. Nick
previously served as an AmeriCorps service member at the 16th Street Community Health Center, where his work integrated a youth garden called the Parents Against Lead (PALs) Garden. At the completion of his Americorps term, Nick worked at
Growing Power in a variety of capacities. Inspired by the entrepreneurial interests of the youth he worked with, he created a Young Farmers Program that became a part of Groundwork Milwaukee. Nick is currently completing a Master’s at University of Wisconsin Milwaukee in Urban Studies and recently completed a fellowship in UWM’s Center for Economic Development. His research into community organizing has been recognized with a Scott Greer Award for Outstanding Research from UWM’s Urban Studies Program.
Andy DiMezza lives and works at Lake Village Homestead Farming Coop in Kalamazoo, MI. Originally from upstate New York, Andy began his career in food while studying the intersections of the Urban Environment and food systems under Dr. Myrna Hall at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. He moved to the Midwest to work for Growing Power, volunteer with the Victory Garden Initiative, and work on city policy with Transition Milwaukee, and helped lead a GFSI Food Safety Program establishment at an Organic Food Production Facility. Now working as a GFSI compliant and FDA regulated food production facility as a Front Line Leader with Abbott Nutrition in Michigan, Andy spends his free time bee keeping, managing orchards, practicing rotational grazing and animal husbandry, working on sustainable structure and landscape projects, vegetable gardening, and teaching classes these and other topics.
Jessica Gonzalez works as a Health Policy Liaison at Day One, a public health non- profit based out of Southern California. Her primary work involves working with youth to advocate for various public health issues such as: better school lunches, access to clean water and public parks. She graduated from the California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, where she majored in Political Science with a strong interest in agriculture policy. During her time as an undergraduate, she organized and helped pass a statewide policy to get all 23 California State Universities to commit to purchasing 20% more sustainable food by 2020. She was awarded a fellowship with the Real Food Challenge in 2014-15 as a community organizer.
Sarah Green is an independent writer and consultant from Kansas. She has written for local, state, and national newspapers and magazines about food, water, government, and health policy. She has managed projects for philanthropic foundations, non-profits, and community groups, all with a focus on bringing people together to learn from each other. She has worked in the public, private, and non-profit sectors, including the Kansas Department of Agriculture, where she administered the state’s Specialty Crop Block Grant, tracked legislation, and assisted with agricultural marketing efforts.
Victoria Griffith is the Vice President of Quality Assurance and Purchasing for the Farmers Restaurant Group. She oversees all health, safety and quality systems for the restaurants as well as oversight of all purchasing for the growing farmer-owned group. Previously, she was Founder and President of Griffith Safety Group, where she supported local chefs and restaurant groups including Jose Andres’ Think Food Group. Among other community activities, she has held a number of offices with the National Capital Area Environmental Health Association. In January 2009, one of her career highlights was to act as the food safety liaison for the catering company that provided all the food for President Obama’s Inauguration Commander in Chief Ball. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Food Marketing and Distribution Processes from Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY.
Ali Kelley is a Senior Associate Marketing Manager at Annie’s, where she focuses on new product innovation and plays a leading role in the brand’s efforts to advance regenerative agriculture. Prior to joining Annie’s, Ali worked in the White House for First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative. Ali also served as the Special Assistant to the Director of the National Park Service and started Let’s Move Outside!, a program to promote physical activity on America’s public lands and waterways. Ali grew up in Colorado and credits that upbringing with her deep connection to the outdoors. She has an MBA from UC Berkeley – Haas and a BA in Politics from Princeton University.
Chris Neubert is a fourth-year PhD candidate in the Department of Geography at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, currently researching the intersections of agriculture, masculinity and race in rural Iowa. Previously, he was a community
organizer at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement in Des Moines, IA; a Fulbright scholar researching tea plantation labor in Kandy, Sri Lanka; and a policy analyst with National People’s Action in Washington, DC. His research, which focuses on social movements seeking to craft sustainable communities, is supported by a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation. His academic pursuits are directly influenced by his experience growing up as a gay man in South Dakota raised by a single mother who worked multiple low-wage jobs to support her family. He looks to understand how everyday, intimate interactions shape how people encounter the world and develop relationships with their neighbors and communities.
Seri Niimi-Burch serves as the FoodCorps Hawai’i Fellow, where she manages the statewide program and supports a team of nine AmeriCorps service members. Her interests lie at the intersections of science and culture, food and health, and academia, policy and community; she works at these intersections to build bridges and address social justice, environmental and public health issues related to food and agriculture in marginalized communities. Seri hails from the Garden Island of Kaua’i and studied Chemistry and Environmental Studies at Boston College. She then returned home to Hawai’i to serve as a FoodCorps AmeriCorps service member. She lives on a sheep farm on the slopes of Mauna Kea, in the Hāmākua District of Hawai’i Island.
Kavita Patel was born and raised in Texas and after studying computer science decided to pursue a career in food. For the last 13 years, she has been with Whole Foods Market, working in marketing, technology and now as the Local Coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic Region. As the Local Coordinator – her dream job – she spends her time seeking out the best producers, farmers and makers in the area of Southern New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, DC, Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.
Vicky Reeves has spent the last five years with Organic Valley, the nation’s largest organic, farmer-owned cooperative, doing a range of work related to public affairs, cooperative governance, and a farmer-funded grant program to support organic research, education and advocacy. Inspired by Organic Valley’s example of cooperation, she has a passion for identifying shared humanistic values as a basis for building strong collaboration to affect change. As a volunteer, she dedicates the majority of her time to supporting the activity of an international Buddhist organization through events, communications, book publishing, and maintenance of an 87-acre retreat center in rural Wisconsin where she lives with her husband and young daughter. She hails from Texas, where she received a B.A. in Psychology at Southwestern University.
Laurel graduated from the University of Denver with a BS in Environmental Science and a minor in Business Administration, and currently is working on her BS in Food Science and Human Nutrition from the University of Maine. Laurel started her work in food policy as a FoodCorps Service Member in Maine; there she served alongside educators and community leaders to put in place garden, cooking, and nutrition curriculum to create a nourishing environment for all students. Since then, Laurel has worked as the Summer Food Program Coordinator at Opportunity Alliance, where she organized the summer meal program for over 30 school sites and community centers. Laurel has also supported the initiative to create a broader and more strongly connected network of organizations, businesses, and individuals contributing to the food system in Maine alongside the Maine Food Strategy.