Read about the Speakers At This Year's Annual Symposium

Posted: November 30, 2018

Here are the bios of all our speakers.

Erika Allen is the Co-Founder, Farmer and Operations CEO for the Urban Growers Collective. She received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her MA in art psychotherapy from the University of Illinois at Chicago.


Integrating the creative and therapeutic techniques with food security and community development has enabled Erika to establish multiple urban farms and agriculture training and education programs. She is passionate about social justice and working with multicultural groups in the elimination of racism and oppression. Erika served as Commissioner for the Chicago Park District from 2012 – 2017 and serves on the boards of Chicago Food Policy Action Council and Neighbor Space, as well as a founding member of the Growing Food and Justice for All Initiative.


Erika is a visual artist and consults with individuals and organizations to support visioning and planning of social change objectives. Erika Allen founded and was the Director of Growing Power – Chicago for 15-years prior to the closing of the organization in 2017.


Integrating the creative and therapeutic techniques with food security and community development have enabled Ms. Allen to establish nine urban agriculture and food system projects in Chicago, IL. Her specialties include project planning, and visioning for community food systems design and direct marketing training. Erika has provided technical assistance and planning support for thousands of new and limited resource farmers and local food pioneers to strengthen farm businesses. She actively works to create healthy and diverse food options in inner-urban city and rural communities. Ms. Allen is a Post Carbon Institute Fellow. Erika served on the Illinois Food, Farms and Jobs Act Council appointed by Illinois Governor Quinn and served on Chicago Mayor - Rahm Emmanuel’s transition team – Energy, Environment and Public Space Committee. She completed the Latino Policy Forum – Multicultural Leadership Academy (2016-2017).


Recent speaking engagements:


  • Illinois Institute of Technology - Lucas J. Daniel Lecture in Sustainable Systems: panel speaker
  • Urban Agriculture Summit: special guest speaker
    • White House Office of Public Engagement hosted with Growing Power: roundtable discussion with USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan
    • National Conference of State Legislators: panel speaker “Fresh Food: A Recipe for Healthy

Schools and Communities”

  • Urban Agriculture Innovations: Carrot City at Parson’s New School, NYC, panelist
    • Key note for Unite 4 Healthy Neighborhoods, sponsored by PedNet and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Columbia, MO
    • Eat Well, Live Well, Move More – panelist for 2nd annual conference on Improving Health and

transforming communities. Presented by Building a Healthier Chicago

  • Family Farmed Expo speaker: Slow Money and Urban Agriculture panel
  • Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council’s 5th Annual Summit: Opening Speaker
  • Webinar: Enterprise Green Communities Best Practices Series: Access to Fresh, Local Foods
  • Lewis University – Sustainability and Equity in the Food system
  • University of North Carolina, Asheville – Speakers series
  • University of Minnesota, Speaker
  • Oberlin College, Speaker
  • Stone Barns, Young Farmers Conference workshop
  • Pilotworks, Women in Trade panel


  • Journal of African American Art, 1998
  • Museums and Social Issues Journal, “The Good Food Story: From Slavery to the Good Food Revolution” (January, 2013)
  • Post Carbon Reader, “Growing Community Food Systems” (September, 2010)
    • Dream of a Nation, “Creating Food Security, Improving Health, Creating Community” (October, 2011)
    • Profiled in Farmer Jane (May, 2010)
    • University of Chicago: Oriental Institute “Our Work: Ancient Origins-Modern Jobs”
    • Good Food, Strong Communities - Chapter author “Cultural Dissonance – Reframing Institutional Power


  • Chicago Tribune’s Good Eating Award (2006) and was honored by
  • Family Focus (2007)
  • Women’s Environmental Institute (2009) Mother of the Environment, Minneapolis
  • Growing Food an Justice for All Initiative, “Social Justice Award” (2011)
  • Martha Stewart Living American Made Award (October, 2012)
  • Lewis University De la Salle Award (2015)
  • Chicago Urban League, Entrepreneur award (2015)
  • AKA – Midwest Chapter, Environmental leadership award (2016)
  • Chicago African Americans in Philanthropy, Champion of Social Justice award (2018)

Caitie Whelan is the Founder/Noter-in-Chief of The Lightning Notes, a short daily post to help us move the world forward. It features great ideas and striking stories to remind us that we matter and that improving the world is our matter. Prior to The Lightning Notes, Caitie was a Senior Foreign Policy Advisor in Congress, co-founded a school in India with a community of lower caste musicians, and raised pigs in Italy. She is a graduate of Brown University - where she co-launched their Social Innovation Initiative - and is a member of the Brown University Women’s Leadership Council. She also attended the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, where she co-founded and chaired the Salt Alumni Board. She is on the board of the Treehouse Institute and is a Truman Scholar from Maine.

Rose Hartschuh is passionate about helping the public understand what farmers do every day. As a wife and mother, she sees firsthand the challenges and opportunities that come with raising a family on the farm. She also understands that for her children to have the opportunity to continue the family business, the public must appreciate the important role that farmers play in our society. Rose is a former high school agriculture teacher, and now she enjoys working with audiences of all sizes to foster a positive perception of America’s farmers.

Mary Miller is always on a food adventure. She’s spent decades as a registered dietitian, helping children and families eat healthfully and thoughtfully, enabling future nutritionists to understand and analyze food history and culture, and educating the public about what we eat and why. In 2006, Mary founded The Fork and the Road, a culinary tour company that introduces locals and tourists in Western Pennsylvania to regional food specialties and the people, small business, and communities that bring them to our tables. She currently works as a culinary historian and research through her consulting company, Soup and Nuts, through which she has been working with Chatham University’s Center for Regional Agriculture, Food, and Transformation on the Western Pennsylvania Foodways Collection.

Alice Julier is a sociologist whose research focuses on food, material life, and inequality. She is the founding director of the Food Studies program at Chatham University and has previously served as the Associate Dean of the Falk School. She is the former president of the Association for the Study of Food and Society, a council member for the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society, and has served on boards of multiple non-profits. She researches food systems, family meals, masculinity and food, commercial and homemade food, and labor in food systems. Her most recent book is Eating Together: Food, Friendship, and Inequality. She is also the co-editor of the newest edition of Food and Culture: A Reader.

Shelly Oswald owns/manages Old Time Farm, where the focus is on conservation of high quality, authentic heritage livestock & poultry. She has a bachelors degree in accounting, associates in respiratory therapy, and has owned/managed several successful businesses. She is currently a board member of the PAGLC and a past board member and treasurer of Northwest PA Growers Co-op. Farm Certifications: USDA SVS certified Grass-fed cattle, USDA inspected beef, Pa Dept of Ag Licensed and Registered Kitchen/warehouse/processing, Servsafe Manager Certification., American Poultry Association Certified Standard Bronze Turkey, American Association Certified Partridge Chantecler Chicken, AMDCA Registered American Milking Devon Cattle, Certified PA Preferred vendor, Beef Quality Assurance Certified, Participant in the National Poultry Improvement Program Memberships: American Poultry Association, American Pastured Poultry Producers Association, Chantecler Fanciers International, American Milking Devon Cattle Association, Livestock Conservancy.

Barbara McMillan and her husband Dave farm their 95-acre Stillwaters Farm for organic hay and native trees, fruits and medicinals. Barbara's current focus is on reducing chemical herbicides through productive use of weeds for food and medicinal use. She and her husband were named Conservation Farmer of the Year in 2014 for their small-scale sustainable agriculture and building methods.

Marlene van Es is the founder and principal attorney at Trellis Legal, LLC located in Pittsburgh. Her transactional law practice serves small businesses, individuals, and non profits, and specializes in food business and rural and urban agriculture legal needs, including Right to Farm Act, ACRE, food establishment/kitchen permitting, agritainment liability, farm leasing, business formation, contracts, terms, etc. Marlene's experience on farms, in corporate CSR advising, and environmental advocacy has fostered the understanding that business transactions involve invaluable relationships. Therefore, she helps her clients navigate incorporating important legal structures to help these relationships flourish. She has a deep passion for increasing the accessibility of legal services so we can all grow together as a community.

Carie Starr was born to hippie gardeners who raised her on her Cherokee grandmother’s farm where, along with a strong sense of her native heritage, seeds of love for the earth and environment were planted. After earning a degree in Environmental Science from Zane State College she spent several years in the corporate world. Although successful in those jobs, the seeds of desire to connect to the earth were growing and blooming.

In 2008 Carie, along with her husband Jarrod, took a huge leap into farming with the native symbol of power, blessings and abundance, the American Bison. Carie is now the full-time farmer of Cherokee Valley Bison Ranch, home to not only bison but heritage breed pigs, chickens and turkeys. In 2015 Carie co-founded Women Grow Ohio. In partnership with Women Grow Ohio and Rural Action, she created and hosted a workshop to educate aspiring farmers on the care and keeping of bison. When Carie isn’t feeding pigs and chickens, watering livestock, planning education workshops, or pushing around hay bales she enjoys traveling with her husband and daughter Abby.

Annie Warmke was born a city girl in Columbus Ohio but started her farming life with a Nubian goat on a small hobby farm in Baltimore Ohio during her high school years. Her career experiences include founding and running battered women's projects, women's funds, and organizing a variety of projects to provide leadership skills for women-owned businesses and non-profits. Annie has a degree in counseling from Ohio University, and has been a full-time goat herder for the past 13 years. She built Ohio's first Earthship, founded Blue Rock Station with her husband Jay Warmke, serves as a consultant to various groups, is vice-president of the USDA Farm Service Agency County Committee, and runs a goat college near Philo Ohio. Over the years she has won a variety of awards for her work, and in 2015 she co-founded Women Grow Ohio. Living at Blue Rock Station is her life-long dream, and being a grandmother has been her most important vocation.

Dawn Plummer serves as the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council’s first Executive Director. For 20 years, Dawn has served in leadership roles including coordinator of national and international networks, development director, researcher, and community organizer. Dawn draws on these experiences to lead a multi-sector, community-rooted food policy council that connects its local work to state and regional food systems planning and policy efforts.

Dawn received her MA in Political Science from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and her BA in Urban Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. Both professionally and as a volunteer advocate, Dawn has worked alongside US and global social movements to advance human and workers rights, food systems, development, social justice, and civic engagement, with a focus on developing the leadership of those most impacted by economic, social and environmental challenges.

Karlin Lamberto serves the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council as the Urban Agriculture Coordinator. In this position she provides outreach, coordination and research support to the Council, the Urban Agriculture Working Group and related projects. Prior to joining the Council Karlin worked in agricultural sales, marketing and distribution in support of Southwestern Pennsylvania family farms. In this role she also worked in program development, grant writing and administration, and client relations. Before entering regional food systems work, Karlin lived and worked in Southern Arizona as an environmental consultant with a regulatory focus on the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water. She holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Arizona. Karlin is driven professionally and personally by the central importance and implications of our food system on our families, our health and health of our planet.

LaVerne Baker Hotep. When not discussing interesting topics with insightful guests as producer and host of her Internet program, WellWoman Radio Retreat, LaVerne provides guidance and inspiration as an Intuitive Numerologist and Coach, and teaches a much sought after class, Numerology for Enlightened Living. She is a founding member of the improv troupe Wing & A Prayer Pittsburgh Players and an InterPlay ambassador, continually finding places for InterPlay to serve individuals and organizations to build playful connections and enduring communities ( Founder of the EVE Project (Enlightened Voices for the Environment), LaVerne serves on the steering committee of Pennsylvania Women's Agricultural Network (PA-WAgN)

Sheila K Collins PhD is a dancing social worker, author, keynote speaker and improvisational artist who believes we all need to reclaim the birthright practices of our ancestors - dancing, singing, and storytelling. With that in mind she brought InterPlay to Pittsburgh when she moved here in 2005. She currently directs the InterPlay-based, improv troupe, Wing & A Prayer Pittsburgh Players and consults with non-profits to help them achieve their noble purposes.

Jett Downey enjoys the challenge of making music in the moment and has been improvising piano music for the Wing and a Prayer Pittsburgh Players since their founding in 2006. A singer and performance artist Jett uses music to connect people with nature. She is a strong environmental advocate, performing an “Elemental Triptych: A Musical Engagement with Water, Sky, And Earth,” and giving recitals on the waters of the three rivers of Pittsburgh. Most recently she gave a recital in a cave at Lincoln Caverns in Huntington, PA. Jett has participated in workshops on urban farming at the Garfield Farm in Pittsburgh. She is a member of the Creation Spirituality “Worship Jam” congregation at First United Methodist Church.

Gay Rodgers lives in Mifflin County on Hameau Farm in the Big Valley. Gay graduated from college with a degree in European Studies and Political Science. After a job offer in Washington DC, she chose to continue working on her family’s dairy farm. She then purchased her own farm, initially starting with a herd of Holsteins before moving to Ayrshire cattle. In between, she worked for the American Forage and Grassland Council. Gay is a third generation Ayrshire breeder and dairy farmer, and she mentors beginning dairy farmers through the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship program. Her herd of Plum Bottom Ayrshires graze on 110 acres of grass and have won many awards.

Gay’s Hameau Farm is in its 21st year of hosting an annual summer “Farm Camp” for girls, ages 8–14. A value-added enterprise for six weeks every summer, the camp offers two weeks each of chores, special activities and unique field trips. In 1999, the farm began hosting artist retreats and workshops geared towards both instructors and novices who desire to capture the views and vistas that the farm offers.

Hameau, when loosely translated, means community — which is important to Gay. She is on the board of the Kishacoquillas Valley Historical Society, a founding Steering Committee member of the Pennsylvania Women’s Agricultural Network (PA WAgN), a member of Belleville Reading Club and attends the East Kishacoquillas Presbyterian Church.

Anya Frazier was a camper at Hameau farm camp.

Nykisha Madison-Keita is a wife and mother of four amazing children. Her professional background includes care taking, early childhood education, business marketing, sales, advertising, entrepreneurship, farming and community building.

Nykisha Madison-Keita started gardening as a hobbie four years ago and immediately began reaping the benefits of connecting to the land. She committed herself to what she calls “garden therapy” and that dedication birthed the passion to grow food sustainably. Nykisha Madison-Keita is the current Farm Manager for a grassroots non-profit Urban Tree Connection's Neighborhood Foods Farm. Although she believes that everyone is responsible for growing their own food she has decided to stand in the gap for those who lack land accessibility or who may not have the awarenesses or resources to do so. Her passion is providing high quality food in areas where there is limited food accessibility.

Community led-farmers markets are a bridge to food justice and she does her part by bringing high quality produce to food insecure neighborhoods. Urban Tree Connection's aim is to build a local sustainable community-driven food and land system in Haddington that promotes cooperation, democratic participation, and equity. We believe that these systems should uphold the dignity of all people, beyond food and green space access and towards self-determining practices that engage community in governing resources together to meet the collective needs of the entire community.

Nykisha is the first African American woman to be a Steering Committee member of PA WAgN (Women Agricultural Network). She also serves on The Food Trust community advisory committee. She uses her power and influence to promote a healthier lifestyle for her community and is committed in doing her part to create a just local food system.

"Growing food is political it is the most liberating thing I've ever done. Using a sustainable farmer more = needing a doctor less" Food Justice for all!

Karyn Hopkins is a Junior Horticulture major at W.B. Saul HS. She loves being in the outdoors working on land or on a landscape. In Saul, she practices landscape maintenance while learning the science of a plant. She’s familiar with how to write a Blueprint and has had experience with various pieces of commercial landscape equipment. She’s also familiar with Farm Management, and Horticulture Business. In the Summer months Karyn was hired as a Youth Apprentice for Urban Tree Connection. She worked as a Farmers Market Apprentice on the register and also worked at the packing station at the farm as well. Karyn actually volunteered every year for 3 years at UTC until she was old enough to work there in the fourth year. While working and being at school Karyn is also Youth Activist for Food Justice. She sees the environmental racism and tries to do her part with creating solutions to end Food Injustice.

Raqueeb Bey is an urban agriculturist, community activist and mother of six phenomenal children. She is the Garden Resource Coordinator for Grow Pittsburgh Garden Resource Center, a tool lending library in Pittsburgh's East End. In 2011, Raqueeb founded Mama Africa's Green Scouts, a youth program that teaches community gardening, green sustainability, African-centered culture and community leadership skills. She also founded the Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers of Pittsburgh Co-Op (BUGS FPC) in June of 2015, where she is the Managing Director.

Raqueeb also volunteers for Landslide Community Farms. She is a steering committee member for the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, A steering committee member for PaWagn and a steering committee member for the Homewood Collaborative and chairs the Homewood Sustainability Action Team.Raqueeb is on the subcommittee for the eco innovation district and The Real Estate Task Force Committee for the Uptown Partners. Raqueeb enjoys working with diverse organizations and people to create sustainable food sovereignty solutions for our communities.

Dori Cross works as the urban agriculture coordinator for Penn State Extension Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Women’s Agricultural Network (PA-WAgN). Her primary efforts support and promote the on-the-ground work of urban growers in Philadelphia through technical assistance, capacity-building, and development of educational programs and resources with the urban agriculture community. She also part of an initiative with PA-WAgN to build a collaborative of diverse urban and rural women growers and food advocates to improve mutual sustainability, justice, and access to healthy local food across Pennsylvania communities. Dori is a member of PASA's Education Advisory Committee, a member of the Philadelphia Food Policy Advisory Council Urban Ag Subcommittee, and she manages the Rittenhouse Farmers Market in Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square every Saturday. Before joining Penn State, Dori was the farm manager for a youth serving urban ag organization in West Philadelphia and has many years of experience working with rural and urban farms to increase the sustainability of their operations.

Marian Dalke is the Urban Garden Manager at Norris Square Neighborhood Project in Philadelphia, PA. With a degree from Oberlin College in Comparative American Studies, Marian has 12 years of experience with food justice organizations. Marian is an involved participant of the Soil Generation Solidarity Group of white people working for anti-racism. She was a core facilitator in the Uprooting Racism Training for white-identified farmers and gardeners held in Philadelphia (March 2017) and State College (February 2018).

Abbie Spackman is the project assistant for AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians and provides support and resources to farmers and growers who have a disability or long-term health condition. She has a degree in Agricultural and Extension Education from Penn State and began working with AgrAbility in 2015. Abbie grew up on a sheep and certified organic vegetable farm in central Pennsylvania. She currently raises chickens, ducks and honeybees along with an assortment of other critters at Eagle Field Homestead. She is also carrying on the family tradition of growing heirloom pie pumpkins. Her work with AgrAbility connects her to a diverse farming population across Pennsylvania. AgrAbility PA strives to provide a range of services to underserved populations, including a focus on women in agriculture.

Emeran Irby is a writer, storyteller, and oral historian whose work explores the power of community around the dinner table. She holds a Masters of Food Studies from Chatham University, where she focused on the intersection of labor and gender through practices of food preservation in Appalachia. Currently, Emeran is the Oral History Coordinator for the Center for Regional Agriculture and Transformation (CRAFT) at Chatham University where she is building a Western Pennsylvania Foodways Collection.

Nicolette Spudic is a long-time food industry professional with the drive to help entrepreneurs reach their goals. She owns Pick Your Poison Consulting, a company that provides strategic consulting, product development assistance, and business plan writing services to food and beverage-based businesses. She also serves as the product development lab coordinator at the Center for Regional Agriculture and Transformation (CRAFT) at Chatham University and the program assistant for Pittsburgh Food Policy Council. Nicolette is a long-time food industry professional with the drive to help entrepreneurs reach their goals. She owns Pick Your Poison Consulting, a company that provides strategic consulting, product development assistance, and business plan writing services to food and beverage-based businesses. She also serves as the product development lab coordinator at the Center for Regional Agriculture and Transformation (CRAFT) at Chatham University and the program assistant for Pittsburgh Food Policy Council.
Nicolette holds a Masters of Arts in Food Studies from Chatham University and a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration from the University of Pittsburgh.