40 Under 40: The Rising Stars in NYC Food Policy (Class of 2024)

by NYC Food Policy Editor

Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center is thrilled to announce this year’s cohort of 40 Rising Stars under the age of 40. In addition to this year’s Changemakers in Food Policy, Urban Agriculture, and Climate Impact, as well as our 2024 Media Awardee, this class comprises an unequalled group of movers, shakers, thinkers, and doers in New York’s ever-changing foodscape. We were delighted to honor these organizers, chefs, policymakers, researchers, advocates, teachers, farmers, and food workers at our awards event on June 5th, and are so happy to share their names and stories here now.

We feel that this year’s class represents what we stand for at the Center — that food policy is not an abstraction to only be studied and considered, but also an action, requiring the collective efforts of bright young minds such as these and the communities they support and that in turn support us all.

Janelle Antoine

Pronouns: she/her
Age: 27
Grew up in: Queens, NY
Job Title/Organization or Company: Chef/Nutrition Instructor for Wellness in the Schools & Owner of Plant Powered Meal Prep & Jay Nelly Culinary
Background and Education:  I am a Haitian-American vegan chef and nutrition and wellness advocate. I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Allied Health Science from Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama as well as a Health-Supportive Culinary Arts degree from the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan. I currently work as a chef and nutrition instructor for a non-profit organization called Wellness in the Schools where I teach children cooking and nutrition lessons. I am also the owner of two businesses: Jay Nelly Culinary, a vegan private dining and catering business, as well as Plant Powered Meal Prep, a 100% vegan whole foods plant based meal company in which I donate part of the proceeds to my efforts to eradicate food insecurity. I also spend a lot of her time volunteering with different organizations like Grow NYC as well as establishing my own efforts with my small organization, “End Food Insecurity,” by hosting events and donating foods to those who are in need. I am also a recipient of awards such as a Certificate of Recognition from the Senator of NY, a Public Advocate award for the City of NY, a Certificate of Merit from the NY State Assembly, and a NY City Council Citation. I continue to dedicate her life and work to effect positive change in food policy and the lives of others.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Evolving
Food policy hero: Mayor Eric Adams (He’s doing so much to promote healthier, more plant-forward eating habits.)
Your breakfast this morning: Fruit Salad/Overnight Oats
Favorite food: Mac and Cheese
Favorite last meal on Earth: A mix of Haitian/Southern Food. My dream meal: Haitian Black Rice, sweet plantains, curried chickpeas, mashed potatoes, baked mac and cheese, collard greens, candied yams.
Favorite food hangout and why: The Cheesecake Factory. There’s something for everyone in there and I’ve been going since I was a child so I have a lot of fond memories of moments and celebrations with family and friends!
Social media must follow: My Chef Page, Jay Nelly Culinary, Plant Powered Meal Prep

Anastasia Cabral

Pronouns: she/her
Age: 31
Grew up in: Brooklyn, NY
Job Title/Organization or Company: Teaching Kitchen Program Manager, FamilyCook Productions
Background and Education: I am a registered dietitian with a passion for culinary nutrition and helping others build sustainable healthy habits around food. I grew up in Brooklyn, NY in a big, loud, Greek family. Food has always been at the center of my life, from helping my mom peel carrots and potatoes as a tiny tot in the kitchen, to sitting down to homemade meals with my family every evening, to helping my grandfather grow herbs, tomatoes and string beans in his tiny Brooklyn backyard, and to now teaching others how to support their health with delicious scratch made meals.

I received my Masters degree in nutrition from Hunter College and later completed my dietetic internship with CUNY School of Public Health. I am currently the Teaching Kitchen Program Manager for FamilyCook Productions, a nonprofit organization with a mission “to bring people of all ages together around delicious, affordable fresh food to positively impact their health and well-being.” At FamilyCook Productions, I have the pleasure of managing our multiple culinary nutrition programs that address almost all stages of life, from toddlers to adults. When I am not supporting our organization in office (which means A LOT of zoom meetings!), I am on site, teaching teens how to cook multicultural plant-forward recipes. Almost nothing makes me happier than watching a group of adolescents go from being “veggie haters” to polishing off a bowl of kale salad in a matter of two hours!
One word you would use to describe our food system: Unsustainable
Food policy hero: All the civilians working toward a more sustainable future and fighting food waste!
Your breakfast this morning: Hard boiled eggs, croissant, Greek yogurt, and mango
Favorite food: Jerk chicken and tacos
Favorite last meal on Earth: Jerk chicken
Favorite food hangout and why: My own kitchen. I love cooking and feeding others delicious nutrient-dense meals.
Social media must follow: @unsqgreenmarket for all the seasonal produce inspo – you can find me there almost every weekend!

Alexx Caceres

Pronouns: They/Them
Age: 35
Grew up in: East New York, Brooklyn
Job Title/Organization or Company: Farm Manager at ENY Youth Farm (East New York Farms!)
Background and Education: I was born and raised in East New York, Brooklyn aka Lenape land. I have always been in-tune with helping people, animals and living beings. Growing up, one of my caretakers had a garden and that is where I learned how to harvest tomatoes, play in the dirt and touch worms. I obtained my Bachelors in Sociology at CUNY York College and worked in the social service field for a while. In 2020 my spirit was called back to the land and I started growing food in my backyard and helping out at urban farms. In 2021, I obtained an Urban Agriculture certificate with Farm School NYC and became an alumni of Rocksteady Farm’s queer farmer-centered Pollinate Training Program. My journey and experience has led me to grow culturally relevant foods for my community at East New York Farms! I Currently am serving as the Farm Manager at ENY Youth Farm where I teach youth and adults about food justice and sustainable farming. I am a seedkeeper with Reclaim SEED nyc where we save seeds for our community. I am very grateful to steward land and make a change in the food system. Shout out to the ancestors!
One word you would use to describe our food system: Corrupt
Food policy hero: My heroes are the fellow farmers who are on the frontlines of food policy and growing food
Your breakfast this morning: Green juice with pineapple, kale and lemon
Favorite food: Maya’s Baked Macaroni and cheese
Favorite last meal on Earth: Fried fish and coconut rice
Favorite food hangout and why: My favorite Coffee Shop is September located In Ocean Hill, Brooklyn. They have really good vibes and Mochas. Me and my partner love this spot for planning our weekly tasks.
Social media must follow: ENYFARMS IG, Alexx IG, Deep Routes

Liz Cantillo

Pronouns: She/her
Age: 35
Grew up in: born in Caguas, Puerto Rico, raised in Brooklyn, NY
Job Title/Organization or Company: Director of Operations, Citymeals on Wheels
Background and Education: I graduated from Queens College with a BA in Psychology, but I have spent my entire professional career working within the nonprofit sector with a focus in feeding organizations. I have dedicated my career to support programmatic operations and strategic planning efforts to improve food security among older adults in NYC.
One word you would use to describe our food system: inequitable
Food policy hero: all the food workers who work tirelessly to ensure our various food systems are constantly operating.
Your breakfast this morning: Cafe con leche and sweet bread sandwich with ham and cheese.
Favorite food: seafood
Favorite last meal on Earth: shrimp tacos
Favorite food hangout and why: local restaurants. With such a busy schedule as a working mom I enjoy going to a local restaurant where I have dedicated time to sit, relax and really appreciate the foods I’m eating.
Social media must follow: @greenbronxmachine, @cooking_con_omi, @ediblehudsonvalley

Teresa Conigliaro

Pronouns: she/her
Age: 30
Grew up in: Pittsburgh, PA and Lexington, KY
Job Title/Organization or Company: Policy Analyst, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
Background and Education: I received a BA in Anthropology with a minor in Public Health from NYU and an MS in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition from Tufts University Friedman School. Over the years, I’ve worked in research, non-profit, academic, and government positions all with the goal to improve food and nutrition security while recognizing the upstream factors that contribute to poor health outcomes. I grew up with a large New York Italian-American family who instilled in me a love of food and the ways it brings people together. That background pushed me to my current position in the Healthy Eating Unit, where I work on policies aimed at improving the health of all New Yorkers and reducing the rates of diet-related chronic diseases.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Inequitable
Food policy hero: Representative Jim McGovern
Your breakfast this morning: Ricotta and strawberries on toast
Favorite food: Watermelon
Favorite last meal on Earth: Nachos with extra jalapenos and a spicy margarita
Favorite food hangout and why: I love hosting friends at my apartment and making way more baked goods than anyone asked for.
Social media must follow: I don’t have social media, but highly recommend the Food Fix newsletter (https://foodfix.co/is-this-the-end-of-the-school-lunch-wars/)

Milagros de Hoz

Pronouns: She/her
Age: 34
Grew up in: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Job Title/Organization or Company: Deputy Director for Policy and Strategy at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Food Policy (MOFP)
Background and Education: I have always been fascinated with food, from the time I would lock myself in my parent’s kitchen and pretend I was hosting a cooking show, through my current role at the Mayor’s Office. Food has always been at the center of my life. During university, I studied Biology and worked on plant genetics and GMOs. The more lab work I did, the more I realized that it wasn’t for me. Searching for a more immediate connection to food, I journeyed to rural Guatemala to work on small-scale family farms. I learned first-hand that many of the problems these farmers faced could only be solved at the governmental level. Thus my path veered to NYC to study Environmental Policy with a focus on Food Systems at the New School. Since my arrival in the US, I’ve worked at research centers, environmental justice organizations, and city government.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Innovative
Food policy hero: The staff, fellows, and interns and MOFP
Your breakfast this morning: Growing up in Buenos Aires, I always had my coffee sitting down, but New York has gotten to me. I had my breakfast (coffee) on the 7 Train this morning.
Favorite food: Chicken cutlets with mashed potatoes (with a sprinkle of nutmeg) and any sautéed peppery green with lots of garlic
Favorite last meal on Earth: A crunchy baguette from Alf bakery with brie cheese and honey, preferably eaten outdoors with friends or famil
Favorite food hangout and why:  Calyer, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. This is about as good as it gets for a cafe. The owners obsess over quality, which you can tell from the freshness of their ingredients, including their great lattes and amazing Shaksuka egg sandwich!
Social media must follow: nycfoodpolicy, foodfixco, civileats

Grace de la Aguilera

Pronouns: she/her
Age: 38
Grew up in: Miami, FL
Job Title/Organization or Company: Urban Farm Coordinator (Admin. & Programming) / Randall’s Island Park Alliance
Background and Education: I have seven years of farming experience in a wide variety of agricultural settings from large production farms in upstate New York to rooftops in NYC. Right now, as an Urban Farm Coordinator at Randall’s Island Park Alliance, I am able to engage in both the on-the-ground work of growing food and teaching as well as the administrative work of program development and community-oriented programming. I am energized each day by our work with so many amazing community partners, such as Little Sisters of Assumption Health Service in East Harlem (where we donate a majority of the food grown on the farm) and Green Guerillas (who we partner with to grow some of the culturally relevant seedlings they distribute to community gardeners). Since most days I’m out on the farm harvesting or digging around in the compost with students, I am forever typing emails with dirty fingernails. Before my life in farming and food, I spent years studying literature, but to me, it now seems that most vital stories we tell about ourselves always seem to involve food.
Food policy hero: The community gardeners of NYC, who plot by plot are changing the food system in this city
Your breakfast this morning: A yogurt and then an arugula and radish salad made on the farm with a school group (if we can loosely consider breakfast all food eaten before lunch).
Favorite food: Dosas and pasta.
Favorite last meal on Earth: Carne con papas as made by my abuela.
Social media must follow: Randall’s Island Park Alliance

Lynn Estriplet

Pronouns: she/her
Age: 31
Grew up in: Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Job Title/Organization or Company: Get the Good Stuff Program Coordinator/ NYC Health Department
Background and Education: I graduated from Hunter College with a Bachelor’s in nutrition and food science, and I also hold an MPH from NYU’s School of Global Public Health. For the past five years, I have been supporting the day-to-day operations of a rapidly expanding supermarket-based nutrition incentives program; Get the Good Stuff (GTGS). In partnership with independently owned supermarkets and their point-of-sales vendors, GTGS helps New Yorkers participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) purchase and consume more fruits and vegetables. My passion for food security and healthy eating stems from years of supporting the implementation of food access/ nutrition education programs that promote New Yorkers’ health and wellbeing.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Unsustainable.
Food policy hero: I don’t have a food policy hero, but I am inspired by organizations like Rise and Root Farm, and Soul Fire Farm for their commitment to sustainable development, food sovereignty, and equitable food system.
Your breakfast this morning: Overnight oats
Favorite food: Pasta
Favorite last meal on Earth: Tasso kabrit, salad russe, diri kole ak pwa (Fried goat, beet/potato salad, rice and peas)
Favorite food hangout and why: Queens’ Night Market! In the spring and summer, it showcases a diverse variety of economically inclusive food and products from all around the world.
Social media must follow: @humansofny

Sra Feigelman

Pronouns: they/she/he/any
Age: 28
Grew up in: New Jersey
Job Title/Organization or Company: Compost Program Manager at East New York Farms!
Background and Education: I’m a master community composter by trade, as well as a certified Citizen Tree Pruner, Trash Academy graduate, educator, cook, gardener, farmer and community advocate. Raised in New Jersey, I cultivated my studies in Food Systems, Ecology, and Community Development at the University of Vermont, and returned to the tri-state area to honor my family’s roots. I lean on my Jewish teachings of Tikkun Olam – repairing the world, and Queer Community for care, nourishment, and perspective.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Street tree
Food policy hero: All young people in the movement
Your breakfast this morning: Smoothie
Favorite food: Dumplings
Favorite last meal on Earth: A garden-grown one, shared by many
Favorite food hangout and why: Chinatown – always good, always an experience, always Chinatown. I can spend hours in its labyrinth
Social media must follow: @blackforager on instagram

Abigail Fuqua

Pronouns: She/her
Age: 35
Grew up in: Massachusetts
Job Title/Organization or Company: Registered Dietitian, Adjunct Professor, Hunter College
Background and Education: I began my career in the visual arts after receiving a photography degree from Rochester Institute of Technology. I then worked in advertising for over a decade, building a successful post-production business of my own along the way. However, I wanted more. Hunter College’s graduate program and dietetic internship transformed my interest in eating well into a passion for nutrition science. Today, I have a private practice specializing in eating disorders and disordered eating, primarily serving the people of Queens. I’ve since returned to Hunter College, initially to work with graduate students in the Integrated Program in Nutrition and Dietetics, where I was able to expand our network of professional preceptors and lecture on weight stigma, cultural bias, and gender-affirming care. Now, my primary role at Hunter is as an Adjunct Professor where I pride myself on building community in my classroom through dynamic lectures and student mentorship.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Convoluted
Food policy hero: I credit Marion Nestle and Alice Waters for introducing me to food policy and Dr. May May Leung for teaching me. Today I am inspired by my friends and colleagues as well as community dietitians like Fadhylla Saballos and Merced Vega at Bronx Health Collective, and Melanie Zuniga at Food Bank for NYC.
Your breakfast this morning: Coffee, eggs, toast, cucumber salad, and an ice cream sandwich (because breakfast can come with dessert too!)
Favorite food: Anything that combines hot and cold elements in the same bite
Favorite last meal on Earth: Fresh warm bread with good Irish butter and flaky salt
Favorite food hangout and why: You will often find me at Argjiro’s Corner, my local Mediterranean market, getting an iced coffee, exploring a new kind of cookie, or stocking up on bureks. Here the groceries have a story; one the women who work there are eager to tell. They share with me the best way to serve sour cherry pierogis, the proper pronunciation of melomakarona, and the political history of my favorite Ukrainian candies. It’s food and community, just how I like it.
Social media must follow: @No.strings.nutrition @PinkMantaray @Bodyimagewithbri

Alyssa Gardner-Vazquez

Pronouns: She/Her
Age: 27
Grew up in: Brooklyn, NY
Job Title/Organization or Company: Senior Farmer Educator for Teens For Food Justice
Background and Education: My parents moved to the United States from Puerto Rico and Jamaica and I was born and raised in NYC. My parents were my first teachers that truly opened the door for my interest in food through our DIY tomato garden at home and sharing their family farming experiences from back home in the Caribbean. My journey in Urban Sustainability started back in 2013 at College Now at Brooklyn College where I took what was at the time a community service based Eco-Justice course that now offers college credit. Now called an Urban Ecology course, it teaches high schoolers how to develop agency over their communities and dives into multiple environmental justice topics that are also important to the students, while exploring various resources tied to our food system throughout NYC such as farms and farmers markets, recycling programs, natural and historical spaces and many more. I stayed as a mentor in that program for a few years while also working for another program called Teens For Food Justice. I began my story at TFFJ as a student volunteer helping to build its first classroom hydroponic farm in 2013. The following year I became a mentor and not long after became TFFJ’s first farm manager while completing my degrees at CUNY. I attended Kingsborough Community College and received my associates degree before enrolling at Brooklyn College and earning my BA in Urban Sustainability with a minor in Environmental Science. Now, I am TFFJ’s Senior Farmer-Educator working day to day with students and DOE teachers at the Martin Luther King Jr. campus in the UWS to produce and distribute thousands of pounds of produce each year to the students and their families and surrounding school community while advocating for food justice.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Mendable
Food policy hero: My food policy heroes are my students and peers out there on the ground right now. My colleagues and acquaintances over the past 11 years have truly influenced me and continue to inspire me every single day.
Your breakfast this morning: Homemade fruit salad made up of cantaloupe and grapes and a simple black magic kale smoothie with fruits and oat milk mixed in.
Favorite food: Watermelons! Any kind, yellow or red big or small that will always be number one for me.
Favorite last meal on Earth: My moms special lasagna that she has developed and adjusted over the course of my life.
Favorite food hangout and why: My favorite hangout used to be the boardwalk at Coney Island when I lived right there across the street for 16 years. I recently moved so now it’s anywhere where there is a body of water and gentle cool breeze and evening sunsets. I feel I generally have a lot of memories of places along the water which are always nice to think about. It’s also about the calming medicine of fresh air and green spaces that is really important and something everyone should have access to center and ground ourselves.
Social media must follow: @teensforfoodjustice, http://communityrootsbc.weebly.com/

Hillary Getty

Pronouns: she/her
Age: 35
Grew up in: Hilton Head Island, SC
Job Title/Organization or Company: Associate Director, Food Access at City Harvest
Background and Education: I’m a Registered Dietitian and have spent my career working in community and government programs. I double-majored in Nutrition & Dietetics and French at NYU and completed my dietetic internship at Lehman College. I always thought I’d be a clinical dietitian, but I found that I really loved the deeper connection with people and food in my community rotations. I’ve been lucky to learn so much from each of the positions I’ve had at CAMBA, Food Bank for NYC, NYC Department for the Aging, and now at City Harvest. My current role gives me the opportunity to combine these learnings into effective programming to ensure that folks have access to the food and skills they need to eat well.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Complex
Food policy hero: Marion Nestle – I still love reading her blog!
Your breakfast this morning: Iced coffee (instant Bustelo with a splash of soy), yogurt with granola and strawberries from my hydroponic garden
Favorite food: Fresh bread dipped in really good olive oil with flaky salt
Favorite last meal on Earth: Bagel Bites (to burn my mouth one last time) and a crème brûlée
Favorite food hangout and why: I love to catch up with friends over a long dinner where we order a bunch of things to share, so anywhere that won’t rush us!
Social media must follow: I love the work that @thenutritiontea is doing to add nuance, and @thekitchenbymicole‘s cooking videos are awesome. And of course, @cityharvestnyc!

Zora Hall

Pronouns: she, her, hers
Age: 25
Grew up in: East Harlem
Job Title/Organization or Company: Director of Communications and Outreach | NYU Food Environment and Policy Research Coalition
Background and Education: Growing up in East Harlem, I have always had a deep connection to the culturally-diverse food environment that surrounded me. However, I was also confronted by an unavoidable fact – my food environment did not resemble those in neighborhoods downtown, or even to the west. I began my career exploring this concept with Harlem Grown, a community-based organization that works with youth to provide mentorship and education in urban farming and nutrition. I graduated from NYU in 2021, where I majored in Environmental Studies, with a minor in Food Studies, solidifying my interest in the intersection between nutrition, health equity, and environmental justice. Now, as the Director of Communications and Outreach at the NYU Food Environment and Policy Research Coalition, I have the opportunity to further explore the relationship between race, wealth, and food that I have attempted to contextualize since I was a child.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Impressionable
Food policy hero: Tony Hillery | Founder and Director of Harlem Grown
Your breakfast this morning: Greek yogurt with a honey mango and locally-sourced Matcha Honey
Favorite food: My mom’s mac and cheese (though it’s not as good as … )
Favorite last meal on Earth: The Mac & Cheese Greens from Red Rooster in Harlem
Favorite food hangout and why: A cafe in Bed-Stuy called September – a Cape-Verdean-owned business, boasting nostalgic Cape Verdean mementos in the entry-way. With its delicious coffee, fresh pastries and lovely owners, it has quickly become my friends and I’s favorite third space.
Social media must follow: @nyufoodpolicy, @harlemgrown, @aspenfoodsociety, @biteback2030

Caroline Hiteshew

Pronouns: she/her/hers
Age: 36
Grew up in: Montclair, New Jersey
Job Title/Organization or Company: GrowNYC Farmstand Administrative Manager
Background and Education: I first became interested in food and farming while taking a Sustainable Agriculture course at Kenyon College in Ohio. After graduating with a BA in Anthropology, my passion only grew as I explored a variety of jobs, from farm apprentice to cheesemonger. I landed a gig as a Greenmarket Market Manager at GrowNYC and the rest is history. Over the past thirteen years, I’ve been fortunate to continue my career at GrowNYC. For seven years I worked as a Greenmarket Regional Manager, overseeing 12-15 farmers markets all over the city (but mostly in Brooklyn!). Last year, I transitioned into my current role as Farmstand Administrative Manager. I love that every day we see the direct impact of our work in the communities we serve.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Inequitable
Food policy hero: Farmers and farmworkers. While working at Greenmarket, I witnessed firsthand how hardworking the people who grow our food are. They must be many things at once: grower, scientist, meteorologist, engineer, marketing expert, mechanic…
Your breakfast this morning: Scrambled eggs, avocado toast, and coffee.
Favorite food: If an eggplant dish is ever on the menu at a restaurant, I’m ordering it.
Favorite last meal on Earth: Oysters and a lobster roll. Followed by a large, salted chocolate chip cookie to satisfy my sweet tooth.
Favorite food hangout and why: In my kitchen with loved ones, challenging myself to cook a meal with whatever is in the fridge. It’s the best way to relax and connect.
Social media must follow: @unsqgreenmarket, @marie_viljoen, the @maintenancephase podcast, @foodprintorg (I like their newsletter), Alicia Kennedy’s newsletter

Aleksandra Kocic

Pronouns: She/Her
Age: 32
Grew up in: Brooklyn, NY
Job Title/Organization or Company: Nutrition Incentives Program Coordinator, NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene
Background and Education: I’ve been at the NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene for almost four years. In my current role, I support Health Bucks, a program that helps increase access to fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables at farmers markets and farm stands in NYC. Prior to my work on Health Bucks, I worked with hospital cafeterias to implement the NYC Food Standards under a CDC grant. I received my masters in public health with a concentration in nutrition at NYU, and my bachelors degree in global studies at the New School.
One word you would use to describe our food system:Unfair
Food policy hero: All of the farmers and farmers market operators that support our local NYC food system.
Your breakfast this morning: Cream cheese on sourdough bread, eggs with everything bagel spice, and some fruit
Favorite food: Tacos!
Favorite last meal on Earth: My mama’s Gibanica (cheese pie) and tiramisu for dessert
Favorite food hangout and why: I love going to have lunch around the piers in Red Hook. Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie is one of my favorite desserts. They have a chocolate dipped mini key lime pie that is delicious! Plus, some of the best views of the city.
Social media must follow: I have been off social media for some time now, so I don’t follow anyone!

Amelia Linn

Pronouns: she/her
Age: 37
Grew up in: Tallahassee, Florida
Job Title/Organization or Company: Director of Global Policy at Mercy For Animals
Background and Education: I’m an environmental attorney by training and spent nearly a decade working on international climate policy, including with Environmental Defense Fund’s climate-smart agriculture program, and, previously, serving for six years as an adviser to the Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a group of 39 member countries at the United Nations.

I also served as an International Climate Fellow at the Guarini Center for Environmental, Energy, & Land Use Law at NYU School of Law where my research focused on the intersection of food and climate change, including research focused on city-level policy options to reduce emissions from food. In 2018, I co-led the Eat For Climate Week campaign as part of Climate Week NYC, encouraging restaurants to promote plant-forward eating.

In 2022, I was thrilled to join Mercy For Animals, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending industrial animal agriculture and constructing a just and sustainable food system. I lead the Global Policy Program at Mercy For Animals, advocating to build support for plant-based food systems across intergovernmental bodies, including within the UN system.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Broken
Food policy hero: So many of my friends, colleagues, and partners working at the intersection of food and climate.
Your breakfast this morning: Oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts
Favorite food: Vegan chocolate cake. My go-to recipe is this one!
Favorite last meal on Earth: Pomelo salad at Na Aroon in Bangkok
Favorite food hangout and why: I’m really looking forward to the return of the Vegan Night Market in Central Park. Last year this became a regular meetup for friends to share a picnic and delicious plant-based food.
Social media must follow: @thetransfarmationproject for inspiring stories of farmers building a better food system. @Nora_Cooks_Vegan for vegan baking recipes!

Wendy Lopez

Pronouns: she/her
Age: 37
Grew up in: Bronx, NY
Job Title/Organization or Company: COO of Diabetes Digital
Background and Education:I’m Wendy Lopez, a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator, bringing over a decade of nutrition expertise. As co-host of the Diabetes Digital podcast and co-founder of Diabetes Digital, I champion accessible and culturally relevant diabetes education. I share my insights in publications such as Food Network, Oprah Magazine, Women’s Health, and SELF Magazine. Merging my clinical knowledge with my love for cooking, I have over seven years of experience as a recipe developer. I enjoy crafting recipes that honor flavor and nutrition, particularly those that reflect my Caribbean upbringing. With 10+ years of nutrition experience, I’ve contributed as a columnist at SELF magazine and worked as a recipe developer for Food Network, Eating Well, Food Heaven, and Real Food Media. My educational background includes being a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator, with a Masters of Science in Nutrition from Hunter College.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Complex
Food policy hero: Leah Penniman
Your breakfast this morning: Cheesy eggs with toast and fruit
Favorite food: Eggs
Favorite last meal on Earth: Southern mac and cheese
Favorite food hangout and why: My mom’s kitchen because I feel catered to and don’t feel the pressure to wash any dishes after eating.
Social media must follow: https://www.instagram.com/diabetesdigitalco, https://www.instagram.com/foodheaven

Lauren Margolis

Pronouns: she/her
Age: 36
Grew up in: Boston, MA
Job Title/Organization or Company: Assistant Director, Food & Nutrition Programs at Children’s Aid
Background and Education: In my decade-plus as a New Yorker, I have held a variety of roles in the food sector at media organizations, culinary schools, City agencies and nonprofits. After completing my Master’s degree in Food Studies at NYU, I managed public programs and community relations at Essex Market; there I developed a cooking and nutrition education program that served thousands of community members with free workshops and access to fresh food. Today I am the Assistant Director of Food & Nutrition Programs at Children’s Aid where I work on our SNAP-Ed program, which includes nutrition education, food box distributions, and a fruit and vegetable prescription program for families experiencing food insecurity.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Expansive
Food policy hero: Krishnendu Ray
Your breakfast this morning: Toast with almond butter and honey
Favorite food: Carrot cake
Favorite last meal on Earth: Grilled fish with chimichurri sauce
Favorite food hangout and why: Cafe Katja on the Lower East Side because the food is so delicious and high quality but no one knows about it, so I can always get a table!
Social media must follow: @vintagewiltoncakes (Instagram)

Andrew Margon

Pronouns: he/him
Age: 39
Grew up in: Brooklyn, NY
Job Title/Organization or Company: Teacher at The High School for Environmental Studies
Background and Education: I am a Brooklyn boy who grew my love for food, agriculture, and the natural world as an undergraduate student at Oberlin College in Northeast Ohio. I received my Masters Degree in Education from Pace University. Several years after becoming a classroom teacher I completed the Chef Training Program at the Natural Gourmet Institute (NGI). I am part of a community of amazing teachers, students, parents and administrators who I learn from every day. My 2-year old daughter also bestows wisdom on a daily basis.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Essential
Food policy hero: Maurice Small
Your breakfast this morning: Granola, yogurt and blueberries with a cup of coffee
Favorite food: Pizza
Favorite last meal on Earth: The peach cobblers of my childhood
Favorite food hangout and why: Hanging out and cooking in my kitchen and the kitchen’s of friends and family. Because it’s all love. 🙂
Social media must follow: https://www.instagram.com/smallfarmerz/; https://www.instagram.com/blackzocalo/?igsh=dzhwMDNhMTlpYTBz

Allison Marino

Pronouns: she/her
Age: 32
Grew up in: Rockville Centre and Forest Hills, NY
Job Title/Organization or Company: Director of Public Affairs, Edible Schoolyard NYC
Background and Education: I am a macro social worker enthusiastically dismantling barriers to equity with communities across NYC. After working in nonprofit development and communications for some time, I decided I needed to learn more about the experiences of directly impacted individuals and communities in order to shift power and resources toward the realization of the solutions and innovations that they know firsthand and envision for our collective future. I pursued my Masters of Social Work in Human Service Leadership and Macropractice at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Service, and was fortunate to work for the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, where I learned a ton about raising issues of equity and access to policymakers and elected officials. With this new experience I launched Bronx Impact’s collective impact work focused on Bronx CD6, which had just 1 supermarket for every 37 bodegas even before the pandemic further impacted food justice issues for the community. We collectively launched the Bronx Impact Food Access Collective, which represented the entire borough’s perspective on a truly community-centered definition of food security, and made recommendations to the federal, state, and city levels regarding emergency and post-pandemic food policies that could bring this vision to reality. I then brought the organizing and policy advising lessons of this role to my current position with Edible Schoolyard NYC, where I have helped to enshrine universal access to food and nutrition education for NYC public school students in city charter, and continue to help lead advocacy for robust school meals which reflect the diverse array of cultural, dietary, and accessibility needs for every single student in our city. I also serve as a community board member on the board of Equity Advocates, which works to address the underlying causes of poverty and food inequity through policy and systems change. I am currently a co-chair of Equity Advocates’ NY Food Policy Alliance’s Youth Development and Urban Agriculture subcommittees, and help ideate and facilitate strategy, collaboration, and direct action across the coalition. With a deep personal, professional, and educational background in what makes us all unique and how that makes our world the beautiful place that it is, I am also committed to advocacy in areas outside of food policy. Since 2020, I have served as the President of the Board of Drag Story Hour NYC, which helps New Yorkers of all ages build empathy, confidence, acceptance, and self-expression.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Detached
Food policy hero: Aubrey Gordon (Maintenance Phase, What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat)
Your breakfast this morning: Manischewitz Matzo with butter and Mike’s Hot Honey (Passover, but make it local 🙂 )
Favorite food: A bagel with lox and a schmear, preferably from Russ & Daughters!
Favorite last meal on Earth: French onion soup, an entire baguette, caesar salad, and Ralph’s peanut butter Italian ices for dessert.
Favorite food hangout and why: My steamer trunk-turned coffee table, covered with a mismatched but just-the-right-sized assortment of serving dishes displaying a plethora of dips, spreads, cheeses, charcuterie, fruits and veggies, and too many things to put the delicious stuff on top of. This is best enjoyed laughing with friends preferably, but fills my stomach and my soul when enjoyed by myself, as well – much like dining solo at the bar of your favorite restaurant with a great book might. In my home we call this “A Cas Spread”, after my father (Cas Marino), who never let anyone enter his home without putting out “just a little something”, usually amounting to a meal’s worth of thoughtfully curated odds and ends he just so happened to keep on hand.
Social media must follow: @righteouseats, @streetvendorproject, @yrfatfriend, @hellgateny

Adriana Mendoza

Pronouns: she/her/ella
Age: 31
Grew up in: Sunset Park, Brooklyn
Job Title/Organization or Company: Benefits Supervisor, Safety Net Project – Urban Justice Center
Background and Education: I am the daughter of Mexican immigrants and was the first person in my family to graduate college. I hold a BA in Sociology from Brooklyn College. I grew up in a household that relied on food pantries, SNAP benefits, and free school lunches so I witnessed firsthand the inequality in the food system and the difficulty in navigating bureaucratic government agencies to access basic lifeline benefits. Despite working many jobs to supplement my father’s income, my mother always found time to join grassroots organizations to advocate for labor and immigrant rights, and housing and food justice. She was my inspiration in doing the work that I do today.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Inequitable
Food policy hero: My fellow colleagues at the Safety Net Project who are all fierce advocates for our clients and of course all the Community Based Organizations across NYC running food pantries and assisting New Yorkers in accessing public benefits.
Your breakfast this morning: Coffee, a bagel, banana, and mandarins
Favorite food: Mole Poblano with Mexican rice, beans, and handmade corn tortillas!
Favorite last meal on Earth: My mother’s arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), one of my aunt’s pernil (pork), another aunt’s spicy salsa, and another aunt’s amazing salad!
Favorite food hangout and why: My mother’s and aunts’ homes because they always invest time, love, and patience in planning and cooking meals for our family gatherings.
Social media must follow: @SafetyNetUJC

L. Delila Nadal

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers
Age: 30
Grew up in: Staten Island, NY
Job Title/Organization or Company: Director of The Staten Island Community Partnership via The New York Foundling
Background and Education: My background includes different fields however, they all overlap with helping/assisting community. I grew up in Staten Island in a NYCHA development, which means I get to work in the same communities that I grew up in. This helps me in my current role as my lived experience is beneficial in nurturing and fostering relationships within the community. I am currently enrolled with CUNY SPS for my bachelor’s degree where I am majoring in psychopathology and minoring in communications and media.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Evolving
Food policy hero: Mark Bittman
Your breakfast this morning: Eggs and coffee
Favorite food: Rice because of how diverse it is, used in multiple cultures and can be used to make multiple dishes whether it is breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert.
Favorite last meal on Earth: Sea food boil
Favorite food hangout and why: My mom’s house, she makes the best comfort food and feel good food which brings back so many childhood memories.
Social media must follow: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lizadette-nadal-250079123

Ryan Nebeker

Age: 29
Job Title/Organization or Company: Research and Policy Analyst at FoodPrint
Background and Education: I got my M.S. in Nutrition, with a focus on Agriculture, Food and Environment from the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Consolidated
Food policy hero: Kathleen Merrigan
Your breakfast this morning: Steel cut oats with raisins, walnuts and chia seeds (less dreary than it sounds!)
Favorite food: Peaches
Favorite last meal on Earth: Linguine with clams after a beach day
Favorite food hangout and why: Any of my friends’ kitchens, because they are bigger and cleaner than mine
Social media must follow: Culinary Breeding Network (https://www.instagram.com/culinarybreedingnetwork/?hl=en) has a lot of beautiful radicchio and a lot of beautiful art about radicchio 

Kira O’Brien

Pronouns: she/her
Age: 37
Grew up in: Brooklyn, NYC
Job Title/Organization or Company: NY Director x CHRO of Emma’s Torch
Background and Education: I am a born and raised New Yorker, I grew up tumbling over the bright orange booths of our local pizza shop, dazzled by the effect of the mirrored walls. Food has always been a central part of my personal and professional identity; whether it’s the potluck International Food Festival we ran when I was the Director of the Refugee Youth Summer Academy at the International Rescue Committee or the honor of sharing an iftar meal with a new family, breaking bread is central to the fabric of our community and what it means to be a New Yorker. My career as a social worker began at the IRC as the Youth Program Supervisor where I welcomed newly arrived youth and supported them in navigating the NYC public school system (including adjusting to our school lunch program which could be a tough sell for some!). After my time at the IRC, I worked at Princeton University’s Pace Center for Civic Engagement and also pursued my Doctorate of Social Work at Rutgers University where I studied the impact of experiential learning on identity development. I could see no better way to put this expertise into practice than at Emma’s Torch, where our mission is refugee empowerment through culinary education. We achieve this through our 11-week, paid culinary training and job placement program. Working with newly arrived refugees, I’m constantly thinking about the notion of welcome and hospitality; how do we help the newest New Yorkers, who have seen the worst humanity has to offer, feel welcome and at home in New York? I have the great privilege of seeing this happen every day at Emma’s Torch where each knife cut, each call of ‘behind!’, each “I got the job!” text or a new item on the menu is a reminder that these folks belong here. This work has shown me that our food system is more than just the items we eat- it includes every hand that it passes through; every person who picks, trucks, washes, cuts, boils, blanches, serves and savors is a part of our food system and we all have a responsibility to care for it and each other.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Co-opted
Food policy hero: I have the huge honor of being on the board of Catalyst Kitchens, a nation-wide member network of nonprofits and social enterprises with the shared goal of training individuals with barriers for employment in the foodservice industry. Every single member of that network is my hero!
Your breakfast this morning: Cottage cheese with apricot jam, half an avocado and a VERY large coffee
Favorite food: I’m born and raised in Brooklyn- if I say anything other than pizza I could get disowned! Specifically a thinner crust that cracks when folded but with a soft enough inside that it holds the pizza together. The cheese has to be soft enough for a pull, but not so hot or clumpy that you lose it in one bite. Fresh basil and those little pepperonis that curl at the edges and fill with grease when cooked. Washed down with a fountain coke and a rainbow Italian ice in a paper cup.
Favorite last meal on Earth: A dinner party that’s gone on way too long, where we’re still picking at tons of different dishes made by people I love, enjoying good wine, and laughing so hard we can’t tell if thats why our stomachs hurt or if we’ve just stuffed ourselves to bursting.
Favorite food hangout and why: Wildly biased but Emma’s Torch is 100% my favorite. There’s something about the energy of being in a cafe where at one table you have someone taking an important zoom meeting, another a couple on their first date, and at another there are little kids coloring pictures of the Statue of Liberty-all while you’re hearing newly arrived New Yorkers learn on the line. The pride in their faces when they serve up the city’s best dang chicken sandwich (already said I’m biased!) is one of the greatest joys of my week.
Social media must follow: (all instagram) @emmastorchfood @catalystkitchens @queerfoodfoundation @Chow_org

Selina La Vista Preyer-Blakney

Pronouns: she/her
Age: 37
Grew up in: Roselle Park, NJ
Job Title/Organization or Company: Education Director, The Sylvia Center
Background and Education: Since I was old enough to eat solid foods, I knew food was my passion. After high school, I attended the Culinary Institute of America and received my bachelor of professional studies degree in Baking and Pastry Arts Management. I worked a bit as a pastry chef but missed interacting with people and decided to move to the front of the house, as a restaurant manager and then catering manager. It was then that I learned that what I loved most about being in the food industry was planning menus and talking to people about food. I went back to school and became a registered dietitian and received my master’s degree in Applied Nutrition from Russell Sage College. During my dietetic internship, I was placed at The Sylvia Center (https://www.sylviacenter.org/), a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate young people and their families through culinary programming to promote health and well-being. It was then, during my first program on Katchkie Farm (https://www.katchkiefarm.com/home), that my passion evolved from simply talking about food to educating about it. I worked as a chef educator and coordinator and eventually became the education director, a position I have held for almost four years. I oversee all of our programming which happens in all five boroughs of NYC, the Hudson Valley and Capital District. I am also an adjunct professor of food science at Russell Sage College (https://www.sage.edu/) and sit on the advisory board for another Bronx-based food education non-profit, SNACC (https://www.snaccprogram.org/).
One word you would use to describe our food system: Imbalanced
Food policy hero: I have been listening to FoodTank a lot so I would have to say Dani Nirenberg. I love that she connects so many experts from all different disciplines to create honest conversation about the global food system.
Your breakfast this morning: Sourdough bread with a smear of cream cheese, jammy boiled egg, thinly sliced Migliorelli Farm (https://migliorellifarm.com/) radishes and s + p
Favorite food: No way can I pick one. But right now, the food that has been making me the happiest is really great crusty bread with butter
Favorite last meal on Earth: Whatever seafood is freshest, preferably raw, as I sit on the beach, sun- kissed and sea-salted. And then homemade mint chip ice cream for dessert.
Favorite food hangout and why: Right now it’s my kitchen table with my husband and kids. Dinner used to be my favorite time of day, hands down, but now with two kids under four, sometimes dinner is just complete chaos. But no matter if the meal is accompanied by tears and food refusal or “mommy this is the best,” I am just happy to be able to take a pause and spend that time with the people I love the most. Right now my family’s favorite meal is bibimbap, which we call “mmm bop” and we have made up a song about it, “Crispy rice, you are so nice. We love you, crispy rice.”
Social media must follow: For food education @sylviacenter and @snacc_program. For fellow food systems, nutrition and food science nerds @diversifydietetics, @institute_of_food_science and @foodtank. For food fun @ayesha_rare and @mattymatheson.

Ciara Ramirez

Pronouns: she/her/ella
Age: 29
Grew up in: Ventura County, California
Job Title/Organization or Company: Big Apple Nutrition Incentives Coordinator, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH)
Background and Education: I am a first generation American and college graduate, with deep Indigenous and Mexican roots. In 2018, I received a B.S in Kinesiology focused on Exercise, Nutrition and Wellness. During my time working in clinical health settings, I developed an awareness of the disparities in major health outcomes for black and brown communities of color. From a place of desire in being an advocate for more equitable health systems, I made the decision to pursue an MPH, and shortly after found myself attending NYU’s Community Health Sciences Program. Since then, I have dedicated myself to supporting food/nutrition access and education through community health programming at the NYC DOHMH.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Inequitable
Food policy hero: Nevinna Khann, Co-founder/Executive Director of HEAL Food Alliance in Oakland, CA
Your breakfast this morning: Sliced honey crisp apple and crunchy peanut butter, all generously dusted with cinnamon.
Favorite food: Banh-mi
Favorite last meal on Earth: A meal at my Tia Laura’s kitchen table, she is the cook I know. Whenever I visit home she makes me her staple tortas ahogadas- a toasted sourdough loaf filled with meat and veggies and drenched in spicy red salsa.
Favorite food hangout and why: Hanko’s Banh Mi to go, under the sun at Prospect Park. Meals are better enjoyed outside (in my humble opinion).
Social media must follow: Doña Angela’s, “De Mi Rancho A Tu Cocina”; YouTube channel here

Justin Robles

Pronouns: He/Him
Age: 35
Grew up in: Dover, Delaware
Job Title/Organization or Company: Program Director, Rescuing Leftover Cuisine
Background and Education: I was born and raised in Delaware and then followed my Nuyorican roots when I moved to New York City for college. There I went to St. John’s University where I got my Bachelors and Masters degrees in Sport Management. My family really instilled the values of being considerate and not being wasteful. These are values I look for in roles and organizations I am a part of, and one of the many aspects I love about my current workplace, Rescuing Leftover Cuisine (RLC).
One word you would use to describe our food system: Inefficient
Food policy hero: Honestly, I am most inspired by all of the Rescuers at our organization. They put in so much time and effort to ensure RLC redirects as much food as possible to those in need. They do not directly create policies, but they play a significant role in the Food Rescue movement.
Your breakfast this morning: Avocado Toast with the works (tomato, red onion, olive oil, spices) + a fried egg
Favorite food: Daveed’s (my father) Carne Guisada
Favorite last meal on Earth: Chicken Parm Hero
Favorite food hangout and why: I am not a Midtown guy, but I love Pazza Notte – great ambiance, great Italian food, and 2 for 1 martini deals every day!
Social media must follow: Rescuing Leftover Cuisine – https://www.instagram.com/rescuingleftovercuisine/

Brianne Ross

Pronouns: she/her
Age: 34
Grew up in: Michigan
Job Title/Organization or Company: Teaching Kitchen Chef at The Teaching Kitchen® at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House
Background and Education: After graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in professional writing, I moved to New York and began working in professional kitchens while I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Turns out, I wanted to be around food. I loved cooking, but even more, I loved the conversations and connections that happen in kitchens. I learned so much from the people I cooked with about food, about local farming, about cultures, about community, and I wanted to help create avenues for others to learn too. I started seeking opportunities to teach and eventually got the chance to help shape programming at The Dynamite Shop, a Brooklyn-based culinary afterschool program that explored the history and culture of local and global food, while empowering kids to cook for themselves, their families, and their communities. We made family dinners, we hosted charity bake sales, and we spent a lot of time exploring the farmers market. It was great. And now, in my current role as a teaching chef with The Teaching Kitchen, I get to take those experiences and share them with other cooks who work feeding so many different communities. Our trainings are focused on staff working in nonprofit institutional kitchens — older adult centers, childcare centers, schools, shelters — these are not glamorous kitchen jobs! But they’re so essential, and I love getting to spend time with these cooks, sharing recipes and ideas, and problem solving how they can get the best food on their clients’ plates every day.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Disconnected
Food policy hero: Alice Waters for her work as a chef educator and José Andrés for his work getting good food to those who need it the most
Your breakfast this morning: Cornmeal pancakes (my Great Grandma Honeywell’s recipe) and coffee
Favorite food: A truly impossible question. Today I’m saying parmesan-braised beans.
Favorite last meal on Earth: Olive oil-toasted sourdough bread with an August tomato, a massive pickled veg platter, spicy steamed mussels, and coffee ice cream (gotta go out with a bang)
Favorite food hangout and why: A shared table. We’re so spoiled with great restaurants here in NYC, but the older I get, the more I appreciate the people at the table as much, if not moreso, than the food. Whether I’m hunched over a prep table at work or enjoying a joint-effort meal at a friend’s house or mine, I love a shared meal.
Social media must follow: I don’t spend much time on social media these days, but I find myself reading a lot of reporting on Food Tank

Jenae Russell

Pronouns: she/her/hers
Age: 32
Grew up in: Guyana!
Job Title/Organization or Company: Senior Urban Agriculture Manager/ The Campaign Against Hunger
Background and Education: I am an individual whose background and education have equipped me with a diverse skill set and a passion to serve my community. Born in the beautiful twin islands of Antigua and Barbuda, and raised in the breathtaking Guyana, my journey has been marked by a commitment to the underserved community.

My educational journey has been characterized by curiosity and individual advancement. I pursued a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology at Hunter college (class of 2016), where I distinguished herself through the love for people and how to make society better for its people.

I am dedicated Senior Urban Agriculture Manager at the Campaign Against Hunger (TCAH), where I oversee a team of 12 individuals cultivating nearly 2 acres of land. My passion for urban agriculture began 12 years ago when I participated in TCAH’s Green Teen program. Since then, I honed in on my skills learnt by working closely with farm managers, steadily growing in expertise and leadership.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Fragmented
Food policy hero: John Boyd Jr.
Your breakfast this morning: Avocado toast
Favorite food: Right now is Drunken Noodles (Pad Kee Mao)
Favorite last meal on Earth: Thai fried chicken wings
Favorite food hangout and why: My kitchen. The smell of food cooking makes me happy.

Kyleen Sanchez

Pronouns: She/Her
Age: 28
Grew up in: Pleasantville, New Jersey
Job Title/Organization or Company: Volunteer Program Coordinator at NYC Parks GreenThumb
Background and Education: Soon after moving to New York City for college and to pursue a career in fashion, I focused my studies on the industry’s impact on our waterways. Although I enjoyed working with small-scale, eco-conscious brands, I enjoyed volunteering with environmental organizations and community groups even more, particularly in urban farming and composting. After witnessing how people can make tangible actions towards a just food system on a local level, I wanted to make a career change. I started working at GrowNYC as a compost coordinator, then at the NYC Compost Project hosted by the Lower East Side Ecology Center as an education and outreach coordinator. In these roles, I inspired New Yorkers to participate in community composting, processed food scraps and garden trimmings into nutrient-rich compost, and supported research in the use of community-scale compost in urban gardens. One of the most rewarding aspects of working for the NYC Compost Project was facilitating the Master Composter Certificate Course. I brought new people to gardens, parks, and mid-scale facilities to learn from industry and community leaders. Many times, students of the Course had become more involved members, dedicating their time to volunteer with these same groups. It was in this role that I wanted to pursue a career in administrating volunteer services. My current role as the Volunteer Program Coordinator at NYC Parks GreenThumb is a wonderful blend of my previous professional and volunteer experience. I work closely with community gardeners, volunteer groups, partners, and staff to coordinate public volunteer events. Our goal is to provide an easy and inclusive way to engage the next generation of community gardeners while respecting the legacy of diversity of our city. At the same time, we help prepare garden groups to be able to lead their own public engagement events by supplying them with volunteer tool kits, developing outreach strategies, and delivering materials for physical improvement projects. I feel so grateful to call this my job!
One word you would use to describe our food system: Evolving
Food policy hero: I have a deep admiration for Dr. Sara Perl Egendorf and their passion for and work in supporting urban growers and composters through research, arts, education, and resource-sharing. I met Perl in 2021 when they became a researcher with the NYC Compost Project hosted by Earth Matter. I attended their soil sampling training and was taken a back by how they present advance topics of soil health and the food system in an approachable and accessible way. Perl works directly with gardeners, farmers, composters, educators, and youth and ensures they’re also involved in the important research of the very soil that they’re stewarding. In many ways, I have learned how to become a better educator, advocator, and land steward from Perl. Folks can learn more about Perl here: https://saraperlegendorf.com/about-1
Your breakfast this morning: I’m a big fan of savory breakfast, and recently have been enjoying a scallion pancake with arugula and Lao Can Ma’s fried chili in oil for breakfast.
Favorite food: Hand-pulled noodles with spicy braised pork. My partner and I tag team to make this at home and I can never get tired of this meal!
Favorite last meal on Earth: My grandma’s Filipino spaghetti which is sweeter and made with hot dogs. This is such a nostalgic meal and has to be my last!
Favorite food hangout and why: Campfire meals made with friends, family, and even strangers! Despite being shy, I started bike camping with strangers in 2022, and preparing communal meals was (and still is) my favorite part. As a group, we’d do our part to hoist groceries and cooking utensils on bikes to the campsite, then prepare and cook meals over a fire together. The best bonding experience ever, and a tasty, hard-earned meal!
Social media must follow: The following accounts are just some of groups and individuals that I have worked closely with when working professionally in the composting world. They have and will continue to surprise me with the work they do to keep producing NYC-made compost and supporting urban growing despite the current landscape. @hotbox.composting, @harlemgrown, @Totlotcompost, @stnicksgarden, @redhookcompost, @_groundcycle, @qbgcompost

Courtney Scheffler

Pronouns: she/her
Age: 25
Grew up in: Catskill Mountains, NY
Job Title/Organization or Company: Greenmarket Site Lead and Compost Driver at GrowNYC
Background and Education: I grew up in a rural area that flooded each hurricane season. There was no public transit infrastructure to rely on so having access to a vehicle and the time to travel (sometimes up to an hour each way) for groceries informed my relationship with food. Our small town was food insecure with expensive produce that had traveled and aged before arriving on the Freshtown (formerly A&P) shelves. I learned to cook when I decided to be vegan after years of vegetarianism. I experimented with recipes, practiced seasoning tofu, and used produce I had never had access to once I moved to Syracuse and went to a farmers market for the first time by bus. At SUNY-ESF, through environmental justice coursework, I learned that terms like “food desert” or “food swamp” assume food insecurity is natural and inevitable. A more truthful term for the problems these terms describe is food apartheid. I am vegan for the animals, the environment, public health and for the workers and their labor that is deeply undervalued and underpaid by our food system. I moved to Brooklyn and began working at GrowNYC to connect communities to local produce brought fresh each day by the farmers who teach me another food system is possible. Last year, the workers of GrowNYC organized to achieve safe working conditions, sustainable compensation, and equitable representation in the decisions that impact our livelihoods and communities. I am so proud to be part of GrowNYC Workers Collective and am hopeful for what our food system can be with organized workers leading.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Exploitative
Food policy hero: Vivien Sansour, founder of the Palestine Heirloom Seed Library, La Via Campesina, and Feed the People Bed-Stuy
Your breakfast this morning: Seedy sourdough from Lost Bread Co. with red-vein sorrel spread (made by my roommate, Isa, from the garden she tends to!) with pea shoots from Evolutionary Organics, and a pink lady apple from Wilklow Orchards.
Favorite food: Nectarine
Favorite last meal on Earth: Szechuan pepper pot with tofu from Bodhi
Favorite food hangout and why: My kitchen! My roommate and dearest friend Isa is my greatest inspiration. She has redefined my relationship with cooking. My favorite task is making creative pantry cleanout meals and using up what needs to be from our fridge to feed our friends. Cooking in community in this way has given me courage to take on more complicated projects and has made nourishing myself and friends exciting. We have a red stool or often will just sit on the floor criss-cross applesauce to talk about our days while we plan the project, wait for it to be ready and eat.
Social media must follow: UAWCPal, GrowNYC Workers Collective, Los Deliveristas Unidos, NY Young Farmers United

Tia Schwab

Pronouns: She/Her
Age: 27
Grew up in: Austin, TX
Job Title/Organization or Company: Policy Advisor, NYC Mayor’s Office of Food Policy
Background and Education: Originally from Austin, TX, I spent time in California, D.C., and Vermont before landing in New York City. Now, as a policy advisor at the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy (MOFP), I manage the NYC Good Food Purchasing initiative, which aligns the city’s $500M+ food budget with the values of transparency, nutrition, environmental sustainability, local economies, and a valued workforce. In addition, I support our climate and environment portfolio, focusing on regional food system planning. Prior to joining MOFP, I worked on campaigns for nutrition security at the Center for Science in the Public Interest and covered stories about the food system for Stone Pier Press. I received my master’s degree in food and agriculture law and policy from Vermont Law School and a bachelor’s degree in human biology from Stanford University.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Changeable
Food policy hero: Dolores Huerta, Jose Andres, Marion Nestle, Michael Pollan (reading the junior edition of The Omnivore’s Dilemma in early high school inspired my entire food policy journey)
Your breakfast this morning: Oatmeal with blueberries, cinnamon, and walnuts
Favorite food: All things Tex-Mex
Favorite last meal on Earth: Veggie fajitas with H-E-B’s flour tortillas (if you know, you know)
Favorite food hangout and why: Postmark Cafe – my friends in the neighborhood meet here for a weekly ‘breakfast club’ before work, and it’s the best way to start the day. The owner Brad and all of the staff are amazing!
Social media must follow: @civileats, Food Politics, @farmworkerjustice, @watchingnewyork (not food related, just fun!)

Allison Smith

Pronouns: she/her
Age: 26
Grew up in: Poughkeepsie, NY
Job Title/Organization or Company: Program Manager: Community Garden Water Supply Project at NYC Parks GreenThumb
Background and Education: Raised in Poughkeepsie, New York, I often took the train to New York City on the weekends and school breaks to enjoy the food the city offers. After high school, I spent 6 years in Buffalo, New York for to receive a BA in in Environmental Design with a minor in Art History, followed by a Master’s of Urban and Regional Planning from the University at Buffalo. Throughout my undergraduate summers, I worked on a small educational dairy farm in the creamery, where I first started taking notice of the food system. During my graduate program, I specialized in food systems as well as neighborhood planning/community development. The perfect intersection of these specializations are community gardens.

At NYC Parks GreenThumb I am the project manager for the Water Supply Watershed Plan & EIS. The New York City Urban Water Supply Watershed Plan & Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is supported by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) through the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The project is a result of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and the allocation of funds through the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations (WFPO) Program Funding. The watershed plan will outline how the grant will financially assist with the installment of on-site water infrastructure for food-producing community gardens under NYC Parks jurisdiction. The establishment of the NYC sub-watershed of Bronx, Kings, New York, Queens, and Richmond Counties, New York will determine the geographic parameters of the funding.

My other professional interests include sustainability, greenspace planning, as well as mobility/accessibility and environmental justice. In my free time, I love really long walks, oil painting, short essay reading, any physical activities, and cooking big meals for family and friends.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Strained
Food policy hero: Samina Raja
Your breakfast this morning: Iced coffee, a beet salad with goat cheese and a girl scout cookie.
Favorite food: Pomegranate
Favorite last meal on Earth: Paneer Makhani, Basmati Rice, Garlic Naan, Vegetable Samosas & a Mango Lassi.
Favorite food hangout and why: My aunt and uncle’s kitchen in Austin, Texas. My aunt designed the layout to specifically cater to big groups of people gathering, as they consistently host large dinners. It is colorful, warm, well-equipped for cooking, and filled with energy.
Social media must follow: I am not on social media! But please follow GreenThumb on any platform, they have great free events across the city.

Shana Minei Spence

Pronouns: She/Her
Age: 39
Grew up in: Brooklyn, NY
Job Title/Organization or Company: Dietitian/ Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Dietitian Owner/ The Nutrition Tea LLC
Background and Education: I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in Brooklyn, New York. I attended Hunter College where I received her Master of Science in Nutrition and previously Fordham University where I received my Bachelor of Science in Fashion Merchandising. I currently work in public health for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, doing community nutrition lessons, and I also own my own company, The Nutrition Tea ®. I describe myself as an “all foods fit” dietitian and I create a platform for open discussion on nutrition and wellness topics that are inclusive, non-diet, and weight-neutral, all with an intersectionality of social justice. I am also an author and write frequently for publications such as Self, Shape, Outside, and Well + Good Magazines. I have a debut book coming out in August 2024, titled Live Nourished: Make Peace with Food, Banish Body Shame, and Reclaim Joy. My speaking engagements include Peloton, NEDA, Eating Recovery Center, The Rose Retreats, Food Fluence, Eat Well Global, and NBC. She can be seen in media such as NPR, Shape Magazine, GQ, SELF Magazine, Women’s Health Magazine, Outside Magazine, ABC Good Morning America, and Healthline.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Inequitable
Food policy hero: Tony Hillery of Harlem Grown. I first saw him speak when I was still in my dietetics program at school and I was so impressed with his passion regarding seeing the lack of resources in a community and wanting to change that.
Your breakfast this morning: Coffee and oatmeal with fruit and chia seeds.
Favorite food: Just one? I have a sweet tooth so I have to say Ben & Jerry’s Strawberry Shortcake.
Favorite last meal on Earth: Baked chicken, yams, collard greens, baked mac & cheese, with cornbread.
Favorite food hangout and why: Nothing beats going over to a good friend’s house and cooking a meal together. My friends and I have fun whether it’s making tacos for taco night or making pizza.
Social media must follow: @eatwellexchange @godslovenyc

Taylor Stevens

Pronouns: She/Her
Age: 30
Grew up in: Longmeadow, Massachusetts
Job Title/Organization or Company: Director of Culinary Training, Hot Bread Kitchen
Background and Education: I grew up in a small town in a family where having dinner together was a nightly ritual, but the food was an afterthought. When I went to college at Boston University, I was exposed to the vibrant (yet small) world of food in the city and I was enchanted. Throughout college I held a number of jobs in the food industry (from chocolate shop worker to barista to cheese monger… I did it all!). After graduating, I joined Americorps and taught cooking and nutrition classes around the state with Cooking Matters and knew I had found my place, using food as a force for positive change. I went on to work training volunteers to cook medically tailored meals at Community Servings before deciding to take the leap and move to NYC to attend the Institute of Culinary Education.

After graduating from I.C.E, I started as a Line Cook at Rethink Food, while cooking for local community based organizations(CBOs), I realized there was no one building relationships with the CBOs to ensure their communities were getting the meals they wanted to eat, so I started cooking and calling and emailing all at the same time to make sure we were providing the best experience for our partners and their communities. When the pandemic hit, Rethink grew quickly to meet the needs of the city and pivoted to support local businesses by paying them to make meals for local CBOs. During this time, I became the Director of Community Partnerships and we grew to feed not only NYC but multiple other cities around the country!

After leaving Rethink, I joined Hot Bread Kitchen first as a Program Coordinator and slowly worked my way through many positions within our culinary training program (from coordinator to assistant instructor to lead instructor). I currently serve as our Director of Culinary Training where I oversee our numerous training programs and work to ensure the training we are providing are meeting the needs of local food businesses and setting our members up for long term success and economic mobility within the culinary industry. Every step of my journey has been dedicated to utilizing food as a catalyst for change.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Imbalanced
Food policy hero: All of my colleagues over the past ten years who have fought relentlessly to make the food system more accessible and the food industry more equitable, I’m honored to call so many incredible folks my peers.
Your breakfast this morning: Fried egg on toast with peas shoots
Favorite food: Creamy polenta with beans and greens
Favorite last meal on Earth: Kraft macaroni and cheese, a Popeyes fried chicken sandwich and a juicy peach… I’d have to go for a nostalgic meal!
Favorite food hangout and why: The corner of Washington Park and Willoughby Ave in Fort Greene on a Saturday morning. The best part of my week is always visiting the Fort Greene Greenmarkert to pick up my weekly groceries and get breakfast on this corner where a number of incredible food and tea vendors set up weekly, my go-to is a chicken mole tamale from the Fort Greene Tamales stand.
Social media must follow: @foodfixco (and subscribe to their newsletter!)

Amelia Tarpey

Pronouns: she/her
Age: 33
Grew up in: Yellow Springs, OH
Job Title/Organization or Company: Union Square Greenmarket Publicity Manager
Background and Education: As the Union Square Greenmarket’s Publicity Manager, my work has been focused on how to both engage people in the physical space of the market and elevate what makes the market special, unique, and vital to New York City and our local food system at large. The market has such a rich history and the community of producers, their staff, GrowNYC employees, shoppers, chefs, partners, and revelers that has been cultivated over the last nearly five decades is a colorful, frenetic, gorgeous tapestry that I feel privileged to be a part of. Through social media and at-market programming, I get to help tell the story of the market, the people, the products, and regional agriculture with the goal of bringing more people into the fold, helping our producers have successful businesses, and keeping the market around for another 50 years and beyond.

I have been working in different realms of the food world throughout my career. I started with GrowNYC shortly after moving to NYC 9 years ago, initially helping to run neighborhood Greenmarkets (shout out Dag Hammarskjold, 79th St, and McCarren Park Greenmarkets!). Prior to GrowNYC, I was living in Washington DC and serving with FoodCorps as an elementary school garden and nutrition educator. Pockets of time in the in betweens have been spent working on and volunteering at farms and gardens, farmers markets, and in the food service industry. I received my Bachelors of Arts from Beloit College in 2014 in Health and Society, an interdisciplinary public health studies program, with a minor in Dance. In my free time I like to plan parties, host friends for dinner, go out dancing, and hit the beach.
One word you would use to describe our food system: complicated
Food policy hero: Too many people to list but will shout out a few folks. Liz Carollo who has been so incremental in making markets happen from programming to partnerships to training and so much more for the better part of the last two decades; Susie Spodak who is helping connect older adults with the Greenmarkets through market tours and cooking lessons at Older Adult Centers; Tutu Badaru who manages and works to expand our Food Access Initiatives at GrowNYC; Cathy Chambers who liaises with the various city agencies we work with to make markets happen; all the incredible Regional Managers and Site Leads who are doing the on-the-ground grunt work of market operations, community building, educating the public, and so so much customer service — truly takes so many people to make farmers markets possible and they inspire me every day.
Your breakfast this morning: fried rice loaded with veggies
Favorite food: So many. A just-picked June strawberry. 
Favorite last meal on Earth: a pig roast
Favorite food hangout and why: My house! I love hosting and feeding people plus love having all my spices/oils/vinegars/condiments/cooking tools at the ready
Social media must follow: @unsqgreenmarket, @berkshireberries, @mignonettetakespictures, @dusttodigital @yerr.nyc, @gothamist, @chasestrangio, @righteouseats, @democracynow, @adriennemareebrown

Tony Walcott

Pronouns: He/his
Age: 30
Grew up in: NYC
Job Title/Organization or Company: Chef In the Schools @ Wellness in the Schools
Background and Education: My name is Shaquan Walcott, but everyone calls me Tony. I am a first-generation West Indian American, born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, where I have lived my whole life. I attended John Dewey High School and then pursued culinary arts at the Institute of Culinary Education. During my studies, I externed at Oxalis in Brooklyn, where I had the opportunity to meet many amazing chefs and culinary minds. Before joining Wellness in the Schools, I co-owned a restaurant serving Caribbean fare.
One word you would use to describe our food system: dire
Food policy hero: All the parents who do there best to make sure their kids don’t experience food insecurity. No one person can fix all that’s wrong with our food system but if we all get involved together we can.
Your breakfast this morning: Bacon Egg and Cheese over medium eggs on an everything bagel, salt, pepper & ketchup.
Favorite food: Chinese Takeout
Favorite last meal on Earth: BBQ Brisket
Favorite food hangout and why: The restaurant “Bird in Hand” because my big sister is a chef there and she’s always been one of my favorites chefs.
Social media must follow: one of my favorite chefs, J. Kenji López-Alt.

Corey Wilkins

Pronouns: He/Him/They
Age: 30
Grew up in: Bronx & Brooklyn NY
Job Title/Organization or Company: Volunteer Program Manager with GrowNYC
Background and Education: I was born and raised in NYC, spending my early years in the Bronx before moving to Brooklyn while continuing education in the Bronx.

My journey with food access started about 10 years ago when I was hired as a part of GrowNYC’s Learn it Grow it Eat internship program. During this internship I was able to learn about the importance of fresh fruits, vegetables and supporting our local farmer economy. The experience of sharing that knowledge in the local community to induce change was truly inspiring. I continued to work with GrowNYC over the years as a Compost Coordinator and YouthMarket Assistant Manager, furthering my knowledge of our local food system and connecting with NYC residents in every borough. In June of 2021 I transitioned into the Volunteer Program Manager role where I oversee recruitment, training, and coordination of the individual volunteers.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Misleading
Food policy hero: DK Kinard
Your breakfast this morning: Hashbrowns, duck bacon, eggs, and Lost Bread soughdough with vegan chive cream cheese.
Favorite food: My auntie’s stew chicken.
Favorite last meal on Earth: Stewed oxtails with rice and peas! (I love a good stew)
Favorite food hangout and why: Kings Co Imperial in the Lower East Side. It is my go-to spot for any special occasion (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) and it is always amazing food!
Social media must follow: I do not have any social media so I do not follow anyone. I do listen to the Affirmative Murder Podcast, definitely check them out!

Nicole Yeo-Solano

Pronouns: She/her
Age: 34
Grew up in: Bothell, WA
Job Title/Organization or Company: Choy Commons, co-founder and organizer & GrowNYC, Beginning Farmer Program Specialist
Background and Education: I am a second generation immigrant who descends from Cantonese and Hainanese ancestors. I received my Bachelor of Design from the University of Washington’s School of Art. Prior to working in farm and food systems, I worked as a Product Designer and Design Director for technology start-ups in SF and NYC for nearly 10 years, specializing in building two-sided marketplaces such as Kickstarter. I transitioned into working in agriculture to embody a practice of building toward collective liberation and community self determination, and to build toward a world I would be proud to pass on to future generations. I worked as an urban farmer/educator in NYC, and as farm crew for small diversified farms in the Black Dirt region of New York. I co-founded and organize Choy Commons with found family, and we are blessed to enter our 3rd season of farming cooperatively, cultural practice, growing cultural foods for our community, and weaving relational webs of interdependence. I am also the Beginning Farmer Program Specialist for GrowNYC where I provide foundational business training and technical assistance to BIPOC and marginalized farmers who are building their own farm businesses.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Healing (through the hands of those that labor and know their land)
Food policy hero: Kristyn Leach, Christina Chan, Larry Tse, Amanda Wong, Kaija Xiao, Salt Wang
Your breakfast this morning: cantonese steamed egg, white rice, yaucono coffee
Favorite food: an impossible question! hainanese chicken rice pea shoots with minced garlic (must have wok hei); dan tat (egg tart); pernil con arroz con habichuelas; soft serve vanilla ice cream with shatter-crispy french fries
Favorite last meal on Earth: an expertly balanced 8-course chinese banquet
Favorite food hangout and why: A loved one’s home, with communal dishes made with heart, by candle light – and a picnic at the park, under trees, on farm, by moving water, until sunset and maybe even until the stars show themselves. I believe food is best enjoyed when immersed in nature and natural elements, with people who make you feel safe and know your heart, with enough space to truly taste and feel what it means to be fed and to savor your luck to be alive and cared for by all the hands it took to bring you to this moment.
Social media must follow: https://www.instagram.com/choycommons 😉, https://www.instagram.com/gentletimefarming, https://www.instagram.com/choydivision, https://www.instagram.com/starroutefarm

Aharon Zarzar

Pronouns: He/Him
Age: 35
Grew up in: Brooklyn, NY
Job Title/Organization or Company: Executive Director of a local food pantry “Hannah Kosher Foods” in South Brooklyn
Background and Education: As a child I grew up in Brooklyn in a large family. My parents went through a financial struggle, and were forced to take food from a local food pantry. After deciding to open up a daycare center, many of the mothers were struggling and needed food to feed their families. Eventually a non profit was formed As a child I grew up in Brooklyn in a large family. My parents went through a financial struggle, and were forced to take food from a local food pantry. After deciding to open up a daycare center, many of the mothers were struggling and needed food to feed their families. Eventually a non profit was formed Hannah Kosher Foods, and we grew assisting thousands of families until this day.

Following High School I moved to New Jersey to work in the food service business until 2011. After selling the restaurant I returned to Brooklyn, traveled around the world, and obtained an Associates degree in science. Additionally, I was working as a Kosher Supervisor for large parties and vacations. When my parents began working for the Board of Education they offered the family the food pantry and the day care. With a rich history in food I gladly stepped up to Executive Director assuming all responsibilities. Currently, I am pursuing a degree as a registered dietitian to better aid the community and to fight food insecurity in NYC.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Evolving
Food policy hero: Norman Priester from Emergency Food and Nutrition Assistance program Dawn Bridgeford from City Harvest
Your breakfast this morning: Coffee and bagel with eggs, cheese, and a tomato
Favorite food: Pizza
Favorite last meal on Earth: Rib eye steak with broccoli and mashed potatoes coupled with a dry red wine.
Favorite food hangout and why: Home!!! Mom cooking is always the best.
Social media must follow: https://www.facebook.com/Hannahkosherfood

Related Articles

Subscribe To Weekly NYC Food Policy Watch Newsletter
Subscribe to our weekly email newsletter today to receive updates on the latest news, reports and event information
No Thanks
Thanks for signing up. You must confirm your email address before we can send you. Please check your email and follow the instructions.
We respect your privacy. Your information is safe and will never be shared.
Don't miss out. Subscribe today.