2012 Board of Directors
Melissa Graham, Founding Executive Director and Head Spear
Melissa Graham, a former attorney, is the founding Executive Director of Purple Asparagus, an award-winning 501(c)(3) non-profit that educates children, families and the community about eating that’s good for the body and the planet. Though its Delicious Nutritious Adventures program, Purple Asparagus teaches thousands of parents and children about healthful, sustainable eating in schools, community centers, and farmers’ markets throughout Chicago and the suburbs.
Melissa speaks and writes regularly on child nutrition and sustainability both in the Chicago community and online, blogging at Delicious Nutritious Adventures. Her work has been featured among other places on Williams-Sonoma’s Blender blog, Kiwi Magazine’s Kiwilog, and The Local Beet.
Melissa has received numerous awards for her work including the Chicago Tribune Good Eating Award, an honor previously bestowed to Rick Bayless, Alinea chef Grant Achatz, and First Lady Michelle Obama, the International Association of Culinary Professionals Culinary Youth Advocate Award of 2012, and the 2012 Chicago Children’s Empowerment Award. In July 2012, Greatist.com named Melissa one of the 15 Top Crusaders for Health in the Food Industry by Greatist.com alongside Alice Waters, Michael Pollan and Jamie Oliver. Melissa is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier.
Melissa resides in Chicago with her husband, Mike, and 8-year old son, Thor, in a rowhouse built in 1896. While you would think Melissa’s favorite vegetable is asparagus, it is in fact spinach because she always wanted to be strong like Popeye.
Erika Reff Vogel, Board Chair
Erika has extensive experience in nonprofit management having worked at a number of nonprofit organizations in a variety of fields, including the arts, foreign policy and international development. Most importantly, Erika loves food. She loves eating it, cooking it, buying it and growing it (or at least attempting to). Her goal is to pass along this love and appreciation or ‘real food’ to as many as possible. As the Board Chair of Purple Asparagus, Erika manages the Board of Directors. In addition, she is a lead classroom instructor, taking kids on Delicious Nutritious Adventures once a month throughout the school year. Her favorite vegetable is English peas.
Stephen Landfear, Board Vice-Chair
Stephen Landfear is Purple Asparagus’ Board Vice Chair and Chair of the Development Committee. Passionate about improving the diets and eating habits of children, Stephen came to Purple Asparagus in 2010 and soon became involved on the administrative side of the organization, co-chairing the Corks & Crayons event in 2011. Since then, Stephen has been closely involved with much of Purple Asparagus’ work and is happy to help out wherever he can. Originally from Dayton, Ohio, Stephen moved to Chicago in 2002 after finishing school at Ohio University. After several years working in the public affairs/lobbying/consulting world, Stephen currently serves as Chief of Staff to Illinois State Representative Sara Feigenholtz. Stephen lives in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago and enjoys gardening, cooking, mixology, cycling, lying in his hammock, and hanging out with friends and his English Pointer, Max. His favorite vegetable is beets.
Trisha Reynolds, Treasurer
Trisha Reynolds is the treasurer for Purple Asparagus. Her financial background includes over ten years of experience in sales forecasting for top companies such as Gap Inc. and Target Corporation. Upon moving to Chicago in 2008 Trisha became involved in non-profits centered in child nutrition at which point she became involved in Purple Asparagus. She firmly believes the “you are what you eat” mantra and is passionate about fighting childhood obesity through nutrition education. Trisha enjoys cooking and keeping up to date on nutrition and diet news and trends. She is thrilled to be part of such a growing organization that supports her beliefs about food. Her favorite vegetable is eggplant.
Kay Christ, Secretary
Kay Christ is the co-owner of Christ-Tomei, Inc., a corporate communications business. She specializes in writing training programs for the automotive industry. Her background includes ten years as a professional actress and work in the psychology field. She holds dual BA degrees in Personnel Psychology and Theatre Arts. Kay joined the Purple Asparagus board in 2006 and quickly became involved in developing the organization’s educational outreach program. She led the education programs at McAuliffe Elementary for 4 years. She also facilitated programs at other schools and has volunteered at numerous other Purple Asparagus events. Kay has actively supported the organization by promoting attendance and donations for the annual Corks and Crayons fundraiser, along with personal funding support. Kay served as both treasurer and secretary of Purple Asparagus in 2010 and is currently secretary. Her favorite vegetable is spinach because it is so delicious, versatile and packs a nutritious punch.
David is excited to be a supporter of Purple Asparagus and the great work all the volunteers do on behalf of its mission. As a board member, David is helping the effort to quantify Purple Asparagus’s impact on the community. Prior to returning to Chicago, he lived in Boston, spending time volunteering at the Harvard Square Farmers Market, as well as at On Your Feet Project, an organization that promotes volunteerism in young professionals. During the day, David works at Sprout Social, a social media software startup, helping businesses and marketing agencies manage their social media presence. Outside of that, you can find David in his kitchen or on the basketball court. His favorite vegetable is onions — any way you can cook them.
Rachel Fiely is the Director of Innovation for Quaker Foods & Snacks, leading new product development for Quaker. Rachel has been with PepsiCo for seven years in a range of marketing roles at Frito-Lay, the Global Nutrition Group, and Quaker Foods and Snacks. Prior to working at PepsiCo, Rachel worked at the NPD Group, a market research company, for five years working in the Foodservice and In-Home Eating platforms. Rachel has her MBA from the Kellogg School of Management and a BSBA from Bucknell University. Rachel also has a passion for making and eating good food and sharing that with her two children – Henry (age 3) and Sadie (11 months) – and her husband Bill.
Tania Haladner is a Marketing Director at Quaker Foods & Snacks, leading the marketing and cross-functional teams to drive growth on Quaker Chewy Granola Bars. Prior to PepsiCo, she worked at Kraft Foods for eight years in a variety of base marketing and innovation roles in both the U.S. and Canada. Tania has an MBA from Kellogg Graduate School of Management and her undergraduate degree in economics from Yale University. Tania lives in downtown Chicago with her partner, and enjoys working out, running along the lake, studying the latest health & wellness trends, listening to music, trying new restaurants, and spending time with family and friends.
Chef Jill Houk founded Centered Chef Food Studios, a catering and personal chef company specializing in healthy, delicious foods. In 2010, she sold her portion of the business in order to focus on her consulting business, in which she develops recipes, makes media appearances, and engages consumer groups on behalf of food companies. In addition, Chef Jill is active in many non-profit organizations that focus on health, such as Healthy Schools Campaign, American Cancer Society and American Heart Association. She joined Purple Asparagus in August, 2010 as a Lead Volunteer and loves every minute. When not working or volunteering, Jill is cooking for her husband and son, entertaining friends, and traveling. Although there is no vegetable that she dislikes, her favorite is scallions or any type of onion. She loves them raw, sautéed, caramelized, or grilled.
Returning to his hometown of Chicago from California, Seneca Kern has incorporated his experiences working in the community and his grandmother’s garden with a love of food to co-found WeFarm America with Bill Morrisett. A social enterprise focused on self-sustainability, effective resource allocation and open source curriculum/programming, all centered around organic gardening, WeFarm looks to help re-energize the food movement with the freshest, most local and sustainable food possible: your own. Also an active part of the Chicago Urban Agriculture and Food Justice movements, Seneca works at Growing Home as the Community Outreach Coordinator, focused largely on the area surrounding the Wood St Urban Farm in West Englewood. Interests include eating, dancing, meeting new people, teaching, learning, and growing his own food. All of which makes his job at Growing Home so fulfilling. Seneca serves on the Purple Asparagus Advisory Board and his favorite vegetable is sweet potato.
Lois Levine has been involved in the food industry for over 30 years. She began cooking with her caterer mother at a young age, and continued her love of food by getting a BS in Food and Nutrition and later a Masters in Education. Over the years Lois has worked on cookbooks, developed recipes for restaurants and food products, had her own catering company, and for 10 years was the Test Kitchen Director for Wilton Industries. Currently Lois has taken her food knowledge and degree in education and is teaching after school cooking classes to elementary school aged children. Her classes revolve around healthy cooking and eating, along with multi-cultural food education, basic cooking skills, easy recipes and plain fun in the kitchen. She also holds teacher and parent workshops to encourage food in the curriculum and more family involvement. Lois joined Purple Asparagus three years ago and is currently serving on the board as Community/Events Chairman. Her favorite vegetable is a potato in any form – just because they taste great!
Elena Marre is the founder of The Kids’ Table, a unique Chicago cooking school that transforms healthy cooking and eating into an adventure for all ages. Kids’ Table’s mission is to educate and empower tots, kids, teens, parents and families to cook, eat and love wholesome foods. Elena joined Purple Asparagus in 2007, assisting with curriculum and collaborative program development. She frequently speaks on the topic of how to engage kids in the kitchen and incorporate healthful foods into children’s diet, and has done cooking demonstrations at many venues, including Dominick’s Cooking Corner at the Taste of Chicago, the Good Eating Stage at Printers Row Lit Fest, the 2011 Family Fun Festival, and Chicago’s Green City Market. Elena and Kids’ Table have appeared on ABC 7’s Hungry Hound segment, WGN’s Around Town and ABC 7’s 190 North, and have also been featured in a number of print publications, including the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, Crain’s Chicago Business and Chicago Magazine. Elena serves on the Purple Asparagus Advisory Board and her favorite vegetable is beets because they’re packed with vitamins and are delicious. She likes them in any color, loves the greens as much as the root, and enjoys them roasted, pickled or raw grated into slaw!
Rosa is passionate about helping create a food system that is fair and accessible to all and helping make healthy habits part of daily living for children and their parents. As campaign manager for Chicago school wellness initiatives at Healthy Schools Campaign, Rosa works with a wide range of school leaders, parents and community members, public agencies, elected officials, foundations and community and faith-based organizations. Through these collaborations, she helps schools create healthy environments where wellness, healthy eating, physical activity and nutrition education are priorities. Prior to working at Healthy Schools Campaign, Rosa provided technical assistance to community groups and promoted best practices around social justice issues for the national research and action institute PolicyLink. She also spent several years as a youth organizer at Chicago’s Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, where she successfully strengthened multi-generational coalitions and managed environmental justice projects in Chicago’s Latino communities. Rosa holds a master’s of science degree in Community Development from the University of California at Davis and a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy and Sociology from DePaul University. Rosa has served on Purple Asparagus’ Silent Auction Committee and has assisted in the development of Purple Asparagus curricula. Her favorite vegetable is roasted poblano peppers.
Amanda Sudimack is the founder of Chicago-based Artisan Events. Named one of the top 20 photographers in the U.S., Sudimack has been working with brides for more than fifteen years. She’s built Artisan Events on simple ideas–creating documentary art for clients with integrity, teamwork and professionalism. Sudimack shoots up to 20 weddings a year worldwide and is president of Artisan Events. She holds a BFA in photography and art history from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Sudimack and her husband, Tod Szewczyk, live in Oak Park with their children, Emmet and Zoe. Amanda is Purple Asparagus’ design guru and her favorite vegetable is broccoli.
Gary Wiviott is a barbecue life coach. From the popular online tutorial that started it all to the his lively cooking demonstrations and teaching diehards how to set up a smoker in Chicago’s notoriously brutal winter weather, he is committed to spreading the gospel of low and slow barbecue. He is no stranger to the most popular national barbecue forums and food communities, including TheSmokeRing.com, Slow Food USA, and the Society for the Preservation of Traditional Southern Barbecue. His favorite vegetable is pork.
Public Relations Team
Shannan Hofman Bunting is a professional communicator, project manager, and media relations expert with a focus on green practices and businesses. She is the founder of Solstice Communications and lives in Chicago with her husband and two daughters, where she serves in several community leadership positions. Shannan holds a MA in Writing from DePaul University and holds a BA in Public Relations and another in Theatre Arts from Illinois State University.
Erin M. Sarris is the founder and creative director of Spun Copy & Creative, a copywriting, editing and consulting communication firm. Erin has written for publications of The Chicago Tribune, RedEye and Metromix.com, as well as The Washington Post’s Retirement Living, TV Guide, Washington Spaces, Columbus Valley Parent and The Peoria Journal Star. She graduated from Bradley University with a bachelor of science in political science, and from Columbus State University with a master’s degree in business administration. She is also a certified yoga instructor through Yoga Alliance. Favorite vegetable: Butternut squash
After volunteering in a classroom for Delicious Nutritious Adventures, Robin knew she found a cause worth pursuing. Passionate about cooking and healthy living, Robin loves helping kids get excited about eating and preparing food that is good for them and the planet. Her professional experience is in marketing research for food industry clients. She recently completed a certificate program in plant-based nutrition from eCornell and she is working toward her yoga teacher-training certification. As a volunteer coordinator for Purple Asparagus, Robin enjoys interacting with great people who share a similar passion for nutrition education.
Robin lives in Glencoe cooking up her own delicious adventures for her husband and daughters. She enjoys the challenge of preparing tasty foods that are dairy, egg and nut-free due to her daughter’s severe food allergies. At the moment her favorite vegetable is kale.