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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.

Stephen Landfear, Senior Program Manager

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.

Board of Directors

Melissa Graham, Founding Executive Director and Head Spear

See Above






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.

Renee Fortuna, Treasurer

Renee Aug 2013Renee Fortuna is a Senior Project Manager at ATT. Over the past 20 years in Corporate America she has focused on not only project management, but accounting, budgeting, accounts payable, cost accounting and acting as a liaison between the business and IT teams. Her current focus is system implementations, change management, and organizational design. In addition to receiving her MBA, PMP and most recently acting as President for the ATT Chicagoland East Toastmasters , Renee has focused on her passion …nutrition and fitness. Renee has spent time focusing on Integrative Nutrition at IIN and Corporate Wellness Programs through WELCOA. She has used this knowledge to spread the word to friends and family. She wants to help people understand that food can be medicine and you are what you eat, she wants to help reach our youth and stop the nutritional free fall that is impacting our culture. Renee’s favorite vegetables are artichokes and yellow peppers.

Robin Skiadas, Volunteer Coordinator

robin2012After 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.

Rachel Fiely

RachelRachel 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

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.

Jill Houk

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.

Rosa Ramirez

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.

Past Board Members

Public Relations Team

Shannan Bunting


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.


Veronica Katz

Social Media 
Veronica Katz has been posting away on Purple Asparagus’s social media accounts since the lead up to Corks & Crayons in 2011, then taking the role of Social Media Lead for Corks & Crayons’ highest ticket selling year in 2012. Veronica earned her BA in Public Relations and Advertising from DePaul University and is looking for new opportunities similar to her current role. Favorite vegetable: celery (with red pepper hummus!).

Erin Sarris


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