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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

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Erika Reff Vogel, Board Chair

Erika VogelErika 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.

Liz Traines, Treasurer

Renee Aug 2013Liz believes people deserve to enjoy each drink, meal or snack they eat; food can be energizing, satisfying, and vital in promoting a high performing, fulfilling, and healthy lifestyle. The strong foundation in health and nutrition that Purple Asparagus promotes can create a world of difference in children’s lives and will ultimately improve the health and productivity of Chicago. Liz joined Purple Asparagus to focus more of her spare time on her passion for healthy living. Her professional background is in Corporate Finance at Accenture where she spends most of her time collaborating with sales teams to structure large financial consulting and outsourcing transactions. She also pioneered her finance group’s “Live Healthy” initiative, which encouraged her colleagues from across the globe to eat healthy and think creatively about incorporating exercise into their daily schedules. In her spare time, you can find Liz traveling, working out on the lake path, enjoying the farmer’s market, or trying a new Chicago restaurant. Liz’s favorite vegetable is roasted Brussels sprouts.

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.

Laura Chalela Hoover, MPH, RDN, LDN, Communications

Laura Hoover_Headshot

Laura is a nutrition writer, speaker and wellness coach. Her main passion is working with parents to help them enable their children to develop healthy eating habits without pressure, bribing or nagging. She uses strategies from behavioral economics and motivational interviewing, among others, to help parents achieve success.

She is also the founder and editor of Smart Eating for Kids, a collaborative blog of credentialed health professionals who share yummy nutrition ideas, kid-friendly recipes and smart strategies to manage picky palates and other feeding obstacles.

Laura previously worked for leading public relations agencies, including Weber Shandwick, Edelman and GolinHarris. During her twelve years in this role, she developed and implemented nutrition strategy and communications efforts for global food brands and national commodity groups. She is most proud of her work in leading a major food provider to limit its food marketing to children.

Laura received a bachelor of arts degree in communications studies from the University of Michigan. She received a master of public health degree, with a specialty in human nutrition, from the University of Michigan where she also completed her CADE-approved dietetic internship. Laura is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and lives in Chicago with her husband and two young children.

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