Past Board Members

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Past Board Members

Laura Mueller

Laura Mueller comes to Purple Asparagus with a long and successful tenure in fundraising in the Chicago Public School system. She was recently the Fundraising Chair and Board Member of the Friends of Bell from 2008-2015. Previous to her move to non-profit income development, Laura was in the hospitality industry and served as the National Marketing Director for Entertainment Cruises, where she oversaw advertising, marketing, public relations, menu development and event development for the national chain. Laura is passionate about healthy eating and living. A life-long vegetarian and passionate home cook, she is thrilled to work with Purple Asparagus and engage young children in the joy of cooking real food, especially their vegetables! Laura believes cooking is an art form and should be fun and fulfilling for the whole family. Laura also enjoys all aspects of event planning and is known for hosting elaborate theme parties in her home. She brings this enthusiasm for food and fundraising talent to Purple Asparagus. While it is hard to choose a favorite child, Laura says her favorite vegetable is tie between butternut squash and Japanese eggplant.

Claudia Martin

Claudia Martin comes to the board in her third year as a Lead Instructor with Delicious Nutritious Adventures, where she has shown great enthusiasm for Purple Asparagus. When her son was born almost ten years ago, she and her family committed to the idea that they would all eat the same thing – no special “kiddie” food. Their diet has morphed over the years to a plant based whole foods diet and she has seen the benefit in her family’s health. She feels strongly that exposure to fruits and vegetables should not be limited to the privileged few. As an interior designer by profession, Claudia focuses a lot on lifestyle – how does your home makes you feel, how productive is your workspace – but she really believes that the energy you radiate starts with diet and exercise. When not working, Claudia likes to run along the lake, travel, juice vegetables, and chop. Chopping is like meditation for her and has the added bonus of resulting in tasty salads. Claudia’s favorite vegetable is eggplant – cooked every way possible.

Liz Traines

Liz 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. She joined the organization because she believes 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. From a professional standpoint, Liz runs her own Health Coaching practice and leverages her past corporate finance career to help busy professionals lose weight, slow down, relax and ultimately live healthy, fulfilling lives. 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

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.

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.

Melissa Graham

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Stephen Landfear

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Erika Reff Vogel

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.

Laura Chalela Hoover

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.

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.

Charles Blumenthal

Charles is a veteran of fast-moving, high-pressure marketing and communications campaigns. His background includes running communications for high-profile political campaigns, developing and analyzing public opinion research programs at one of the nation’s leading research firms and designing and executing strategies for corporate clients at a marketing and advertising firm.  Most recently, he helped start one of the fastest growing companies in the nation, Illinois’ only nonprofit, member-governed health insurance company, Land of Lincoln Health. Currently, Charles oversees a business portfolio that includes a boutique consumer engagement firm and a startup health food delivery company. He’s a huge fan of avocados, preferably in their guacamole form.

Rachel Fiel

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.

Renee Fortuna

Renee 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.

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.

Kay Christ

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 D’Silva

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.

Seneca Kern

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

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!

Gary Wiviott

Gary Wiviott is Pitmaster of Barn & Company, a bustling BBQ restaurant in Chicago, an in-demand BBQ consultant, barbecue life coach and author of “Low and Slow: Master the Art of Barbecue in 5 Easy Lessons”.
Committed to spreading the gospel of low and slow barbecue, he has been featured on the Chicago episodes of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, local and national television cooking demonstrations, publications ranging from Forbes to Rachel Ray Magazine and is no stranger to the most popular national barbecue forums and food communities, including, Slow Food USA and the Society for the Preservation of Traditional Southern Barbecue. Gary is on the board of directors of the Illinois Barbecue Alliance, former board member of Purple Asparagus, was co-founder of, the Chicago-based Culinary chat site and co-founder of the Windy City Barbecue Classic.  His favorite vegetable is pork.

Nora Gainer

Elena Marre

Dani Brzozowski

Heather Carney

Sara Gasbarra

Leigh Ginther

Ellen King

Ally Lang

Jamie Revord

Trisha Reynolds

Portia Belloc Lowndes

Dagmara Kokonas

Aaron Deacon


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