Melissa Graham, Founding Executive Director and Head Spear
Melissa Graham 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. Through its Delicious Nutritious Adventures program taught at over thirty Chicagoland sites, Purple Asparagus teaches parents and children about healthful eating. From 2005-2010, Melissa was also the chef-owner of a boutique catering company, Monogramme Events, and cooked for luminaries, most notably First Lady Michelle Obama at a private dinner party in her home. Until 2005, she was a partner at McDermott Will & Emery LLP resident in the State and Local Tax practice group in the Chicago office.
Melissa has received several awards for her work including a 2011 Chicago Tribune Good Eating Award, 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. In April 2015, Melissa was named one of the Chicago’s NewCity Big Heat 2015: Food and Drink 50 — the Dining and Drinking Cultural Leaders of Chicago, an honor also bestowed upon restaurateur and television personality Alpana Singh and former Top Chef Stephanie Izard. Finally, in 2012, Melissa was inducted into Les Dames d’Escoffier, a professional honor society for women in the food industry. Melissa received her bachelor’s degree, cum laude, from Colgate University in 1991 and her law degree from the Washington College of Law, The American University in 1994.
Melissa has been involved with and has taken a leadership position in many local and national organizations including Slow Food Chicago (as Advisory Board member), Green City Market (as membership chair), and the International Association of Culinary Professionals (as chair of the Kids in the Kitchen Section), and the Pew Charitable Trust (as delegation member of Supermoms Against Superbugs).
Stephen Landfear, Senior Development & Operations Manager
Stephen Landfear is Purple Asparagus’ Senior Development & Operations Manager. Passionate about improving the diets and eating habits of children, Stephen came to Purple Asparagus in 2010 as a volunteer and quickly became deeply involved on the administrative side of the organization, co-chairing the Corks & Crayons event in 2011 (and every year since), joining the Board of Directors as the Vice Chair, and chairing the Development Committee. When an opportunity presented itself to come on board as a full-time employee in 2013 Stephen jumped at the chance and has enjoyed helping the organization grow and seeing the transformation of Chicagoland children from picky eaters to enthusiastic food explorers.
Originally from Dayton, Ohio, Stephen moved to Chicago in 2002 after finishing school at Ohio University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Geography. After several years working in the public affairs/lobbying/consulting world, Stephen served as Chief of Staff to Illinois State Representative Sara Feigenholtz for eight years. Stephen lives in the Northcenter Neighborhood of Chicago and enjoys gardening, cooking, mixology, cycling, and hanging out with his English Pointer, Max. His favorite vegetable is beetroot.
Rachael Morkunas, Program Manager
Rachael developed a passion for food from a very young age, thanks to her grandfather. They would spend many afternoons watching cooking shows and cooking, always working without recipes. In 2011, Rachael graduated with a BA in History from Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. There, she worked in the kitchen of the College’s vegan café, often using vegetables grown in the College garden. After moving back to Chicago, Rachael worked in the kitchen at Uncommon Ground, learning about the importance of sustainable and environmentally conscious eating. From there, she moved to Alaska for a season to manage her own food truck, which helped to bring gourmet food to the small Alaskan town. Not being able to stay away from Chicago, Rachael moved back and began working as a cheesemonger for Pastoral, the city’s premier cheeses shop. It was through Pastoral that Rachael found Purple Asparagus! Rachael is excited about the opportunity to share her love of healthy, delicious food with children. Her favorite vegetable is kale!
Mary Kate McVey, Development Manager
Mary Kate McVey is Purple Asparagus’ Development Manager. As an ardent believer in philanthropy, self-described “data – dork”, and advocate for healthy living, Mary Kate came to Purple Asparagus in 2011 as a volunteer – bringing her expertise in database management to the Development Committee. She kept an eye on the organization from afar while growing her Development skills during a four-year stint in Portland, Oregon and was thrilled to be given the opportunity to work with the organization’s growing team upon her return to Illinois.
Mary Kate received a degree in Business Administration at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2008 and shortly after became a part of Chicago’s robust non-profit scene with four years on the Adler Planetarium’s advancement team. From there she had multiple roles at Camp Fire Columbia (Camp Fire Girls) and Friends of Trees in Portland. Mary Kate currently lives in Kankakee, IL and enjoys getting up to Chicago as often as possible, spending time with her aging parents, and caring for her two four-legged children, Turk and JD. Her favorite vegetable if she is forced to pick just one would have to be tomatoes.
Public Relations Team
Jane Gozenpud, Social Media Contractor
Former restaurateur, Cafe Phenix, and founder of Social Media Evolution, Yevgeniya has been helping organizations to use social media marketing since leaving the restaurant industry in 2011. After managing and promoting her cafe, and with a brief mention in the New York Times, “Best coffee and breakfast in Santa Fe”, she returned to her hometown of Chicago and decided to pursue a degree in marketing and communications. Around the same time, Yevgenia began volunteering with Purple Asparagus and later went to serve on the PA Marketing Committee. Over the last few years she has been busy raising her daughter, and providing social media marketing support to Eastern Illinois University – School of Continuing Education and Alpha Sigma Lambda Honor Society (2015)
Originally starting out as a horticulture major in college, she began working in greenhouses and farms in high school. Her passion for horticulture, agriculture and healthy eating continued over the years and included assisting in school gardens in California and Illinois, organizing a community garden in the Triangle District of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and creating custom container gardens for local greenhouses in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. She has spent time volunteering for Hebrew Immigration Aid Society – HIAS Chicago (2014) whom were vital in her own immigration to Chicago as a child from Belarus. In her spare time she works on a wildlife habitat assisting the property owners with urban gardening, volunteers at Wagner Farm with her daughter in Glenview, Illinois, and serves as a mentor at Run For Something candidates. Her favorite vegetable is the beet, after growing up eating eastern European foods which feature this vegetable in many dishes.
Erin Sarris, E-Newsletter Volunteer
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.