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On-Farm Educators

 

2014 Educators at AOLC Clockwise from left: Cindy Palombi, Randy Mermel, Joe Haverly, Duffy intern Lauren Strug, Josh Capodarco, Neddy Astudillo, Mary Rudzinski, Liz Whitehurst, Dave Kostka, Amanda Holmes, Colleen Doyel, Jessie Crow Mermel. Not pictured: Robert Benzel, Nathan Liddell, April Morris, Zoe Wedel, Gretchen Witowich

Neddy Astudillo is the co-founder of Angelic Organics Learning Center and an original On-Farm Educator. She recently received her Doctorate of Ministry in Ecotheology. She is pastor at Parroquia San José in Beloit, WI.

Robert Benzel is a lead educator and culinary manager at Angelic Organics Lodge. He is a native of Roscoe and worked for Angelic Organics, our partner farm, from 2005 to 2009. Four years later, after spending five months in Mexico on his sister's farm Rancho Buen Dia, he could no longer deny his need for farming in his life. He now enjoys sharing this respect for nature with the community and friends through the Learning Center as an On-Farm Educator. He hopes to communicate to his groups an appreciation of the full responsibility of our role as stewards of the land and loving every part of it! He loves when people are excited about the forest around us and especially wild foraging - and permaculture. We can truly receive all we need from the earth if only we can give just as much in return.

Joshua Capodarco has worked at Growing Power in a variety of roles as well as Yestermorrow Design and Build School in Vermont, and he's currently working for an indoor landscaping company in Milwaukee.

Deb Crockett

Senior Program Director (Farm Office)

Deb has been with Angelic Organics Learning Center since 2004. She has a background in environmental education and organic farming.  Deb has been instrumental in influencing policies to allow backyard chickens in Beloit, WI, and Roscoe, IL. She is also the keeper of the bees at the Learning Center. Her favorite moments with farm visitors include birthing goats, visiting the beehive, making six kinds of cheese, and the alchemy as diverse groups of people join together to work, learn, and feast on the farm.

- See more at: http://learngrowconnect.org/about/staff#sthash.g9Fh3OnJ.dpuf

Deb Crockett has been with Angelic Organics Learning Center since 2004. She has a background in environmental education and organic farming.  Deb has been instrumental in influencing policies to allow backyard chickens in Beloit, WI, and Roscoe, IL. She is also the keeper of the bees at the Learning Center. Her favorite moments with farm visitors include birthing goats, visiting the beehive, making six kinds of cheese, and the alchemy as diverse groups of people join together to work, learn, and feast on the farm.

Jessie Crow Mermel points out the dolphin weathervane on our barn as a symbol of how our food choices connect with the greater ecosystem.  She is warm and welcoming, and has a strong environmental ethic that shines through her work and personal life.  She graduated with a degree in Sustainability Studies and is currently working on her certification as a Master Naturalist. When not at the farm, she can be found delighting in the forest or paddling the rivers. Jessie and her husband, Randy Mermel, live in a geodesic dome with their sons, dog and cat. Jessie and her family are active organizers in the local 350.org chapter, working toward creative solutions to climate change.

Joe Haverly is an environmental biology professor at Rock Valley College, and is involved in all sorts of environmental projects, too, including his own small farm with goats, chickens, turkeys, guineas, pigs, rabbits and a garden just down the road from Angelic Organics. He won the Faculty of the Year award from Rock Valley College in 2015 and he is a member of the North Boone County School Board.

Amanda Holmes has always loved the smell of barns and the sights and sounds of the farmyard. Equally pleasing to her is the chance to share her passions with others. Amanda spends most of her time homeschooling her four children, but makes sure there's plenty of time for exploring outdoors, working in the garden, creating things, volunteering, and helping others. In addition to teaching at Angelic Organics, Amanda works as a doula, teaches classes on infant nutrition and homemade baby food, and helps run a not-for-profit presenting hands-on, educational, live animal shows to children. Amanda has been involved with the Spring Valley Nature Center and Volkening Heritage Farm in Schaumburg since she was a child: helping at festivals, taking care of the animals, and milking the cows. Amanda sincerely enjoys working with children and families at Angelic Organics, watching them fall in love with the farm and its inhabitants and fostering connections with the important issues surrounding our food and the important work of growing it well. 

Dave Kostka reminds us of a walking tree: rooted, wise, and hospitable to all living creatures. In Dave we find a deep knowledge of nature, many years of experience in environmental education, and personal experience managing a small farm. He especially enjoys bringing kids and bugs together!  When he's not at the farm, look for Dave at the North End City Market in Rockford, educating customers with his vast knowledge of heirloom vegetable plants. 

Kellie's love of food and farm began early on as she picked green beans and tomatoes in her grandmother's garden. It continued to grow, taking her across country to culinary school and eventually assisting in public cooking classes. As the passion for food developed, she realized it was where the food came from that she most desired to engage with. After making her way back to the area, she finally found herself as the On-Farm Program and Office Administrator at the Learning Center. - See more at: http://www.learngrowconnect.org/about/staff#sthash.NXBUu4ku.dpuf

Randy Mermel enjoys helping people fall in love with vegetables they dislike. His knowledge spans from the field to the forest and he enjoys sharing it with people of all ages. He graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in Environmental Science and spent several seasons with the Forest Service before digging his garden beds in Roscoe, IL. He loves to teach about sustainability, but also lives it at home where he is the founder and director of the Dome Gathering Center.  His favorite programs involve teaching about natural building and organic gardening. He is also excited about the future of Kinnickinnick Fields and applying his knowledge of permaculture, ecology and land restoration in workshops to create a resilient, ecologically healthy landscape for generations to come.

Cindy Palombi recently retired from many years of teaching fourth and fifth grades, as well as special ed, at Durand School. She and her partner Dave Kostka (one of our original On-Farm Educators) have their own market garden, plus a horse and bees, in Juda, WI.  They sell their produce every Saturday at the North End City Market market in Rockford.

Program director Katie Townsend’s career can be summed up as everything outdoors. Camping has occupied a big chunk of her professional life with over 30 years in the field and a variety of experiences ranging from wilderness programs, northwoods summer camps to environmental education for schools from California to Illinois. Note that overnight camps are her personal favorite. Her educational background is an undergraduate degree in Natural Resource Management  from University of Wisconsin Stevens Point and a masters of science in Outdoor Teacher Education from Northern Illinois University. In addition Katie is a First Aid CPR Instructor, graduate of the Basic Camp Director Course from American Camp Association and Food Service Sanitation Manager. Katie adds, ”now let me say something about my passion and Angelic Organics Learning Center….Farm Camp matches up with what is important such as good food which is nutritious, good land which is tended carefully following the earthbeat of biodynamics and good friendships experienced between all campers and animals.”

Gretchen Witowich is a Southern Californian native, returning to her Midwest farming roots as the granddaughter of German immigrant farmers who settled in southern Illinois.  She is a registered dietitian with a master's degree in nutrition, and many years experience helping children and adults alike with acute and chronic disease.  She's a plant-based diet advocate and a veggie-phile; her favorite is a toss up between cauliflower and sweet peppers!  Her motto is that food is the most powerful medicine, and she loves seeing people experience the healing power of wholesome organic food, not to mention savor its many incredible flavors.

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