Tom is founding executive director of Angelic Organics Learning Center (AOLC). He is inspired by farms as dynamic places of cultural, ecological, and economic revitalization. At the Learning Center, Tom focuses on strategic planning, building partnerships, and managing our staff team and facilities. He keeps his hands in the dirt and his spirit renewed by managing the AOLC livestock and assisting with the fertility program at Angelic Organics farm. He is based in our main office. Tom joined the Angelic Organics CSA in 1994 and became executive director of the Learning Center in 1999. Prior to coming to the Learning Center, Tom worked 15 years internationally with the YMCA of the USA international group and the United Nations in Costa Rica and New York. Tom was born in California and is married to Venezuelan eco-theologian and pastor Neddy Astudillo. They share life with three boys -- Gustavo, Francisco and Adam -- and three very loud parrots, a tortoise and a hare.
Shelbie has rediscovered her family's agricultural background after it skipped a generation or two. She has worked with urban gardens, small-scale farms, CSAs, and local food promotions in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and as an AmeriCorps VISTA in Hermann, Missouri. Her most enjoyable moments are spent cooking and baking delicious treats, spending time with family, friends, Lake Michigan, her dog Murdoc and seeing live music!
Martha apprenticed on a Biodynamic CSA near Ann Arbor in 1989. Since then, she has practiced urban farming and community building in Minneapolis, Santa Cruz, Boston, Chicago, and Guatemala. She arrived in Chicago from a masters program in land restoration, public health, and environmental justice at UW-Madison. She is passionate about grounding self-reliant communities in and around their ecological infrastructure. Martha also holds a certificate in Zen Shiatsu and lives in Woodlawn with (at current count) four cats -- and zero chickens.
Jessie is in love with the farm because all of her passions are integrated: regenerative & sustainable systems, deep ecology, oak trees, art, animals, the living soil, organic food, growing community, and facilitating connections. In addition to her work as Learning Center educator, storyteller and picture-gatherer, Jessie invests herself in eco-activism and loves to paddle her canoe and wander through the forests. Jessie lives with her husband Randy (also an On Farm Educator), two sons, and dog in a geodesic dome. She counts her lucky stars daily that she wears farm boots to work in a strawbale, passive-solar office with a desk overlooking a living roof.
Deb, Program Director for our On-Farm Initiative since 2004, has a background in environmental education and organic farming. 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.
Sheri is the director of our Stateline Farm Beginnings program and of CRAFT (which stands for Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training -- our farmer-to-farmer network). Sheri joined the Learning Center in 2009 after working as the Farm Forager for the City of Chicago Farmers Market Program and for the Green City Market. Sheri also has small-scale vegetable production experience, marketing through a CSA and farmers markets.
Spencer comes to the Rockford Urban Initiative of the Learning Center from DC, where he also planted seeds with other people. Since graduating from University of Virginia he has been working for regenerative relationships and ecological conservation: he advocated for a clean energy economy with League of Conservation Voters and the 1Sky campaign and learned the ways of soil and sun from time on organic farms in Scottsville VA, Canton ME, and a former DC public school baseball field. He was a founding fellow of the Allegheny Mountain School, a homesteading and permaculture training in the Blue Ridge of western Virginia, where opportunities for waves of appreciation for the awesomeness of nature vastly outnumber humans. Most recently, with Beet Street Gardens, he grew food and planted fruit trees alongside very small children, veterans, and everyone in between. Rockford has all of these features, plus roads to bike on and a river – so nothing’s really changed for him. He loves living things and things that love living!
Danica received a BA in Sociology/Anthropology and Psychology from Olivet College, Olivet, MI and a MS in Environmental Education from the Audubon Expedition Institute at Lesley University, Cambridge, MA. Danica is a dedicated systems thinker, urban dweller and food lover. She grew up in Aurora, Illinois and is excited to finally return Illinois and work within the watershed of her birth.
Denise has more than 30 years of professional experience as a fundraiser, nonprofit resource development director and marketing/communications manager. Recently, Denise served of Chief Development Officer at Gads Hill Center. She served as a consultant with the Greater Chicago Food Depository and Columbia College, where she taught annual fundraising and special events techniques to local area food pantries and college students. Denise is currently a member of Blacks In Development and Latinos In Development, professional associations of African-American and Latino fundraisers throughout the Chicagoland area.
Kathy Kelley is a life-long resident of the Rockford area, living in the New Milford area of southeastern Winnebago County. Kathy is married to her life-long partner, Dave, and they have 2 adult sons and 3 granddaughters. She graduated from Rock Valley College with associate’s degrees in accounting, business administration and marketing. She has worked in a variety of private sector settings including several manufacturers, an accounting firm, a temp agency and most recently, a group of lumber yards. She also serves as treasurer at her church. She is in the midst of her 2nd term on the Board of Trustees for Rock Valley College, currently serving as its President. In her spare time she enjoys gardening (and the related activities of canning, freezing, jelly & wine making) walking her dogs in the park and motorcycling.
Tara joined the staff in 2007 and provides support to the Resource Development & Communications departments. As the Learning Center's IT manager she keeps the organization's many technological systems maintained and progressive in support of our initiatives. Tara graduated from Valparaisao University with a BA in Art and American Studies she is now a resident & locavore of Beloit WI near the Learning Center's main office.
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.
Jenny works on behalf of small-scale, diversified farm businesses. She is from Missouri and has a MS in Agricultural Economics from Michigan State University.
Jeff has lived in the Rockford area on and off for much of the last 25 years, and presently resides in Machesney Park, Illinois. Born in Denver, Colorado, he has also lived in Chicago and Wisconsin. Jeff holds a BA from Rockford College, with a major in business administration, and a law degree from The John Marshall Law School. Before becoming a lawyer in 2004, Jeff was employed as the operations director for two publishing companies and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago. He has served on the boards of Comprehensive Community Solutions and the Winnebago County Bar Association, both in Rockford. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, hiking, and learning new computer skills.
L. Anton Seals Jr.
L. Anton Seals Jr. is a leader of the new school, fighting for voices that are often relegated to the sidelines of change. He is dedicated to service and active engagement through the use of media arts and community development. Anton is a For-purpose, social enterprise developer. Anton has worked in a myriad of organizations advocating for better education, food, housing access and equity issues and previously worked in the office of Congressman Bobby L. Rush (D-IL), where he was responsible for the oversight and development of programming and policy in the 1st Congressional District. Anton is a graduate of the film department at Columbia College and the School for New Learning at DePaul University, where he studied social enterprises and public policy models that impact maligned communities of color. Anton has an extensive community organizing, public policy, and media literacy background with focus on housing, local food systems, broadband access, and furthering educational opportunities. Currently serving as the Project Coordinator for the Eat2Live effort in Englewood, a unique partnership between Real Men Charities and Angelic Organics Learning Center, developing an urban garden and farm in Englewood helping neighbors of all ages, learn, grow and lead healthier lifestyles. Anton also is part of the creative team that is producing the trans-media project InterruptViolence.com, using story, in particular new media, as a way to connect and give voice and resources to those impacted by violence. Anton is also one of the founders of the Revival Arts Collective, a group of Chicago artists committed to using arts and culture as a catalyst for community redevelopment.
Tedd is fascinated with being able to grow, preserve and store away his own vegetables. Always thoughtful, gracious and gentle, Tedd loves to be out in the vegetable fields introducing visitors to vegetables they’ve never tried before. He is a Master gardener and volunteers with the community garden in Plano, IL.
Katie Townsend resides in northwestern Illinois and enjoys the natural landscapes of the region including upland forests, tall grass prairies and the Kishwaukee River. She has an undergraduate degree in Resource Management/ Forestry from the University of Wisconsin –Stevens Point and a Masters degree in Outdoor Teacher Education from Northern Illinois University. Professional experiences include environmental education, forestry and youth development. Interesting jobs include being a backpacking instructor in the Rocky Mountains, working in Christian Camps in Eastern Europe, 21 years of programming at Atwood Center –Rockford Park District in Environmental Education and of course this one—Urban Farm Instructor. Her passion is theology, environmental activism,writing, spending time with her family, kayaking, dog walking and coffee drinking.
Originally from the Mountain West, Laura moved to Illinois to attend Wheaton College, where she graduated with degrees in English Literature and Studio Art. She has since become a seasoned urban dweller in her adopted city of Chicago, and has supported the resource development efforts of several local nonprofit organizations. In her spare time, Laura enjoys cooking and making art, often with and about vegetables. She recently completed a painting which featured organic golden beets.
Liz grew up watching strip malls replace farm fields in suburban Chicago. After several years working in farm and garden-based education in and around Washington, DC, she returned to her home state to join the AOLC team in 2013. In particular, she is proud of building farm-education programs from the ground up at the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture. She is passionate about green space and good food, and she digs sharing that passion with all kinds of people. She is also really into kale.
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.
Rachel Brunner will draw from a wide variety of experiences in her work with the On-Farm Initiative, from volunteering on prairie restoration projects to working at Choices Natural Market to raising chickens with 4H. She is very close to finished with a Master's Thesis focused on environmental literature at NIU.
Josh 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.
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.
Cyndi Duda Originally from Michigan, Cyndi moved to northeast Illinois 20 years ago to work for the federal government as an Environmental Educator. She has been an Angelic Organics CSA shareholder for over 18 years and a big fan of the AOLC. Besides occasionally teaching at the farm and at Morton Arboretum, Cyndi works part-time for Conserve Lake County and Witness Tree Native Landscapes. She enjoys the great outdoors...especially hiking, birdwatching and kayaking. She also deeply cares about sustainable agriculture and honors small farmers everywhere who commit to this movement.
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.
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 not at the farm, look for Dave at the Farmer’s Market, educating customers with his vast knowledge of heirloom vegetable plants.
Kellie Laurson'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.
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.
April Morris is in love with the beet! Always passionate and enthusiastic, she leads holistic programs that bring people together with their food from the field to the table. She enjoys teaching all cooking classes, but especially loves working with wild edibles as it combines her love of food with her natural history background. April graduated from Northland College in Ashland, WI with a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Education. After college, April fell in love with farms at Good Earth Gardens in Bayfield, WI, and then went on to teach Environmental Education at a farm in New York and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. April loves all the livestock on the farm, but is most drawn to the ducks, Bert and Ernie. She made it her personal mission to ensure they had a kiddie pool with plenty of water in which to splash around in!
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 Commons market in Rockford.
Eloise Reid is a native Vermonter who grew up in an environment that supported and depended upon local farms, food and a healthy environment for community sustainability, economic and otherwise. Eloise continued her involvement in agriculture and environmental studies at Oberlin College where the intersections of race, gender, sexuality and systems of power/privilege and oppression presented themselves as integral to studying the land and natural world. After completing her degree in Africana and Environmental Studies at Oberlin, she moved to Evanston and began work as an environmental educator at the Evanston Ecology Center, implementing much of the natural and social world in her teachings throughout northern Chicagoland region. Eloise believes in collective resource sharing and cooperative education systems that encourage and foster open-dialogues, personal-narrative identity perspectives, placed-based learning, and hands-on education. With a focus on food justice and urban gardening in Evanston, Eloise implements creative curriculum that engages environmental education in ways that recognizes each learner’s unique background and a collective connection with our natural world. Eloise is very excited to be immersed once again in a rural, agricultural environment at AOLC.
Mary Rudzinski is new to the farm environment, having grown up in the suburbs of Chicago. She lives in northwest Rockford with her husband. Her background is in education, and her teaching includes the traditional classroom, homeschooling, and workshops. Her favorite part of the farm experience is watching the human and animal interactions. She also enjoys watching the sense of freedom the farm gives to children.
Liz Whitehurst grew up watching strip malls replace farm fields in suburban Chicago. After several years working in farm and garden-based education in and around Washington, DC, she returned to her home state to join the AOLC team in 2013. In particular, she is proud of building farm-education programs from the ground up at the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture. She is passionate about green space and good food, and she digs sharing that passion with all kinds of people. She is also really into kale.
Bertha Jurado Landeros