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!
Justin comes to us with a finance background and a strong desire to be a part of the good food movement. Justin graduated from The University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2005 with a Bachelors degree in business and has spent the last 5 years creating and growing the finance department at TOMS. Justin lives in Chicago and spends his free time volunteering on local organic farms, and training for triathlons and running events.
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.
Jackie Kaplan has been a fundraiser and trainer in Chicago’s philanthropic and political communities for over two decades. She has worked as senior staff at the Chicago Foundation for Women, the National Center on Poverty Law, AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps and as the finance director for Jan Schakowsky’s successful bid for United States Congress. Jackie has worked with dozens of groups in Chicago and nationally, including: ranging from Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and Chicago Coalition for the Homeless to Umoja Student Development Corporation and Urban Gateways. In addition, Jackie has been an instructor for the Donors Forum of Chicago, Northwestern University and the University of Chicago's Graham School. She served as co-chair for Senator Barack Obama’s Gay and Lesbian Outreach Committee during his 2004 Senate race, as well as on the Board of Directors of numerous non-profits. Jackie was a fellow in the Rockefeller Foundation’s Next Generation Leadership program as well as a fellow in Leadership Greater Chicago. She received her B.A. from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She has been named one of the “100 Women to Watch” by Today’s Chicago Woman Magazine, “A Face of the Future” by The Windy City Times, and has received the “Changing the Face of Philanthropy Award” by the Women’s Funding Network. Along-time shareholder with Angelic Organics, she lives in Chicago with her wife, son and their menagerie of pets.
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.
Jessie Crow Mermel
Bertha Jurado Landeros