People

OAK Staff

Kenya Abraham, Organic Transition Program Manager

Kenya Abraham, is a Fayette County, KY farmer and co-founder of the micro-dairy Slak Market Farm LLC. Her farm specializes in producing signature raw milk products, halal meat and pastured eggs. Kenya is strongly dedicated to utilizing the farm as a place for serving the well-being of both her family and community. She also operates Stack A Story Bookshop, a nonprofit bringing kids into agriculture through Writing Workshops, Family Farm Stays and Barnyard Expos. Kenya is a trained certified organic inspector for crop and livestock production through the International Organic Inspectors Organization (IOIA), and she worked as a farmer liaison for Equity in Agriculture, building relationships and working to push beyond the issues and limitations of systematic racism and bottlenecks affecting small family farmers. In 2020, Kenya was awarded the Small Farmer of the Year Award from Kentucky State University and the Emerging Leader Award from the Community Farm Alliance. In her role at OAK, Kenya manages a new Mentor/Mentee program for organic farmers across Kentucky and delivers one-on-one organic certification technical assistance to Kentucky farmers. [email protected]

 

 

 

Marissa ArnoldussenMarissa Arnoldussen, Soil Health and Conservation Specialist

Marissa joined OAK in early 2024 as a Soil Health and Conservation Specialist. Marissa is new to Kentucky and brings with her extensive experience working as an agronomist in the Pacific Northwest and the Finger Lakes region of New York State. With her educational background in environmental and soil sciences, she is committed to helping farmers incorporate conservation-based practices into their unique farming operations. She has worked in a variety of systems ranging from dryland row crops to diverse market gardening to specialty crop production. Marissa provides technical support in developing and implementing climate smart management plans for farms enrolled in the Climate-Smart Commodities project. [email protected]

 

 

 

Holly Chiantaretto, Organic Transition Specialist

Holly Chiantaretto is an independent Organic Crop and Livestock Inspector for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and has been consulting as an OAK Transition Specialist since the summer of 2023. Holly and her co-farmer James own and operate a diversified farm on the edge of the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. They run cattle and goats on steep hillsides, maintain market gardens, dabble in hop production and are working to rejuvenate the land with organic practices after decades of extraction. Holly is a teacher at the local county high school and works to promote local food systems as the Rockcastle County farmers market manager and a steering committee member of the Rockcastle Farm-to-School Program. Through OAK’s Organic Transition Program, Holly supports and coaches farmers who are applying for or maintaining organic certification. [email protected]

 

 

 

Leigh Cocanougher staff photo

Leigh Cocanougher, Climate and Conservation Project Manager

Leigh joined OAK in February 2024, bringing with her more than a decade of experience in nonprofit operations and communications. A Tennessee native who now fully identifies as a Kentuckian, Leigh enjoys exploring all the wonders the state has to offer. In her role (which centers around two of her favorite things—storytelling and sustainable farming), Leigh stewards OAK’s USDA Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities project, to support Kentucky farmers in telling the full story of farming systems and the environmental benefits of climate-smart practices, while working to grow regional market demand for climate-smart commodities. [email protected]

 

 

 

Brooke GentileBrooke Gentile, Executive Director

Brooke Gentile joined OAK in the summer of 2017. She is a Kentucky native and has worked with sustainable agriculture projects in New York City, Northern California and Bloomington, Indiana. Brooke is committed to building a regional food system that supports farmers, builds soil health, supports biodiversity and provides climate solutions so small farms and the communities they support can thrive. She enjoys outdoor adventures with family and friends, growing garlic and putting up enough salsa for the year. Brooke liaises with the Board of Directors, manages staff, writes grants, oversees fundraising, develops and evaluates programs, engages farmers in Organic Transition and technical assistance programming and represents OAK at events, meetings and working groups across the state and nationally.  [email protected]

 

 

 

Sarah Geurkink, Organic Production Specialist

 Sarah Geurkink joined OAK as an Organic Production Specialist in the fall of 2023. Sarah has 13 years of experience managing organic, diversified farms—from market-garden, hand-scale operations to larger, more mechanized systems. Previously, Sarah trained undergraduate students and beginning farmers in organic production at Michigan State University. Before moving to Kentucky, she and her husband owned a small farm where they raised sheep, hogs, laying hens, turkeys and bees. Most recently, Sarah worked as an Extension Associate at the University of Kentucky Agricultural Economics Department, where she gained experience in the diversified production and direct-to-consumer markets of Kentucky. Sarah especially enjoys teaching and learning from farmers, sharing ideas and solving production challenges. Sarah provides technical assistance and resources for best practices in farm management to organic and transitioning farms in Kentucky. [email protected] 

 

 

 

Katie%20Harvey%20Bio%20Picture_edited.jpKatie Harvey, CSA Marketing and Outreach Program Manager

Katie Harvey, a Louisville native, joined the OAK team in June 2018. Katie manages the Kentucky Farm Share Coalition Program and works to increase outreach for community supported agriculture (CSA) participation. Prior to joining the OAK team, Katie spent several years working on Kentucky vegetable farms, facilitating nonprofit education programs for healthy eating, and working in sales with a cosmetic brand focused on sustainability and the environment. Katie graduated from the University of Kentucky’s Natural Resource and Environmental Science program with a minor in Sustainable Agriculture and has a long-time commitment to growing the local food economy and raising awareness for organic agriculture in Kentucky. She manages the farm share voucher programs, organizes and presents at community events, builds programming for the Kentucky Farm Share Coalition members and advocates for local, organic food to reach people around the state. [email protected]

 

 

 

Mad MarchalMadeline (Mad) Marchal, Conservation Outreach Coordinator

Mad Marchal joins OAK with several years of experience on organic production farms, community garden management, and varied positions within non-profit agriculture. As an EQIP recipient themself, they have worked alongside NRCS to support farmers throughout Jefferson County in implementing conservation practices and receiving financial assistance. In their role at OAK they will continue to educate and support Kentucky farmers in regenerative practices that center the whole farm ecosystem. They are passionate about land tenure for all and uphold that strengthening organic farms and local food systems accesses our collective freedom. [email protected] 

 

 

 

Jenny Howard Owen, Farmer Education Program Manager

As an environmental educator, Jenny Howard Owen is passionate about connecting her fellow Kentuckians to their local environment - and to their farmers! Within the past 20 years, her work in environmental education has taken her from the savannahs of central Africa (via Peace Corps), along the shores of VA and NC (with US Fish & Wildlife Service), and back home to the Bluegrass State, with Lake Barkley State Park, KY Division of Water, KY Dept of Education, and the KY Association for Environmental Education. Jenny, her husband Jacob, and their son Birch live, plant, and play in the rolling countryside of Anderson County. Jenny plans Farmer Field Days, organizes OAK's Annual Conference, circulates farmer education resources and brings together farmers, agriculture professionals and local food advocates, encouraging them to learn from each other's experiences. [email protected]

 

 

 

Dee Owens, Marketing and Outreach Coordinator

Dee Owens joined the OAK team in October 2023, coming from several years in marketing and corporate philanthropy in the technology sector. She has worked on multiple diversified vegetable farms in the Northern Kentucky region and is passionate about connecting Kentuckians to their local food systems. As a trained anthropologist, Dee has researched rural work identity in Kentucky and Ohio and consumer perceptions of the tourism industry in Scotland. She currently lives in Northern Kentucky and enjoys gardening, food preservation and an ever-changing lineup of handicrafts. In her role at OAK, Dee works to increase market channels for farmers across the state by facilitating community supported agriculture (CSA) programs with the Kentucky Farm Share Coalition, building community engagement and growing marketing and outreach opportunities. [email protected]


 

 

Shannon Post, Farmer Education Coordinator

Shannon Post joined OAK in October 2023, bringing a specialization in environmental and agricultural programming. She has an educational background in horticulture, holistic culinary arts and sociology, and joins the OAK team after nine years of urban farming and gardening education and outreach in New York City. Shannon is also a documentary filmmaker passionate about storytelling that, like her work in food and farming education, connects and builds communities. In her role, Shannon organizes OAK’s Annual Farming Conference, collaborates on farmer education programs and works to expand knowledge-sharing opportunities for farmers and growers across Kentucky. [email protected]

 

 

 

Natalie Headshot.JPGNatalie Rider, Associate Director

Natalie Rider joined OAK in early 2022. In her role as Associate Director, she supports all OAK programming, with a concentration in community supported agriculture across her home state of Kentucky. She previously lived in Washington, D.C., while managing international development projects focused on agriculture, conservation and water and sanitation. Natalie attended Georgetown College, studying economics and Spanish and Cornell University, receiving a master's in city and regional planning. Natalie is a compost advocate and backyard chicken owner and loves biking, hiking, gardening and live music. Natalie supports the management of all OAK programming, writes grants, promotes CSA market opportunities and represents OAK at programming and working groups across the state. [email protected]

 

 

 

Blake Van Sanford, Organic Transition Specialist

Blake Van Sanford is an independent Organic Crop and Livestock Inspector who has been consulting as an OAK Transition Specialist since the fall of 2023. Blake has experience inspecting organic dairies, layer hen and broiler operations, row crop farms and diversified vegetable market gardens. Blake has worked in both commercial and research-based organic production settings. Beginning as an employee at Rootbound Farm in 2013, Blake learned the ropes of organic production before entering the Master's program in Environmental Studies at Kentucky State University (KYSU) in 2018. At KYSU, he worked as a research assistant to Dr. Shawn Lucas in the Organic Program and completed a thesis examining soil carbon dynamics in a crop-livestock rotation system. Blake enjoys gardening, hiking, fishing and playing music. During the growing season, he and his wife operate a small direct-market cut flower business in Henry County. Through OAK’s Organic Transition Program, Blake supports and coaches farmers who are applying for or maintaining organic certification. [email protected]

 

 

 

Robin%20pic%20for%20web_edited.jpgRobin Verson, Membership and Communications Coordinator

Robin Verson joined the OAK team in July 2019 as the Membership and Communications Coordinator. Robin offers OAK her experience of local farming with over two decades of certified organic management on her Metcalfe County farm. Hill and Hollow Farm's CSA is in its 20th delivery year, a flock of heritage breed sheep rotationally graze the pastures, and the wool is used for a local fiber product line. Her knowledge of sustainable farming systems and her commitment to working with local farmers and consumers will be a great asset to the OAK community. As a member of the organic farming community in Kentucky since 1998, Robin is thrilled to share her experience, her passion and her expertise. Robin writes newsletters and other communications, posts on OAK's social media, builds relationships with members, facilitates member benefits and brings OAK's food system stakeholders together across the state. [email protected]

 

 

 

DSC_2518.jpgAnnie Woods, Research Manager

Annie is a diversified market gardener in Northern Kentucky, where she was born and raised. She grows vegetables for CSA members and restaurants in the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati area. She joined the OAK team as Research Coordinator to adapt and trial a farm sustainability assessment tool for use on Kentucky farms. Annie is excited to bring her skills as a farmer, but also her background in ecology, citizen science, land use management, and field research to this project. Annie refines the U.S. version of the Global Farm Metric - Farm Sustainability Assessment Tool (GFM-FSAT), liaises with international partners and researchers on climate smart agriculture research methods and assists farmers with on-farm sustainability measurement. [email protected]

 

 

 

OAK Board of Directors

Bryce Baumann

Board Member, Secretary: From an early age Bryce Baumann aspired to be a farmer. That dream became a reality after attending Berry College, when he returned to Kentucky to operate his family farm, Lazy Eight Stock Farm. The farm is now 100% certified organic and sells a variety of products to local and regional markets, as well as a large Community Supported Agriculture program serving central Kentucky. Bryce brings a particular interest in building a strong organic farmer network in Kentucky, allowing more farmers to find successes and support in our changing farm landscape.

 

 

 

Maggie Dungan

Board Member: Maggie owns and operates Salad Days Farm, a certified organic diversified vegetable farm in Woodford County. The first seeds were planted in 2015 and since then the operation has grown from half an acre to 4 acres using intensive sustainable market gardening practices. With year-round sales through farmers markets, restaurants, an on farm store, CSA, and wholesale, it has been Maggie’s goal to exemplify the sustainability of local organic food from small farms.  As a first generation farmer Maggie found a passion for farming through her education in nutrition and a stubborn desire to do and make everything herself. Through seven years of farming she’s experienced rewards and struggles, and what keeps her going is the community around farming, the lifestyle, and the humble desire to prove that one of the most important jobs in the world can be achieved using varying scales and farming practices. 

 

  

 

Carolyn Gahn

Board Member, Treasurer: Carolyn Gahn is the Senior Director of Mission and Advocacy for Applegate. In this role, she is responsible for setting the long-term overarching mission objectives that will allow Applegate to remain the number one company and trusted leader in the Organic and Natural meat industry. Prior to this, Carolyn was the Director of Farm-to-Institution for Aramark, a leading global foodservice provider. As part of the Global Supply Chain & Procurement team, Carolyn worked to build scalable solutions for increasing institutional food purchasing from small farms and businesses. Carolyn started with Aramark as the Sustainability Director for the University of Kentucky Dining services and in that role elevated the dining program to be one of the most robust farm-to-table dining programs on a college campus. Carolyn has spoken publicly at several conferences, including the Culinary Institute of America's Menus of Change Conference. She started her career as a community organizer with Community Farm Alliance, has worked on several diversified farms (including her own), and spent a decade as an entrepreneur with a food manufacturing business. Her core values have always been that good food and healthy soil can heal the planet. She lives near Lexington, Kentucky with her family and animals.

 
 
 

Kyle Johnson

Board Member: Kyle raised corn and beans conventionally for the last 10 years in Paducah, KY. His farming career started on an organic vegetable farm in Georgetown, KY 12 years ago. That experience had significant influence and he decided 2 years ago to take the plunge into transitioning 100 acres. For the last two years Kyle has been practicing raising organic corn and soybeans on 12 acres of certified organic cropland. He is excited about organic farming in Kentucky and sees it as a better alternative for himself, his family, and the community. Kyle says that OAK has been an important resource for him on this journey.  From annual conferences to the Transition Trainer Program, he knows that OAK is here to help the farmer and eaters build healthier food and farming networks across the state.

 

 

 

Steve Muntz

Board Member, Chair: Steve was born in Germany and lived in several locations growing up as part of a military family. His interest in agriculture began in college (TX A&M) when he became concerned about the issues of hunger in the world. He has worked in agriculture ever since, both through the non-profit world and his own small farms. Steve managed the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture’s 4150 acre ranch and served as one of two program directors. He also managed Heifer International’s Learning and Livestock Center (the Ranch) and went on to become their Appalachia Representative and then the USA Country Program Director. Most recently he served as the Executive Director of Southern SAWG (Sustainable Agriculture Working Group) from 2014-2019. It was Steve's Heifer International work in the Appalachia region that landed him in Kentucky back in 1993. He and his wife bought a small farm in Kentucky and have since learned that this is where their roots belong.  They raise sheep and pastured poultry on their farm and also an organic garden.  While working for Heifer he became very connected with the sustainable agriculture community in the state and region. 

 

 

 

Andrew Oles

Board Member: Andrew Oles is a 3rd generation farmer with an ancestral connection to Garrard County, KY on the banks of the Kentucky River.  After receiving a degree in Agriculture and Natural Resources at Berea College he spent time farming in different states; in Western North Carolina as a market farmer raising veggies, pasture poultry and pastured pork.  In Western New York on small dairy operations and at Oles Family Farm, where the 250 member CSA sold vegetables, fruits, pastured pork, pastured poultry, grass-fed beef and eggs year-round and serviced two dozen restaurants.  Andrew has served in various roles at Berea College Farm, where he currently serves as Project Manager. Formerly, Andrew served as the Director of Farm Enterprises for Berea College. This educational farm produces organic fruits, vegetables, grains, AWA certified pork and beef, and pastured poultry marketed to institutional clients, restaurants, and a local grocery as a field-to-fork food paradigm.  Berea College Farm offers students the opportunity to engage with local, organic agriculture and develop the skills and knowledge to become practitioners, educators and advocates beyond graduation.

 

 

 

Julia Sampson

Board Member: Julia grew up in Memphis, TN and through numerous volunteer experiences with the MIMWCBCC (Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest), she started to ask herself important questions such as: WHERE does this pork come from, and HOW was it raised? At that time, she did not realize that she was hanging out with serious “foodies”. Her search for answers to these experiences set the tone for the important next chapters in her life. During the mid-1990’s, Julia began to realize that the plight for the well-being of seeds, soil, food, and farming was imminent and serious. Since that time, Julia worked with the National Center for Appropriate Technology (ATTRA) where she worked with a highly specialized and knowledgeable staff of organic and sustainable ag specialists. And Julia worked with the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) on everything from conference planning and network building to database management and donor relations.

 

 

 

Amber Sciligo

Board Member, Vice Chair: Amber's roots are buried in a small rural community where she spent most of her time on her grandparents’ ranch. She knows what a real tomato and home-raised eggs tasted like. She raised sheep and rabbits for 4-H and her family grew almonds commercially and conventionally. It took moving as far from that farm as possible (she literally moved to the end of the earth, New Zealand, and spent 5 years studying the evolution of carnivorous plants for her PhD) to learn the value of knowing where and how her food was grown. Amber spent the next 7 years as a Postdoc and Research Associate at the University of California Berkeley trying to figure out how to make organic farming more feasible, profitable, and environmentally sustainable. She continues to work towards strengthening the integrity of the organic label and increasing organic acreage as the Associate Director of Science Programs at The Organic Center. Amber works closely with academic researchers, farmers, industry members, and policy makers, (largely through TOC’s partnership with The Organic Trade Association) to facilitate all kinds of research related to organic farming of food and fiber. Relatively speaking, she's a “youngster” in the fight for organic, but with 9 years of experience in the industry, her hope for the future is that we can broaden access to organic products to all, and allow farmers of all backgrounds in all locations to farm organically and successfully. As a community member and consumer in Kentucky, her dream is to see organic products in supermarkets, restaurants and farmer’s markets as the norm instead of the niche. Amber hopes to help achieve that by bringing national and international experience with the organic movement to our local community and lifting the voices and needs of local farmers to the national audience.

 

 

Board Member Photo- SaraVard Von Gruenigen SaraVard Von Gruenigen

Board Member: SaraVard Logan Von Gruenigen is an 8th generation Kentuckian residing in Garrard County, Kentucky, where her family runs a small cow/calf operation and harvests their own hay. As a young child, SaraVard helped her grandfather feed cattle and set tobacco. This experience cultivated an interest in local agriculture that grew through her higher education and career track. She attended college at Eastern Kentucky University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture and a Minor in Business. There, she connected with the Kentucky Beef Council and Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association through an internship opportunity. Today, SaraVard serves as a Senior Loan Officer in the Stanford office of the Central Kentucky Agricultural Credit Association. She has worked there for 15 years, where her customer base has included mostly part-time cattle farmers. SaraVard raises her own large vegetable and flower garden with her family. She prizes the local farming community and believes OAK can support farmers to build strong and resilient businesses.

 

 

If you or someone you know should serve on OAK's Board of Directors, please visit our Board Nominations page and form.
Click to Nominate

 

 

OAK Advisors 

Sean Clark

Sean is a professor at Berea College where he teaches farm management, horticulture, beekeeping, and related courses in the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources. His recent research has examined energy-use efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions in conventional and organic production systems. Formerly, he directed the Berea College Farm, one of the oldest and largest educational farms in the United States and oversaw its transition to organic certification for all its crop production.

 

 

 

Dave Gonthier headshot

David Gonthier

David is a faculty member in the Department of Entomology at the University of Kentucky. His current research seeks to identify alternative pest control practices that are organic compliant, profitable, and reduce the reliance on insecticide use for fruits and vegetables. Evaluate the costs and benefits of integration of poultry into vegetable rotations. Improve the profitability of small-holder coffee production in Latin America. Prior to his time at UK, he studied organic strawberries in the Central Coast of California and shade coffee in Mexico and Honduras.

 

 

 

Krista Jacobsen

Krista Jacobsen is a faculty member in the UK Horticulture Department and an agroecologist by training.  Her work in organic farming systems focuses on soil health, cover crops and other soil conservation practices in vegetable production systems.  She directs the UK Sustainable Agriculture and Community Food Systems undergraduate program and is the Faculty Chair of UK’s local food systems institute, The Food Connection.

 

 

 

 

 David Koester

David is an Extension Agent for Agriculture and Horticulture and has worked in this field for 36 years in 3 counties. He is the former Kentucky Post Garden Columnist, has worked as a Manager of a Nursery/Garden Center, was a consultant to a 55 acre orchard, and served as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Cinn. DAAP College.  David is a contributor to Kentucky Gardener Magazine, has served as a horticulture judge at the Indiana and Kentucky State Fairs, is a Certified Arborist and TRAQ Certified, is a member Kentucky Turfgrass Council and Kentucky Horticulture Council, helped to establish the Northern Kentucky Vintners and Grape Growers Association, is currently establishing demonstration horticulture plots and high tunnels, leads construction and management workshops as the Boone Co. horticulture agent and hosts a monthly radio program on WVXU Public Radio Station Cinn, Ohio.

 

 

 

Shawn Lucas

Dr. Shawn Lucas, Ph.D. is assistant professor of organic agriculture at Kentucky State University in Frankfort where he conducts research on best management practices, soil quality, and crop productivity in organically managed systems.  Shawn centers his research and education efforts on the principles of agroecology and sustainability, focusing on ways to work within the ecology of natural systems to promote healthy soils and productive crops.

 

 

 

 

Rachel Rudolph

Rachel is the Extension Vegetable Specialist at the University of Kentucky. Her extension and research work overlap and the needs of Kentucky vegetable growers often inform the design and implementation of her research projects. Rachel's extension work deals with high tunnel systems, abiotic disorders, crop nutrition, and soil fertility. She also focuses on training county extension agents so they feel confident to assist growers. Her research focuses on utilizing alternative approaches to manage issues in both the field and high tunnel systems, such as grafting with resistant rootstock to manage for root knot nematodes. Rachel's aim is to have these alternative approaches be applicable and useful to a variety of different growers and production systems.

 

 

 

Mark Williams

Mark is the Chair of the Department of Horticulture at the University of Kentucky and has been on faculty there since 2001. He founded and managed the 25-acre Organic Farming Unit of the Horticulture Research Farm at UK. Over the last decade he has conducted a range of experiments looking at whole systems, such as optimizing diverse direct-marketed vegetable systems, to evaluating specific pest problems in cucurbits, peppers, tomatoes and apples. More recently he has dedicated research towards investigating the interactions between soil microbes and plants. In particular, focusing on characterizing the soil-derived microbiome inside of plants and investigating the impact at a molecular level of these associations. The long-term goal of this work is to correlate organic production practices with increased microbial migration into plants and elucidate how these microbes positively impact plant health.