Who We Are

Meet the current council members

Jovonni Armstead

Co-director & Garden Steward
Carmel Empowerment

Jovonni can be reached at jovonni1978_at_yahoo.com
Eric Bendfeldt

Eric Bendfeldt

Extension Specialist
Virginia Cooperative Extension Community Viability Program
Eric S. Bendfeldt serves as Extension Specialist with Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Community Viability program and a faculty member of Virginia Tech’s School of Plant and Environmental Sciences. Within the Community Viability program, Eric’s educational programming focuses on local and regional food systems; community food security; healthy food access; and sustainable agriculture.

Eric currently serves as co-state coordinator for Virginia’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program and director of the Virginia Food System Council. Since joining Virginia Cooperative Extension in 1999, Eric has served as a principal and co-principal investigator on numerous water quality, soil health, sustainable agriculture and community food system related grants. By partnering with colleagues and community organizations, he has helped to secure more than $3.6 million in grant funding.

Eric was recipient of Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences 2005 Andy Swiger Land Grant Award and the Virginia Agribusiness Council’s 2008 Extension Service Award for his contributions in Extension and efforts to enhance agricultural productivity and profitability. He was a 2008 fellow in the Virginia Natural Resources Leadership Institute. In 2014 Eric was recognized by the Virginia Association of Resource Conservation and Development Councils with their Partner Award.

Eric has a B.A. in history from James Madison University, a B.S. in Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences and an M.S. in Forestry from Virginia Tech. He is currently pursuing doctoral studies in Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education at Virginia Tech. From 1988 to 1995 Eric and his wife Mary served with Mennonite Central Committee in Tanzania, East Africa, where Eric worked as a community development coordinator and agriculturalist.

Eric and Mary have three children: Amanda, Freeman and Hannah. They enjoy spending time with family and friends, hiking, biking, cooking, reading, learning, and serving in the community. 

Eric can be reached at ebendfel_at_vt.edu.

Maureen McNamara Best

LEAP Director, Strategic Planning
Virginia Fresh Match Co-Lead
Maureen McNamara Best is the Director of Strategic Planning with Local Environmental Agriculture Project (LEAP), a 501c3 non-profit based in Roanoke, VA. LEAP’s mission is to nurture healthy communities and resilient food systems. To tackle the complicated problems in our food system, LEAP works closely with community members, organizational and government partners, and farmers. LEAP programs include LEAP FArmers Markets (West End and Grandin Village), LEAP Mobile Market, LEAP Farm Share, healthy Food Incentives (SNAP, Medicaid, WIC, Senior), The LEAP Kitchen, and regional food system development. Maureen is also a co-lead of Virginia’s statewide Nutrition Incentive Network, Virginia Fresh Match, and oversees the USDA Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant on behalf of regional organizations, farmers markets, and grocery retails across the Commonwealth.

Maureen has over fifteen years of experience working with food, agriculture, and community. Her work and professional experience is wide-ranging and includes teaching high school agriculture in Raleigh, NC, working with migrant farmworkers in eastern NC and in the Colorado plains, doing food safety inspections in Boulder, CO, and studying the economic viability of the local food system in Northern Colorado. Maureen has a MA in Anthropology from Colorado State University and undergraduate degrees in Agriculture Education, Spanish, and anthropology from North Carolina State University. 

You can contact Maureen at maureen_at_leapforlocalfood.org.

Michael Carter Jr.

Small Farm Resource Center Coordinator, Virginia State University
Farmer, Carter Farms
Michael Carter Jr. is an 11th generation farmer in the United States and is the 5th generation to farm on Carter Farms, his family’s century farm in Orange County, Virginia where he gives
workshops on how to grow and market ethnic vegetables.
With Virginia State University, he works in the capacity of the Small Farm Resource Center Coordinator for the Small Farm Outreach Program. He sits on the board of directors of the Virginia Association of Biological Farmers (VABF) and Virginia Foodshed Capital respectively. Michael was recognized as a 2020 Audubon Naturalist Society Taking Nature Black Regional Environmental Champion, and the 2020 VSU Small Farm Outreach Agent of the year. He acquired an agricultural economics degree from North Carolina A&T State University and has worked in Ghana, Kenya and Israel as an agronomist and organic agricultural consultant. Michael presently consults with numerous governments, organizations, and individuals throughout the region and nation on food access, food security/insecurity, market outreach, social and economic parity/equity/evaluation programs, racial understanding, immersion, history and cultural trainings, among other areas. Carter Farms has birthed Hen Asem (Our Story) and Africulture, the 501 c3 arm of Carter Farms that teaches, shares and expounds on the contributions of Africans and African Americans to agriculture worldwide and the many stories that history almost forgot.

Michael can be reached at carterfarmsva_at_gmail.com

Kristin Marie Clay

Senior Policy Analyst at the Office of Environmental Health Services
Virginia Department of Health
Kristin Marie Clay is the Senior Policy Analyst for the Office of Environmental Health Services within the Virginia Department of Health. Kristin provides regulatory and legislative guidance in addition to developing policies for the food safety program in addition to program management of the migrant labor camp program and summer food service program. Kristin has worked in public administration for over ten years at the state level in addition to serving as a social worker for eight years in both community and clinical settings. Kristin holds a B.S in Sociology with a minor in Psychology along with a M.S in Criminal Justice with a focus on policy development.

Kristin currently resides in Richmond, Virginia and spends her free time with her girls travel basketball team, family, and friends.

Kristin can be reached at kristin.clay_at_vdh.virginia.gov

Sarah Vacher Collins

Public Policy Coordinator
Virginia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Sarah is a PhD candidate in Healthcare Policy and Research at the VCU School of Medicine and currently serves as the public policy coordinator for the Virginia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (VAND). She previously worked as a clinical dietitian at UCONN Health Center and as a retail dietitian for ShopRite before returning to Virginia to pursue doctoral studies. Sarah is also drawn to food systems work in her personal life, as her family runs a small farm-to-table business in Augusta County, VA. Sarah’s research centers on food security and nutrition policies as they relate to hypertension and other health outcomes.

Sarah can be reached at collinss3_at_ vcu.edu.

Kim Davidson

Executive Director
Allegheny Mountain Institute
Kim Davidson joined the Allegheny Mountain Institute in June of 2020 as the executive director. She has 20 years of experience in higher education, community development, and food system change. She started her career as a Peace Corps Volunteer focused on youth development in Namibia. After receiving a Master’s degree in International and Intercultural Management, Kim worked as a professor and program coordinator for Augsburg University's Center for Global Education in Namibia before returning to the United States. During the following 13 years at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, Kim facilitated social justice education while developing campus-community partnerships to advance systemic change. Much of this work focused on immigrant rights and the food system as she established the Campus Kitchen at Gettysburg College, initiated and led the Adams County Food Policy Council, co-facilitated Casa de la Cultura, and led the transition of the Painted Turtle Farm into a hub for food and community.

Kim can be reached at kim_at_amifellows.org.

Laura Demmel

Head of Global Community and Operations for the Open Technology Ecosystem for Agriculture Management
Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment
Laura Demmel is the Head of Global Community and Operations for the Open Technology Ecosystem for Agriculture Management (OpenTEAM) initiative at Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment. OpenTEAM brings together a community of farmers, ranchers, technologists, researchers, food companies and other stakeholders to support an open technology platform to support farmers in improving soil health. Laura previously worked for the National Association of Conservation Districts, Montana State University's Leadership Institute, the US Peace Corps as a Small Business Development consultant in Moldova, and for the National Farmers Union. In her free time, she enjoys being active outside, ranching with her husband in southwest Virginia, and bringing people together through a home cooked meal.

Laura can be reached at lrdemmel_at_gmail.com
Trista Grigsby smiling, green background

Trista Grigsby

Farm to School Specialist
Virginia Department of Education
As Farm to School Specialist for the Virginia Department of Education’s Office of School Nutrition Programs, Trista develops resources and trainings and provides support for Farm to School initiatives across Virginia. She worked on six small scale farms using organic practices in North Carolina, Oregon, Chile, and Virginia before starting Peacevine Farm in 2003 which sold to markets in Washington, D.C. and Warrenton, VA. She holds a teacher’s certification in Horticulture and taught and directed Rappahannock County Public Schools’ Farm to Table Program for eight years before becoming Director of Nutrition Services for the division. Trista holds B.A. in English, a concentration in technical writing, and minors in biology and sustainable development from Appalachian State University. She is an aspiring anti-racist, herbalist, gardener, wife, and a mother of two young sons who love to grow melons, strawberries, and kale. 

Trista can be reached at trista.grigsby_at_doe.virginia.gov.

Molly Harris

Project Manager
Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation and Rural Sustainability
Founder, Lulu’s Local Food
Molly Harris was first inspired to support the local food movement in the late 90’s when spending summers in Vermont with her very young children and she was reminded of her own childhood and the fabulous fresh food she enjoyed growing up. It was this recollected appreciation that motivated her to open her own restaurant, Edible Garden, in 2004 showcasing seasonally sourced ingredients and educating customers on the importance of supporting their local agricultural community and economy.

In late 2008, Molly began an online farmers market with the farmers serving the restaurant and the customers seeking their fabulous ingredients for their own pantries. The next spring, the online food hub, Fall Line Farms, opened a second season of business with an innovative software solution designed by Harris and developed locally. The online platform, Lulus Local Food, enabled the food hub to grow to serve farmers and customers throughout central Virginia. Today, Lulus Local Food software is currently licensed by small farms, CSAs, farmers markets and food hubs throughout the state of Virginia and across the country from Vermont to California.

As the founder of this ever-expanding project, Harris has involved herself in many aspects of the local food movement in Virginia including serving on the executive committees for the Virginia Food System Council and the Virginia Farmers Direct Marketing Association, a founding member of the Virginia Farm to School Working Group, and a participant in the Richmond City Mayor’s Food Council. Dedicated to supporting small family farms and promoting and educating communities on the value of supporting local food, she continues to search out opportunities to strengthen local food systems and the farmers that rely on them.

Molly can be reached at LulusLocalFood_at_gmail.com

Heidi Hertz

Assistant Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry
Heidi Hertz serves as Assistant Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry for Governor Northam. Prior to her appointment, Heidi held roles in the Office of the First Lady of Virginia Dorothy McAuliffe, with the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth, and for the Virginia Department of Health. 

Heidi can be reached at heidi.hertz_at_governor.virginia.gov.

Bruce Johnson

Dragonfly Farms
Bruce owns and runs Dragonfly Farms in Louisa County, producing and direct marketing grassfed beef and lamb using regenerative grazing practices. Bruce has sold his farm products at farmers markets, an online co-op, local grocery stores and a few restaurants. He has helped and collaborated with other local farmers in production, distribution and sales.

Bruce is a Virginia native, growing up in northside Richmond, and then Ashland. He has always been a gardener and worked for 15 years in greenhouses, nurseries and landscaping, running a
small landscaping business for 8 years. In 2005 he met his now wife, Katherine, a veterinarian, and they began raising cattle, grass finishing and direct marketing their products.

Bruce Johnson is committed to farming practices that focus on clean water, wildlife habitat protection and soil health.

Bruce can be reached at bruce_at_dragonflyfarms.com
Frank Jonnson headshot

Frank A. Johnson, Jr.

Current Chair
Virginia Food System Council
Mr. Frank A. Johnson, Jr., is a strategic planning consultant and has a background in adult education. Mr. Johnson currently serves on the Northern Neck Soil and Water Conservation District’s Board of Directors and the Richmond County, VA Museum’s Board of Directors. Mr. Johnson is an alumnus of Hampton University and is also a fellow of both the Virginia Natural Resources Leadership Institute (VNRLI) and Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results (VALOR) program. 

Frank can be reached at hfbp12_at_gmail.com.

Chad Martin

Vice Mayor
City of Martinsville, Virginia
Chad can be reached at martin_e.chad_at_hotmail.com.

Kim Niewolny

Associate Professor
Virginia Tech
Dr. Kim Niewolny is an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech. For almost a decade, she has held a teaching, research, and extension appointment that holistically reflects the land-grant mission. Together, Kim’s work centers on the role of power and equity in community education and development with scholarly interests in: action research; participatory and cultural community development; critical pedagogy; community food work for social justice; Appalachian community food security; new farmer sustainability; farmworker advocacy. Her most recent community-based research initiative is the “Stories of Community Food Work in Appalachia” project that illustrates the lived experiences and praxis frameworks of activists, educators, and practitioners who are connected to the broader issues of social justice and food systems change in the Appalachian region. Kim also teaches graduate courses and provides teaching leadership in Virginia Tech’s undergraduate minor in Civic Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS). As part of the Virginia Cooperative Extension system, she serves as Director of the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition and Director of the Virginia AgrAbility Program. Lastly, Kim is excited to be leading a university-wide team to launch the newly formed Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation at Virginia Tech. 

Kim can be reached at niewolny_at_vt.edu.

Eddie Oliver

Executive Director
Federation of Virginia Food Banks
Eddie Oliver is the Executive Director of the Federation of Virginia Food Banks. Under his leadership, the seven regional food banks serving the Commonwealth work together to improve access to nutritious food for all Virginians. Prior to his start with the Federation in January 2018, Mr. Oliver served as the No Kid Hungry Virginia State Director, leading the statewide campaign to increase participation in federal child nutrition programs. His efforts led to an annual increase of 10 million school breakfasts and 2 million afterschool meals and snacks served to Virginia students. For the past three years, he has worked with a broad range of partners across the Commonwealth to build a better food system that works for everyone, and is continuing that mission by leading the collaborative priorities of Virginia’s food banks. 

Eddie can be reached at eoliver_at_vafoodbanks.org.

Beth Schermerhorn

Cambium Collective, LLC
Beth is a racial equity community planner, organizer, facilitator, and ecological landscape designer based in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She is the co-owner of Cambium Collective, an organizational development, facilitation, and training firm focused on building personal, organizational, and community racial equity.

She was raised on Hanover County homegrown tomatoes; sliced every summer evening after dinner with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, along with a hefty dose of white body supremacy culture on top. Beth has spent her life dedicated to dismantling white body supremacy within herself, her community, and within work cultures while building multi-racial, multi-identity organizing spaces steeped in radical power, love, and community.

Beth received her Master’s in Ecological Landscape Design & Planning from The Conway School. In 2016, she worked with Virginia Cooperative Extension to conduct a multi-lingual community-based food systems assessment that resulted in recommendations to improve food equity throughout the city called the Harrisonburg Food Equity Report. She is currently the co-chair of the Community Ownership, Empowerment & Prosperity (COEP) Action Team.

Beth spends her time growing food in her backyard year round, participating in community organizing and community building, and enjoying each season's bounty through cooking and fermentation.

Beth can be reached at schermerhorn13_at_csld.edu.

Wilmer Stoneman

Virginia Farm Bureau Federation
Wilmer can be reached at wilmer.stoneman_at_vafb.com.

Kristen Suokko

Executive Director
Local Food Hub
Kristen can be reached at kristen_at_localfoodhub.org.

Join Us.

The Council is actively seeking new Council members to represent a broader, more diverse community within the food system. Submit your application for interest in joining the VFSC Board by January 31, 2021. 

Virginia Food System Council

Sustainable and equitable food systems contributing to the environmental health, economic vitality, and social well-being
of all Virginians.
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