Who We Are

Meet the current council members
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.

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.
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 three very young children and 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 from 25 farmers selling to one pick up location to over fifty farmers selling to five pick up locations around the city. Today, the hub, now merged with sister hub, Local Roots Food Co-op, supports over 100 local farmers and serves over 20 locations throughout the metro Richmond area. Recently acquired by supporter VaFAIRS, Lulus Local Food software is now licensed by small farms, CSAs, farmers markets and food hubs throughout the state of Virginia and across the country in Ohio, Illinois, Texas and Montana.

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, a participant in the Richmond City Mayor’s Food Council and leader of the Richmond Area Buy Fresh Buy Local Chapter. 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 regional local food systems and the farmers that rely on them. 

Molly can be reached at molly.harris_at_vafb.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.

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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