Cultivating Change's impartial panel judges are selected based on their experience and qualifications. Our volunteer panelists' commitment is vital to the credibility of the awards and to ensuring a balanced and independent approach to winner selection. This year’s panelists include highly respected experts from regional and national non-profits, universities, government agencies, and private sector leaders.

Panelists for the 2019-2020 grant cycle are currently being finalized. Check back to meet the panelists!


Rae Miller

Missouri Coalition for the Environment | Missouri
Describe your role at Missouri Coalition for the Environment As the local food coordinator at MCE, I work to support farmers in the St. Louis foodshed, defined as a 150 mile radius from St. Louis, that are stewards of our land by raising animals on pasture or crops without the application of synthetic chemicals. We help these farmers be successful and work to advance the St. Louis local food system to be more equitable and robust. Why are you interested in Wholesale Readiness? With recognition that most farmers in the St. Louis foodshed are growing food for direct to consumer markets, MCE is working to create a farm to institution local food supply chain that makes it easier for farmers to sell to wholesale markets, creating opportunities for greater volumes of local food production, more farming jobs, and greater access to healthy, local food for St. Louis residents. What is your favorite produce item? Husk cherries are one of my favorite local produce items as they are one of the only fruits you can grow from seed to harvest in one season.

Drew Katz

Oregon Tilth | Oregon
Describe your role at Oregon Tilth Drew Katz is Oregon Tilth’s Transition Services Coordinator and provides outreach, education and training to farmers transitioning to organic as well as processors and handlers seeking certification. He manages Oregon Tilth’s Farmer to Farmer Mentorship Program and Co-Leader of Oregon Tilth’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion Team. Why are you interested in Wholesale Readiness? Small to mid-scale farmers that make up the " agriculture of the middle” operate in a challenging and tenuous market space. Entry into the wholesale market requires significant resources and investment, both at the field level as well as beyond the farm gate. Farmers, processors and handlers need all the support they can get, and the Wholesale Readiness program can help minimize risk as business enter and begin to operate in new wholesale markets. What is your favorite produce item? Organic chicories

Bahia Nightengale

Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance | Louisiana
Describe your role at Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance As the Director of Local Food Initiatives, I work to expand the capacity of the people and places of Central Louisiana to prosper. I connect farm & ranch-based entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs with the resources and environment needed to flourish and yield economic and health improvements in the life of the individual and our communities. Why are you interested in Wholesale Readiness? CLEDA supports Agriculture of the Middle projects, which creates strategic alliances among farmers, processors, distributors and retailers to reach end users (restaurants, grocers, etc. and eventually households) that are demanding locally/regionally sourced, ethical, and sustainable options in the food system. Wholesale readiness is an early step to help drive this ‘Middle Way’ forward in Louisiana. What is your favorite produce item? Mirliton, also known as chayote! It’s a staple in south Louisiana cooking, and a squash common in the Mexican culinary traditions of my childhood home.

Renée Vassilos

The Nature Conservancy | Boston, MA
Describe your role at The Nature Conservancy Renée Vassilos is The Nature Conservancy’s Agriculture Innovation Director. She manages TNC’s investments in early stage agtech companies that will support regenerative agriculture production- at scale. Prior to TNC, Renée advised growth-stage agtech start-ups and investors through her consulting firm, Banyan Innovation Group. Renée has a BS and MS in Agricultural Economics. Why are you interested in Sustainability ? Sustainable agriculture production done right is a triple win: farmer profitability, environmental gains (on farm and beyond), and consumer health (shift towards more production and, ideally, consumption diversity). As a business-oriented person, I know of no better investment (from a dollar and time commitment perspective). What is your favorite produce item? Beets. All things beets including beet greens…sautéed w/ shallots and garlic – DEEEEEEE-licious!

Deirdre Schiff

Indigo Ag | Boston, MA
Describe your role at Indigo Deirdre is a Precision Agriculture Specialist at Indigo Ag, helping growers leverage precision data to make informed production decisions. As a PAS, Deirdre is helping build an ag data platform to provide transparency into precision data cleaning and to identify areas for improved on-farm economic and environmental sustainability. Why are you interested in Sustainability ? Our changing planet already makes growing food more difficult. With a rising global population, the food system must inherently incorporate sustainable practices that will allow generations of growers to continue feeding the world. This requires building an innovative food system that economically supports growers and protects our ecosystems. What is your favorite produce item? Sweet potatoes. They’re versatile, packed with vitamin A, and taste great with just about any combination of spices!

Ed Treacy

Produce Marketing Association | Nokomis, Florida
Describe your role at PMA My role at Produce Marketing Association is Vice President, Supply Chain and Sustainability providing leadership for PMA’s sustainability work. PMA announced they would be focusing on sustainability as a focus area for their work supporting the industry to grow a healthier world. Why are you interested in Sustainability? The fresh produce and floral industry has need for a shared definition of sustainability, to help people understand trends, information, resources and best practices for their business. PMA will work with industry members to inspire them to continuously optimize processes and resources available to drive economic, social and environmental benefits for their companies and for the world. The industry can incorporate sustainable practices into their businesses by sharing and adopting sustainable business models, strategies, methods, and information across the supply chain. What is your favorite produce item? Strawberries, closely followed by Clementine Oranges. I always have both in my fridge at home.

Ken Petersen

US Department of Agriculture | Damascus, Maryland
Describe your role at USDA I am the Chief of the Specialty Crops Program Audit Services Branch, were I am responsible for the implementation and delivery of a variety of audit based services including food safety verification, export certification, and domestic origin verification. Why are you interested in Food Safety? My background is in horticultural production and working with producers. With food safety beginning on the farm through implementation of good agricultural practices, I am interested in assisting producers integrate best practices and develop a culture of food safety into their operations. What is your favorite produce item? Nothing better than a Washington state bing cherry. Blueberries are a close 2nd though!

Cristy Dice

Colorado State University | Fort Collins, Colorado
Describe your role at Colorado State. I am the Produce Safety Specialist for Colorado State University. My role focuses on delivering outreach and education to producers around the state, and creating resources for farmers to help them comply with the Produce Safety Rule as well as on-farm produce safety education and collaboration with produce industry colleagues. Why are you interested in Food Safety? I am interested in food safety because food is vital for survival and we need to continue to work to provide consumers with safe products. My passion is helping farmers figure out how to implement the food safety requirements while still remaining profitable and able to provide for their families. What is your favorite produce item? Fresh produce of any kind, I love finding unexpected ways to incorporate produce into sweet and savory dishes.

Billy Mitchell

National Farmers Union | Brunswick, Georgia
Describe your role at National Farmers Union. I travel the country teaching produce food safety and learning from farmers the creative solutions they design to meet the many challenges of running a sustainable agricultural business. Why are you interested in Food Safety? Having the opportunity to provide resources that help growers improve the safety and sustainability of their operations is a great way to strengthen our local food systems and give those growers the tools they need for success. I’m excited to see what they propose! What is your favorite produce item? Right now, it’s fresh and local peaches.