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Meet the Connecticut Farm to School Steering Committee

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Cyrena Thibodeau

Cyrena works at the CT Department of Agriculture in the Ag Development Unit. She is the agency's Farm to School Coordinator and manages the CT Grown for CT Kids Grant Program. She likes kayaking, gardening, hiking, and eating!

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Shannon Raider-Ginsburg (she/her)

Shannon's work in sustainable agriculture, food justice, and experiential education has led her to work in all manner of farms, non profits and business ownership. She is a certified Master Composter, CT NOFA board member and a founding member of the New Connecticut Farmers Alliance. Shannon currently is the project coordinator for Put Local on Your Tray at UConn Extension supporting school through the maze of local procurement.

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Eric Dawson (he/him)

Eric was born and raised outside of Boston, Massachusetts but now calls Stonington, Connecticut home. Eric graduated from Connecticut College in 2019 with a degree in Environmental Science and International Relations. He is passionate about food and farming and is excited to be a part of the Collaborative and Steering Committee.

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Dawn Crayco

Dawn Crayco is the Northeast Regional Director for FoodCorps and former Connecticut Program Director. Her background is in community nutrition, public health, community organizing, and public policy.  As an original member of the Collaborative leadership, Dawn brings experience working on food issues and strengthening programs and policies that increase access to nutritious foods and food security for children in Connecticut. She currently co-leads the Resources & Funding Action Team with Joey Listro from New Britain ROOTS.


Monica Pacheco

Monica has 27 years of experience in food service operations, 20 years in healthcare and 7 years as school food service director. Most recently, she has been with the CT State Department of Education (CSDE) for over 9 years working with School Nutrition Programs. She is the Farm to School Representative for the CSDE, is on the CT Farm to School Collaborative Steering Committee, the CT Grown for CT Kids Grant Advisory Council, and the CT Food Policy Council. In addition, she works on Procurement Reviews and is one of the coordinators for the Food Distribution Program for schools. Monica is a Registered Dietitian and a graduate of the University of Connecticut.


Azeem (Blessings) Zakir Kareem

Azeem Zakir Kareem is a black and indigenous farmer, mindset coach, and advocate for new BIPOC farmers in the State of CT and nationwide. As the co-founder of Samad Gardens Initiative and core member of the I Got Next Farmers Coalition, Azeem has helped provide organically grown, nutritious produce to over 2,000 families and community organizations in the Greater Hartford area over the last two years. Well-versed in psychology, Black history, and scripture, he speaks to the day to day realities that the Black man and woman face in reclaiming the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to become independent food growers. In addition to his work in agriculture and farmer advocacy, he is a renowned MC and beat producer known across the country for his clean, uplifting music. His next project to be released in Summer of 2022, entitled “Garden Thoughts” combines his farming experience, spiritual perspective and classic hip hop style which is sure to make waves throughout the music and farm worlds alike.

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Christine Wallace


Talia Clarke

I am a former Food Service Director in New York and Connecticut in both urban and rural districts. Addison Central District in NYS received first place in the NY Harvest for NY Kids promotion for working with local farmers and serving local foods on school menus. “Out of the box” problem-solving enabled Addison to collaborate with a local Amish farmer to provide fresh produce to schools. A unique order and delivery system was developed that included weekly order drop off and product pickup at the farm by a passing school bus. 

I have held positions as a Summer Food Service Program reviewer for the NYS Department of Education, Director of Outreach and Education for the BEN research center at Cornell University, and currently am Food Service Program Assistant for the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) as well as a School Nutrition Consultant. An important part of my positions has always been offering opportunities for children to experience food from “field to fork” by way of classroom presentations, school gardens, food tastings, menu suggestions and partnering with local chefs. I am a lifelong gardener, avid cook, inspired trainer and strong believer that motivated individuals are the key to social change. 

Meet our Program Coordinator!

Meet Talia Clarke, our CT Farm to School Collaborative’s Program Coordinator. Formerly a Food Corps Service Member from 2020 to 2022 within Hartford Public Schools Child Nutrition Services, Talia's journey is a testament to her commitment to health, education, and community.

During her time in Hartford, Talia played a pivotal role in fostering healthier eating habits and food awareness among students. Now, as our Program Coordinator, she brings her passion for collaboration, empathy, and sustainable food systems to the forefront.

Talia believes that success lies in working together to create positive impacts. Her empathy-driven approach ensures that everyone's voice is heard and valued. Through her work, she strives to enrich communities by nurturing a deeper connection to the food they eat.

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