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Meet the Connecticut Farm to School Steering Committee

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Cyrena Thibodeau
(she/her)

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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Sherlene Rodriguez
(she/her)

Sherlene Rodriguez brings many years of experience in program development and project management from the corporate and the non-profit sector. Sherlene has worked with various community-based organizations in Fairfield County, including Family and Children's Agency, FoodCorps, and Green Village Initiative. She has a passion for developing strategic, sustainable solutions for public health and food systems by prioritizing equity, diversity, and inclusion to serve communities better. Sherlene has a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a Master of Science in Strategic Leadership from Roberts Wesleyan College. She is thrilled to join the new steering committee and is committed to achieving its goals.

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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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Dr. Ivette Ruiz
(she/her)

As a 3rd generation farmer who is bi-lingual and bi-cultural I have had the immense opportunity to partner and collaborate around BIPOC programming, Disability Integration, Underrepresented Groups, Holistic Coaching, Leadership Development and Organizational Development. 
For over three decades I have worked in Public Services, Academia, Ministry, Healthcare, Humanitarian Disaster Relief, Human and Social Services as an Executive, Coach, Consultant, and Trainer.  Most recently I spent several years as an Emergency Management Disaster Cycle Relief Services Executive with the National American Red Cross and FEMA working with disaster survivors including farmers with an applied REDI (Race, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) lens. 

Last year I suffered a devastating Traumatic Brain Injury that changed my life completely.​ My goal is to improve the community's understanding of trauma related mental, behavioral and spiritual health. 

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Dawn Crayco
(she/her)

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.

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Monica Pacheco
(she/her)

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.

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Azeem (Blessings) Zakir Kareem
(he/him)

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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Emmanuel Marte
(he/him)

Farmer and educator. Emmanuel started a company called Micro2life in 2018 along with Zania Johnson. Micro2life promotes nutritional education and provides produce to schools in the Hartford School District, a vegan restaurant called Fire N Spice, and FoodShare. Emmanuel is also the Communication Specialist for Put Local On Your Tray, an organization responsible for connecting schools to local farmers. He also plans to continue advocating for more local foods to be incorporated into the school system and food desert communities.

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Christine Wallace
(she/her)

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.