board of directors




Rachel Friesen

Rachel Friesen first came across Renewing the Countryside in 2012, as a fresh college graduate working with emerging farmers in Kansas City. She was visiting Saint Paul for a weekend conference and--awed by the incredible February weather--just three years later made Minnesota her permanent home! Rachel hails from several small towns across the Midwest, and she loves anything related to community development and food. She is currently Director of Operations at Cooper Law and is pursuing a Master of Business Administration through the University of St. Thomas. 

Kate Graham

Vice Chair

Kate is an attorney based out of Minneapolis with roots in southwestern Minnesota.  Her practice focuses on estate planning, elder law, and small business with a special focus on farm succession planning.  She received a law degree from William Mitchell College of Law and an LL.M. degree in Food and Agricultural Law from the University of Arkansas School of Law, Fayetteville.  Prior to becoming an attorney, Kate worked on organic farms in southeastern and central Minnesota.


Ariel Kagan


Ariel Kagan is a resource economist with expertise in state and federal agriculture policy and currently serves as the director of agriculture strategy at Environmental Initiative, a Minneapolis based non-profit. Previously, she worked with the MDA Emerging Farmers initiative, a program designed to support historically underrepresented farmers by improving state policy and programs. Ariel holds a master’s degree from the University of British Columbia and a bachelor’s from Mount Holyoke College. 


Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson’s passion is to improve the health and well-being of his community, particularly youth and people of low income. Johnson currently works at the Metropolitan Council with the Community Development division, administering grant projects for the Council's Livable Communities and Regional Parks programs. Previously, he ran the Minnesota State Horticultural Society's Garden-in-a-Box program, a statewide program connecting youth groups with gardening materials and education. His background is in local governance with the City of Minneapolis's Homegrown Minneapolis initiative. Johnson has a Master's Degree in Public Policy with a concentration in Nonprofit Management from the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs.





Kristian Braekkan

Kristian Braekkan currently hails from North Mankato, MN. As an economist, he’s especially interested in systems changes to the economic bases of societies/economies/communities, and views food production as the heart of these changes. Kristian is the Economic Development Director a Region Nine Development Commission in Mankato.

Kate Mudge

Kate Mudge lives on a hobby farm in rural west central Minnesota. She has nearly 30 years of experience in the nonprofit sector, having worked in hunger relief, animal welfare, and community engagement.  She currently works as the Business Development Officer at West Central Initiative, where she supports rural business startups and expansion and manages special projects focusing on regional food systems and agriculture. You can also find her behind the scenes of the Care Farming Network, a national organization working to advance the therapeutic use of farming practices.

Bethany Paul

Bethany Paul lives in Saint Paul, MN and brings a strong background of nonprofit fundraising to the RTC board. She currently works as Events Manager for Como Friends, the non the non-profit fundraising partner for Como Park Zoo & Conservatory. She brings extensive experience in non-profit board management, major gift solicitation, grant writing and prospecting, corporate sponsorships and donor stewardship to the board.

Helen Schnoes

Helen Schnoes is a professional planner focused on community engagement, sustainability, and advancing community and economic development. She is passionate about building stronger local/regional food systems and more resilient landscapes. Currently she works for the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, leading outreach and engagement efforts to effectively design and implement high-impact capital projects that improve the landscape and enhance communities. Prior to joining MCWD she worked for a decade to transform the food system in non-profit, start-up, and public sectors, including co-founding Sitka Salmon Shares and leading Farm to School efforts at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.