Vanessa Apira

[email protected]

Vanessa is a dancer, collager, and nature enthusiast. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Africana Studies and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies from Bowdoin College. Vanessa works on aligning Renewing the Countryside’s work with Urban Farm & Garden Alliance’s initiatives. An essential aspect of that is engaging providers and families with young children in garden spaces. You can find Vanessa in a sunny spot reading, grooving, or taking care of her plant friends. 

Matt Barthelemy

[email protected]

Matt has been working with RTC since November 2021, focusing on FEAST! Local Foods programs, farmland access, and community farmer support. Matt's love for farmers and farming was seeded while spending as much time as he could at family friends' farm in Algona, Iowa. After moving to MN, he's spent time working in restaurants and beyond, organizing events and initiatives that build community around positive change, including a Minneapolis neighborhood festival, ping pong tournaments, voter turnout events, community show-and-tell events, efforts to advance housing justice, and last but not least, group trips to farms to connect with and support small-scale farmers.    


Lynne Bishop 

[email protected]

Lynne joined Renewing the Countryside in 2012 as Finance Manager.  She holds a BA from the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire; and has had numerous accounting classes as an MBA candidate at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.  She is a member of the Nonprofit Financial Group of the Twin Cities and the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers.  A legal resident of Wisconsin, she and her husband and their little “doglet", a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Ruby (aka Dufus) live in St. Paul during the week and in Spooner, WI on weekends.


Grace Brogan

[email protected]  612.520.1675

Grace is a Program Manager and our Development/Communications Director. She currently organizes Renewing the Countryside's Community Based Food System programming, facilitates development strategy, and supports the organization's online and print media content. She holds an MS in sustainable food systems and writing as well as a BA in English and art, has spent over ten years in the nonprofit sector, and is committed to handbuilding a life of learning, sharing, and making change. She spends most of her time in Western Montana. 

Elena Byrne

[email protected]

Elena joined Renewing the Countryside in 2016, focused on the FEAST! Local Foods programming, artisan grains support through the Artisan Grain Collaborative, and conservation work through Wisconsin Women in Conservation. She holds a doctorate in nutritional sciences from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and has been an avid gardener for years with her husband on their 8 acres just outside of Madison, WI. She is enjoying seeing the local foods movement capture the hearts of consumers everywhere.


Sara George

[email protected]

Sara works with us on our Farm to School, Farm to Early Care, and Farmers Market Aggregation program areas. Her family owns and operates a small vegetable farm in Pepin, Wisconsin, and she is a mother of three. She has been the market manager for the Wabasha Farmers Market for the past 6 years, and Red Wing starting in 2019 year as well as the Vice President of the MN Farmers Market Association. She is also a former child care provider.

Melvin Giles

[email protected]

Melvin supports Renewing the Countryside’s Farm to Early Care efforts. He is also the co-coordinator of the Urban Farm & Garden Alliance (UFGA), and a veteran peace and diversity educator. Since 2010, he has facilitated the Peace Pole and Peace Message Campaign. The campaign is intended to decrease violent crime and create places, spaces, and opportunities for peaceful gatherings and racial and cultural appreciation, education and healing in the greater St. Paul area. Melvin lives in St. Paul, Minnesota and enjoys playing in the soil, growing things, and bubbles. 


Eli Goodwell

[email protected] 612.208.8354 

Eli joined Renewing the Countryside in 2014 after a decade of working with local foods systems at Twin Cities food businesses and organizations. He supports a number of Renewing the Countryside programs and helps coordinate events like the Healthy Local Food Exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair and the FEAST! Local Foods Festival and Tradeshow. Eli lives in Twin Cities and works from Renewing the Countryside's Minneapolis office.


Jan Joannides

[email protected] 612.251.7304

Jan is the Executive Director and co-founder of Renewing the Countryside. For the past twenty years, she has been an advocate and organizer for rural communities and citizens working to stimulate economic growth and enhance their communities through sustainable uses of their landscapes and resources. Jan holds a master's degree in natural resources from the University of Minnesota. She lives in Zumbro Falls, Minnesota with her husband Brett, daughter Olivia, and son Axel.


Brett Olson

[email protected] 507.993.6931

Brett is a co-founder of Renewing the Countryside and works as a Farmland Access Navigator, food business advisor, and on community and local foods system development. With a background as an art director and designer, Brett serves as RTC's Creative Director. As one of the founders, Brett has been involved in much of the development, planning and organizing of Renewing the Countryside since its beginning. Brett and his family live on a historic dairy farm and stone stagecoach stop in Zumbro Falls, Minnesota.


Ramona Robinson-O'Brien

[email protected]

Ramona is the Program Associate assisting with the coordination of Renewing the Countryside’s farm-to-childcare and farm-to-school programming. She has experience teaching, researching, and writing on the topics of public health, nutrition, and food system sustainability. She holds a doctoral degree in nutrition with a minor in sustainable agriculture and recently completed master gardener training. She currently lives in Hudson, Wisconsin and enjoys time with family and friends, being outdoors, and gardening with her son Jackson and daughter Lily.


Kathleen Rykhus

[email protected]

Kathleen joins the Renewing the Countryside team as an AmeriCorps VISTA member working on local food initiatives, including providing support for the FEAST! Local Foods Marketplace, and a Farmers Market Food Hub project that will fortify and multiply Minnesota Farmers’ Markets to improve community health and long-term farm viability. Kathleen's roots in the Local Foods Movement go back to the Minneapolis market as a retail grocery buyer. This experience, along with degrees in Marketing and Sociology, have given Kathleen a unique perspective on local food systems that she is excited to apply to her work.

Jody Padgam

[email protected]

Jody joined RTC staff in January 2021 to help with grant writing, reporting, administration and financial management. She was the financial manager at Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) for 16 years, and recently worked 3+ years on education projects for organic grain farmers for the University of WI. Jody has owned a 60-acre grass based farm in north central Wisconsin for 20 years, where she raises most of her own food, recently retired from raising organic broilers and sheep, and shares her land with 3 neighbors. 


Nora Shields-Cutler

[email protected]

Nora works to support Renewing the Countryside's community food systems work, including Farm to Early Care and Education, Farm to School, and Farm to Institution efforts. She has worked in both government and nonprofit settings to support food systems change, healthy eating, and healthcare access. Nora holds master’s degrees in public health and social work, and lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with her family.


Lisa Kivirist

A national advocate for women in sustainable agriculture, Lisa Kivirist is the author of the award-winning book, Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers. She leads the Soil Sisters initiative at Renewing the Countryside.  Lisa is the co-author of multiple books on sustainability, food and entrepreneurship with her husband, John Ivanko, including Homemade for Sale, Farmstead Chef, Ecopreneuring and Rural Renaissance. For over twenty years, she and her family have run Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B in Wisconsin, completely powered by renewable energy.