Board and Staff

Project GROWS was created out of the collaborative work of nine community agencies who currently sit on the Board of Directors; they are: Augusta Health’s Working on Wellness Program, Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, Boys and Girls Club, Mary Baldwin College, Head Start, Office on Youth, Shenandoah Valley Social Services, Valley Community Services Board and Virginia Cooperative Extension. Project GROWS is currently funded through a grant from Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth and a multi-year grant from Augusta Health. Project GROWS is a host organization of the Allegheny Mountain School Phase II fellowship and was awarded two fellows in both 2013 and 2014.

Staff

Ryan headshotRyan Blosser, MA., Ed.S.
Executive Director

If you were a vegetable, what would you be? The Beet-a serious vegetable, with an intense disposition.  When turned into Borshct and playfully mixed with sour cream, softens into my favorite color, pink.
What do you love about farming? I love the quiet of being in the garden in the morning, the dirt that shakes loose from  my fingernails at night, and the satisfaction of sitting down to a meal full of handcrafted soulful food grown with care by my own hands.

Ryan is a writer, Farmer, and former child and family therapist living in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.  While in his 20’s searching for something more authentic, he dropped out of the life of a Division I basketball player and, along with his partner, Joy, moved to Hawaii where he encountered the natural world through surfing.  This new sense of rhythm and the good fortune to stumble across the writings of Bill Mollison and Dave Holmgren while studying creative writing and cultural studies at the University of Hawaii drew him to farming as a profession.  In 2004 Ryan and Joy moved back to the valley to start a family and homestead.  The homestead dream grew into a farm and in 2010 Ryan and Joy named their farm Dancing Star Farm.  Ryan is certified in Permaculture Design and as a permaculture educator.  In addition he holds an MA, and Ed.S. in clinical mental health counseling from James Madison University.  He joined the Project GROWS team in 2012 where he now serves as the Executive Director.  When not spending time with the Project GROWS team, Ryan can be found with hands in the dirt on his own farm or planning a workshop for Shenandoah Permaculture Wellness Institute, which he cofounded and serves as core faculty.

Contact:
ryan@projectgrows.org
(540) 480-0371 x 700

Sam HeadshotSam Berenstain
Farm Manager

If you were a vegetable, what would you be? Carrot! I love all root vegetables. But pulling carrots is always a surprise. I love all their different colors and shapes.
What do you love about farming? Honestly, I love everything about farming. Hard work, waking with the sun, getting dirty, teaching, learning new techniques, and eating fresh. Farm work soothes my soul and connects me to the land. Farming is a great outlet for teaching youth. Project GROWS combines all my favorite aspects of farming into one.

Sam grew up in Bucks Co. PA, just north of Philadelphia. He spent his adolescence tasting the bounties of a vibrant food culture and exploring the Delaware River systems with a fly rod. After graduating from Eastern Mennonite University with a B.A in Environmental Sustainability, he spent a season in NYC working on two different urban farms studying the practices of city produce production. Moving back to the Valley with a passion for building a community around youth-oriented agriculture, Sam found Project GROWS. Sam spends his days out at the farm sheet mulching, harvesting, teaching about sustainable farm work and eating carrots on the porch of the shed.

Contact:
sam@projectgrows.org
(540) 480-0371 x 702

IMG_0726Jenna Clarke
Director of Operations

If you were a vegetable, what would you be? Definitely cabbage – one of my very favorite veggies to eat, cabbage is understated but packs a punch!
What do you love about farming? I love being outside, learning new things every day about plants, nature and where my food comes from. I love being connected to the land and the rich history of farming that goes back for centuries all over the world.

A native of Richmond, Virginia, Jenna Clarke comes to Project Grows following an 18-month fellowship position with the Allegheny Mountain School (AMS) in 2012/2013. Prior to AMS, she served as Director of Development at Rx Partnership, a statewide nonprofit helping low-income Virginians access needed prescription medication. She comes to Staunton with a love of experiencing nature, meeting new folks and working together to create a healthy, happy and sustainable community. Jenna received her bachelor’s degree in communication from Virginia Tech and spends most of her free time reading, playing outside and dreaming up ideas for her next big adventure.

Contact:
jenna@projectgrows.org
(540) 480-0371 x 701

Lisa HeadshotLisa Millette
Programs Manager

If Lisa were a vegetable she’d be…KALE! because it’s totally nutritious, cold hardy, and goes well with every meal. Literally, every meal.
What do you love about farming?  Lisa loves the smell and feel of good soil – you know intuitively that it holds things that are good for you. Lisa also delights in the point in the summer where the separation of dirt and your pores is non-existent and your friends compliment you on your “tan.”

Born and raised in Central Massachusetts, Lisa Millette became passionate about ecological farming while working for the UMass Extension Farm. Following her passion, Lisa ventured down south to be a part of the 2012-2013 Allegheny Mountain School (AMS) cohort. Previously, Lisa worked for a small non-profit in Central Massachusetts installing raised bed gardens for residents. She thrives working (and often singing) in the garden alongside the youth and community of Project GROWS. Lisa received a BS from the University of Massachusetts in 2010 through the Bachelor’s Degree of Individual Concentration program and Permaculture Design Certification from the Shenandoah Permaculture Institute in 2013. In her spare time, you can find Lisa riding her bicycle and/or drinking a chai latte. Also, come join her pop-up yoga classes at the Project GROWS Farm!

Contact:
lisa@projectgrows.org
(540) 480-0371 x 703

Susanna Byrd
Coordinator of Marketing and Outreach – Senior Fellow, Allegheny Mountain School

If you were a vegetable, what would you be? Arugula. My favorite green by far to eat and it has a lovely history; People used to collect it wild as a roadside weed in Italy and now it’s considered gourmet! It’s simple, but has a spicy kick.
What do you love about farming? I love how farming sits at the intersection between the wild wills of nature and the cultivated beauty of humans. All you can do as a farmer is artfully arrange the pieces and hope that nature will follow through. Farming reminds us to be humble (as we accept the defeat of another tomato blight) and celebratory as our hard work pays off with healthy, bounteous food and happy people.

Susanna grew up on the other side of the Blue Ridge, near Charlottesville, Virginia. A child of those mountains, she has always been in love with the outdoors, the smell of the earth and eating black walnuts, morels and wineberries. Susanna attended Tandem Friends School in Charlottesville and then Kenyon College in Ohio, earning a bachelor’s degree in Global Environmental Studies. She discovered sustainable farming and its positive impact on the world while in Ohio and then further on a five month trip around South America working on various organic farms. Susanna loves traveling, listening to stories and seeing new cultures almost as much as staying home and reading a good book. After a season in Highland County with Allegheny Mountain School, Susanna is excited settle in to a new community and to put learning to practice at Project GROWS.

Contact:
susanna@projectgrows.org
(540)480-0371 x 704

Roger Woo
Coordinator of Education and Programs – Senior Fellow, Allegheny Mountain School

If you were a vegetable, what would you be? Butter! Err… I mean, Brussels sprouts! With a little bit of butter… and maybe some capers, crispy shallots, pancetta… did I say butter brussels sprouts yet?
What do you love about farming? To watch a plant grow is to see the soul of the world unfurl: food, life and love entwined. Gardens are forgiving places, nurturing spaces, and ultimately, our saving graces. Hippocrates himself reminds us to, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. Grounded in intention, we steep in the hearth of food as we commune with the Earth itself.

A Canuck in the process of exchanging his “Eh’s” for “Y’alls”, Roger spent his life following a bottomless stomach and lifelong love of eating in search of delicious things. He finally gave up his chef knives for a trowel and mud stains after realizing that the secret to delicious foods lies in doing very little to fresh, local ingredients. A proud university drop-out, Roger follows a path of experiential learning and believes in the importance of erring courageously. He comes to Project GROWS via a generous fellowship grant from Allegheny Mountain School, building on over a decade of youth mentoring and non-formal education experience in Ontario, Indonesia, Uganda, and British Columbia.

Contact:
roger@projectgrows.org
(540) 480-0371 x 705

Board

Erin Botkin (Valley Community Services Board) – Media and outreach, fiscal agent liaison
Laura Bon Cash (Augusta Health) – Farm committee
Lisa Dunn (Valley Social Services) – Treasurer, executive committee
Steve Grande (Mary Baldwin College) – Media and outreach
Tyrell Mcelroy (Boys and Girls Club) – President, executive committee
Melissa Orndorff Stephens (Office on Youth) – Secretary, Chair of education and outreach committee
Chris Pokrana (Application Development & Product Management for Nonprofits) – Media and outreach committee

Members of Project GROWS committees:

Anne Buzzelli (Buzz Nutrition) – education and outreach committee
Pat Caulkins (Boys and Girls Club) – education and outreach committee
Beth Trainum – Media and outreach