Meet Our Team

Board of Directors

President: James Goalder,
Bloomerang Nonprofit Software

Immediate Past President:
Courtney Cranor, TMP

Treasurer: Grace Schultz, FNP,
Carilion Clinic Family Medicine

Nell Desmond, Mary Baldwin University
Tony Davenport, VA Department of Corrections
David Geiman, Consultant – Agriculture Management
Damon Strickland, Stonewall Jackson Hotel & Conference Center
Deborah Bundy-Carpenter, RN, Central Shenandoah Health District
Shana Meganck, Ph.D., James Madison University
Sophie Lambert, the Urban Land Institute

 

Past Directors / Advisors

Jenna Clarke Piersol
Ryan Blosser
Erin Botkin
Chef Laura Bon Cash
Steve Grande
Wendy Gray
Melissa Orndorff Stephens

Staff

Tom Brenneman

Tom Brenneman

Executive Director

Tom comes to Project GROWS with seven years in market garden farming and leadership. He’s also served as a social worker, youth advocate, educator and entrepreneur with initiatives engaging court-involved youth to human rights work in the Southwest. Since 2004, he’s served in the Shenandoah Valley in roles with community conflict transformation and sustainable food systems. Tom currently lives in Keezletown, Virginia and grew up in Southeastern Iowa’s rolling hills of corn and beans. He holds a Master’s degree in sociology from American University and a degree in social work from Eastern Mennonite University.

Email Tom

If you were a vegetable, what would you be?
The unassuming beet. Red, golden and the Chioggia with the swirls. They make me think of resilience and humility.  It’s a good earthy companion on your plate.

What do you love about farming?
It’s honest. Farming connects me back to the earth and the web of life, even on the longest, hottest, coldest, windy, wet and soggy days. No romance, just a reality check that food, community, and the table set with others is where I think we live best.

Laura Faircloth

Laura Faircloth

Director of Farm Operations

Laura grew up in the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester, Virginia. While studying Spanish at James Madison University, she discovered her passion for farming. After college, Laura moved to the Midwest to begin her career as a vegetable farmer. Laura spent three years working on a certified-organic vegetable farm and five months backpacking through Latin America before returning to Virginia to connect her passion and farming skills to communities in the Valley. Laura continued her journey farming and apprenticing with seasoned farmers until she joined the Project GROWS team as Farm Manager in the spring of 2017.

Most days Laura can be found on the farm working with our crew and volunteers, covered in dirt, and munching on veggies. When she is not on the farm, she enjoys exploring new swimming holes and playing fetch with her naughty Siamese cat.

Email Laura

If you were a vegetable, what would you be?
A sugar snap pea – they are the most whimsical plants on the farm. Their curly tendrils and the way they twist and climb make the pea beds the most magical place on the farm. If there are fairies at Project GROWS, they’re definitely inhabiting the pea plants.

What do you love about farming?
I love that farming is truly dynamic. I enjoy the challenging, physical aspect of farm work as well as the community that we are building around local food. Farming has given me the opportunity to combine many of my interests and skills into one career path – all roads lead to farming!

Nichole Barrows

Nichole Barrows

Director of Education

Nichole is a transplant to the Shenandoah Valley from Virginia Beach and after ten years is happy to call it home. After graduating with her BA in English and Master of Arts in Teaching from James Madison University, Nichole spent three years teaching eighth grade English in Harrisonburg, one summer backpacking with Camp Woolman teenagers on the Pacific Crest Trail near Lake Tahoe, and two years as the children’s education coordinator at the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum. Having originally connected with Project GROWS as a teacher through on-farm field trips, she joined the Project GROWS team in 2018.

Always delighted to learn a new tree or bird name, Nichole’s passion lies in connecting young people to the outdoors and to local food production. In her free time you can find her milking cows and chasing calves at the Family Cow Project, a collectively owned cow-calf operation in Harrisonburg.

Email Nichole

If you were a vegetable, what would you be?
Like a sweet potato, sometimes I enjoy working on projects for a long time “underground” before the world gets to see them!

What do you love about farming?
Farming gets you “up close and personal” to the seasons of year—the anticipation and green of spring, the heat and hard work of summer, the bounty and color of fall, and the slowness and chill of winter. I’m fascinated by the seasonal parallels we see reflected in the progression of a day from dawn to midnight; the timeline of a human life from birth to death; and the life cycle of a plant from seed to compost. We have so much to learn from the land!

Megan Marshall

Megan Marshall

Director of Food Access

Megan comes from the beautiful state of Oregon, where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Public Health at Oregon State University. During her time at OSU she discovered her passion for the environment, nutrition, and the food system. Megan moved to Virginia in 2017 where she worked as a nutritionist assistant for WIC and her passion for food access grew stronger. In January of 2018 she found Project GROWS and started her journey as the team’s Food Access Manager.

Megan is often found managing the Farmer’s Markets, but she can also be found helping out on the farm and in the local schools. When she is not working, Megan enjoys cooking, hiking with her dog Moose, and exploring her new hometown in Harrisonburg, VA.

Email Megan

If you were a vegetable, what would you be?
I would be a mushroom native to the Pacific Northwest, growing on the mossy floor of a pine tree in the Oregon mountains. Mushrooms indicate healthy soil for trees and other plants to grow in. They also love the rain, the forest, and the mountains just like me.

What do you love about farming?
I love being a part of the process! From seed to vegetable, from farm to table, from season to season, from beginning to end. Growing food for myself and my community gives me purpose and connects me to nature.

Clara Metzler

Clara Metzler

Associate Director of Farm Operations

Clara was born and raised in the Shenandoah Valley. Following high school, she moved to the Pacific Northwest where she lived for several years honing her barista skills and exploring glacier lakes. Following a backpacking stint in India and Nepal trying every variation of curry and momos she could, Clara returned to the valley and completed her BA in Sociology with a concentration in Nutritional Science from Bridgewater College in December 2017. While at Bridgewater College, Clara’s passion for food justice as well as local and sustainable food systems was nurtured and ultimately led her to Project GROWS.

When she’s not at the farm, Clara spends her time experimenting in the kitchen while listening to podcasts, playing frisbee with her pup Ginger, and spending time with family and friends – preferably outdoors!

Email Clara

If you were a vegetable, what would you be?
Green beans! They remind me of summertime meals at my Grandma’s house. Freshly harvested and sautéed with garlic (runner up in the favorite veggie race), I can’t think of anything more satisfying to my tastebuds!  

What do you love about farming?
Food! No farming, no food – and what a sad and impossible world that would be. More personally, farming provides me the opportunity to view the food system from beyond a consumer standpoint; by taking an active role in food production, I am constantly reminded of the time, care, and hard work that goes into growing the food that nurtures our bodies and minds.

Natalie Pax

Natalie Pax

Food Access Assistant | 2020 Phase II Fellow, Allegheny Mountain Institute

Natalie was born in Columbus, Ohio and attended Ohio State University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Policy with a specialization in Environmental and Social Justice. While she has always been interested in environmental issues and climate change, she became particularly interested in the food system and agriculture through volunteering at a local farm on Ohio that was located in an urban food desert. This experience opened her eyes to the systemic issues in the food system, and led her to explore additional issues such as food assistance programs and farmworker justice. Natalie is passionate about contributing towards a better future with sustainable food production and healthy, resilient communities, which ultimately led her to the AMI fellowship in Highland County, VA. She is excited about continuing environmental and social justice work (as well as farming!) as the Food Access Assistant for Project GROWS.  Email Natalie

If you were a vegetable, what would you be?
I think I would choose peppers! They can be sweet or spicy and come in a variety of colors. Plus, they add yummy flavor to so many dishes (tacos! pizza! salad!). They also love warm climates, just like me. I am a pretty diverse person with lots of flavors/colors to me and I enjoy many different foods and things in life.

What do you love about farming?
Getting my hands dirty in the soil and being surrounded by so much life on the farm is a very grounding and centering experience for me. It reminds me that while food nurtures and gives life, it also requires human energy and cultivation. We are connected to the soil through our bellies, and farming healthy and delicious food is a beautiful reminder of that.

 

Chelsea deRochemont

Chelsea deRochemont

Education Intern

Chelsea is a native of Seacoast New Hampshire and arrived in the Shenandoah Valley to attend James Madison University, where she received a BA in Geographic Science in December of 2019.  As she explored her curriculum, she discovered the close links between the lack of time spent outdoors and lack of time spent cultivating community, and between environmental and social justice. 

She is thrilled for the opportunity to be the Education Intern for Project GROWS and serve the land and community of the Valley that has supported her in many ways.  In her free time, you can find Chelsea practicing or teaching yoga, enjoying live music with friends, cooking up some local food, or reading at a coffee shop in downtown Harrisonburg.

Email Chelsea

If you were a vegetable, what would you be?
A Brussels sprout.  Brussels sprout grow individually, but are all attached to one stalk.  I know how important it is to be connected to others, but need my own space to grow.  I also don’t mind moderate fall and early winter weather!

What do you love about farming?
Connections!  Farming is an opportunity to reconnect people to place, to the earth, and to their food.  Farming can also strengthen human bonds between people or within an individual. Everything is connected, and farming can help rebuild and remind us of this reality.  I also love that farming requires me to really slow down and notice the little things.

Will Barden

Will Barden

Farm Production Apprentice

Will is a 2020 Phase II Allegheny Mountain Institute Fellow from nearby Bath County, Virginia. Upon moving back home after studying history in college and being inspired by his family’s homesteading history on their land, Will decided he wanted to get more involved in agriculture. He started working with AMI to develop his farming skills and help increase food access and education in the rural areas he grew up cherishing.

 Will firmly believes that healthy soil grows healthy plants which grow healthy people and communities, and this creed has informed his passion for composting and soil health. In his spare time, Will enjoys hiking, reading, playing folk and country music on guitar, and blacksmithing at his forge on his family’s land in Bath County.

Email Will

If you were a vegetable, what would you be?
A carrot! They’ve always been one of my favorite vegetables to eat, and I’ve just always loved playing around in the dirt, and I believe having strong, deep roots is the key to staying true to yourself. 

What do you love about farming?
Self-reliance is very important to me and it’s very empowering to me to have the knowledge that you can grow your own (healthy!) food and provide for your body and mind in a way that works in harmony with nature

Rheannon Fultz

Rheannon Fultz

Summer Youth Staff

Rheannon is a Fort Defiance High School graduate returning for a second summer on our youth staff who will soon be attending Bridgewater College as a Biology major. Rheannon is a Shenandoah Valley native who has always loved the abundance of rivers, fields, and wildlife that the area offers. Rheannon discovered Project GROWS in 2018 as a volunteer and has since continued to be inspired by their focus on education, community outreach, and love for the planet.

When not clearing weeds from the carrots or posing for a shot with the daily onion harvest, Rheannon can be found out on a run, hiking with her twin sister, practicing a language, or painting! 

If you were a vegetable, what would you be?
I would be the onion! I can be shy at first, but easily open up as my layers unfold. Additionally, I am versatile like the onion, as this vegetable goes well in many different recipes!

What do you love about farming?
For me, farming is therapeutic and a necessary part of my life surrounded by a digitally demanding world. I love being outside and getting my hands dirty, and if I can help bring fresh produce to plates in the process, then what’s not to love? On the farm, I am always learning new things from my mentors, which allows me to enrich my knowledge of farm life and the importance of community health.

Katie Stankard

Katie Stankard

Farm Intern

Katie is a native of Northern Virginia, and moved to the Valley to attend James Madison University, where she received a BS in Geographic Science in May 2020. Her studies led her to explore the intersection of transportation, urban design, and accessibility. She first learned about Project GROWS while on a service trip with JMU three years, and has loved volunteering and working on the farm ever since. Volunteering with Project GROWS sparked an interest in farming and while living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Katie learned about different sustainable farming systems. She loved trying lots of delicious tropical fruits and vegetables, and is so excited to be working with Project GROWS this season. In her spare time, you can find Katie hiking, reading, or cooking with her roommates.

If you were a vegetable, what would you be?
I would be spring mix! The beautiful bright green blankets sprinkled with red always looks so fluffy. They are versatile and quite tasty too!

What do you love about farming?
I love being able to watch the movement of the farm week in and week out. No two days are ever alike. There is something magical about tending to green shoots and watching the green expand into blankets of green, twisty spirals or leafy fans across the farm.

Thomas Peery

Thomas Peery

Garden Educator Intern

Thomas is a native of Virginia who grew up outside of the City of Richmond in Henrico County. In 2017, he left Henrico and moved to Harrisonburg, where he has been studying Integrated Science and Technology (ISAT) at JMU. His concentration is in environmental science, and his main academic interests are in natural resource and wildlife management, water and soil quality, sustainability, and ecology. Thomas loves to stay busy and is currently working as both a site developer for the JMU Collegiate Wind Competition Team and as a network designer and developer for the JMU CubeSat Team. 

With a newfound appreciation for environmental sustainability, Thomas aims to create a future where the Earth and its people can prosper and live peacefully. He loves rock climbing, and in his free time you’ll most likely find him hanging from a rock somewhere in the forest or in the gym. He also loves taking walks and playing music with friends!

If you were a vegetable, what would you be?
I would be arugula. On the outside, arugula looks just like an ordinary leaf. If you take the time to try it though, you’ll soon see that it’s full of flavor and life!

What do you love about farming?
Growing and eating your own food is an incredible experience from start to finish. The planting and growing stages of farming bring us together as we work hard to achieve a common goal. When it’s finally time to harvest, we get to share the fruits of our labor with those around us, knowing that we are also working to reduce our environmental footprint.

Rachel Smith

Rachel Smith

Food Access Intern

Rachel is a recent graduate from Blue Ridge Community College and will be transferring to Virginia Tech in the fall of 2020 to study Dietetics. Rachel is fascinated by the relationship between food and well-being. In the next few years at Virginia Tech, she aims to learn as much as she can about nutrition and healthy eating. Rachel is super excited to be working with Project GROWS to help her community have access to healthier food choices! Rachel will be assisting with the Staunton City Schools summer meal prep and meal distribution, working on the farm, and helping facilitate curbside pickup for our farmer’s markets this summer.

In her free time, Rachel loves to grow a variety of indoor plants and make floral arrangements whenever she can, go for long runs, and listen to podcasts. 

If you were a vegetable, what would you be?
If I were a vegetable, I would be a carrot. I have a very well-grounded demeanor and am pretty down-to-earth. Also, I can seem a little rough around the edges at first, but can turn out to be surprisingly sweet.

What do you love about farming?
I admire the practice of farming, and I feel like in today’s era, it’s pretty easy to forget the effort and dedication it takes to farm food. I don’t have a lot of first-hand experience with large-scale farming, but I have always enjoyed getting my hands dirty in the garden and watching nature triumph into colorful and unique fruits and veggies. I’m looking forward to learning more about farming by working with Project GROWS.

Hannah Topczewski

Hannah Topczewski

Marketing/Digital Media Intern

Hannah was raised in Cleveland, Ohio, and found her way down to JMU searching for warmer weather and a new adventure. In the fall she will be starting her senior year, studying Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communications. She has a passion for environmental and social justice and makes them an active part of her studies and research. Healthy living and eating have always been a big part of her life, and she is very excited to dive deeper and learn more about the workings of a local farm and the impact it has on surrounding communities. 

Hannah is thrilled to be part of the Project GROWS team this summer as their Marketing/Digital Media Intern, working virtually with the farmer’s market. In her free time, she enjoys practicing yoga, hiking (Virginia trails are much better than Ohio’s!), embracing and exploring life with friends, and checking out local farmer’s markets.

If you were a vegetable, what would you be?
A cucumber. The saying, “as cool as a cucumber” is pretty representative of how I live my life – relaxed and embracing life as it comes. Also, I love pickles.

What do you love about farming?
I love that it connects you with the Earth. It allows you to form a deeper appreciation of where your food comes from. And I think seeing the process of the produce growing is kind of magical. 

 

Erika Dabney

Erika Dabney

Summer Staff

Erika is a sophomore studying Environmental Studies at George Mason University. This is her second summer at Project Grows, her experiences on the farm have changed her passions from engineering and environment to food access and agriculture. To Erika nothing shows love for your neighbor more than food!

In her spare time, Erika likes finding new places to paddleboard in the Valley and following a painting tutorial on YouTube.

 

If you were a vegetable, what would you be?
I would be arugula! I can have a distinct peppery bite, but all together a nice addition to a plate.

What do you love about farming?
What I love about farming is that it’s not for everyone. Farming can be hard, but the payoff is like no other.

 

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