top of page

The 2023 Rural Food Forum

presented by the Green Rural Redevelopment Organization

and the Eva Clayton Rural Food Institute

Thursday, January 12, 2023
8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

The Vance-Granville Community College
Civic Center

200 Community College Rd, Henderson, NC 27536

Speakers List

Alice Ammerman.png

Alice Ammerman
Dr. Ammerman is interested in design, testing, implementation and dissemination of innovative clinical and community-based nutrition and physical activity interventions for chronic disease risk reduction in low income and minority populations. She is Director of the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HPDP), part of a national network of 26 CDC prevention research centers (PRCs) that work with community partners to identify public health problems to develop and evaluate prevention-focused public health interventions for wide dissemination, particularly in underserved communities. Dr. Ammerman and colleagues have developed and are testing the “Med-South” diet which is the Mediterranean diet adapted to agricultural availability and taste preferences in the Southeastern US. Her research addresses the role of sustainable food systems in health, the environment, and economic well-being, emphasizing the social determinants of health, particularly food access and food insecurity.  Dr. Ammerman teaches courses in Nutrition Policy and Public Health Entrepreneurship. She has a developing interest in Culinary Medicine to improve medical training programs and uses social entrepreneurship as a sustainable approach to addressing public health concerns.
Shorlette Ammons
Shorlette is a native of the small, rural community of Beautancus, North Carolina. She grew up with a  large family of farmworkers, cooks, and storytellers. She is a former children’s librarian, where she helped found the Wayne County Public Library’s community garden, with a Masters of Library Science (MLS) degree from North Carolina Central University in Durham, NC. She is currently the Program Director at Farm Aid and also serves on the inaugural USDA Equity Commission. She’s published several articles on the intersections of food, race and the impacts on and lessons gleaned from Black Country people. In her work and her daily life, she seeks to lift up and be informed by familial ancestors like her grandparents, Grandma Adell and Grandaddy Rasper, her daddy June, her aunts Annette and Aunt Lou, uncles Buck, Ross and LJ, cousin Brandon, as well as freedom fighters like Fannie Lou Hamer. She, her daughter and their schoondle, Lady, all call the Bull City home.
Sharon Harris Berrun
Mrs. Sharon H. Berrun is a member of the Haliwa-Saponi Indian Tribe of Hollister, North Carolina. She has been employed at the Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School for two years where she serves as the Title VI Indian Education Program Specialist for grades K-8 and also teaches 9th grade American Indian Studies. Prior to her employment at the school,  Mrs. Berrun served as the Youth Services Director for the Haliwa-Saponi Indian Tribe for 27 ½ years. 
Mrs. Berrun has been extremely  involved in her tribe since a very young age and is deeply rooted in American Indian culture, history, dance and art. Annually, throughout the year she actively participates in various powwows and other American Indian gatherings where she serves in capacities such as Emcee, Arena Director, Head Judge, and Native Artist as well as an American Indian Culture Consultant.  Mrs. Berrun has represented her people on many different platforms. She served as Miss Haliwa-Saponi 1990-91 and was the first Haliwa-Saponi Indian to obtain the crown and title of Miss Indian North Carolina in 1991-92. Mrs. Berrun also represented the Haliwa-Saponi People in competing for Miss Indian USA in 1992 where she was named a finalist and winner of the talent competition. 
Mrs. Berrun has been married to Mr. Octavio Berrun of the Mayan Indian Nation for over 17 years and they have one daughter, Amilia Berrun who is 15 years old!
Trasha Black
Innovator. Tenacious. Steward. Dr. Black, mother of 5, is the Owner and Executive Director of Genesis Project 1, Inc., a Critical Access Behavioral Health Agency, accredited by the Center on Quality and Leadership. She also the co-founder of Groundwater Solutions, Inc., a collaboration of healthcare providers, faith-based institutions, and nonprofits dedicated to addressing the social determinants of health such as housing, nutrition, economic development, safety, etc. Dr. Black was raised in the City of Charlotte and graduated from Wake Forest University with her Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Sociology. Dr. Blacks attained her Master of Arts degree and her PhD in Counseling from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. Dr. Black has cultivated 20 years of experience and is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor as well as a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor & Supervisor. Genesis Project 1, Inc. currently serves families and individuals in the greater Charlotte area and is committed to providing community-based interventions that combat overall issues associated poverty, addiction, oppression, abuse and disease. Her treatment and research interests include Psychological Trauma, Family Systems and Cultural Competence, African American Men’s issues and Recovery Based Systems of Care. Dr. Black is affiliated with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., Minority Coalition of Health Care Providers of Color and the NC Peer Support Expert Commission. Genesis Project’s goal is “Changing the World One Family at a time”.
Jonathan Brereton
Jonathan Brereton is President of Small Business Capital at the NC Rural Center and Executive Director of Thread Capital. He is also a Principal of Revolve Asset Management. 
The NC Rural Center manages a variety of small business capital programs, each of which is designed to expand access to capital for small and emerging businesses. Jonathan is responsible for programs include NC’s SSBCI program(s), NC Rapid Recovery (a COVID program), CornerSquare Community Capital, and Thread Capital.   
Thread Capital is a new CDFI based in Raleigh, North Carolina. It provides capital, coaching, and connections to low-to-moderate income entrepreneurs across North Carolina with an emphasis on entrepreneurs of color and women. Launched in 2018, it has made more than 1,500 loans totaling more than $80 million. 
Revolve Asset Management is focused on developing capitalization and liquidity strategies for CDFI small business lenders. Its current efforts are concentrated on the growth of Entrepreneur Backed Assets (EBA) Fund. EBA Fund is building a secondary market for CDFI originated microloans and CRA motivated bank buyers across the United States.  
Prior to his move to North Carolina, Jonathan was CEO of Accion in Chicago (now Allies for Community Business) and involved in a variety of efforts to expand access to entrepreneurship including development of The Hatchery Chicago. Jonathan graduated from Wheaton College (IL) with a degree in Business and Economics. He lives in Zebulon, North Carolina with his wife and two daughters.
Michael Carter
Michael Carter Jr. is an 11th generation farmer in the United States and is the 5th generation to farm on Carter Farms, his family’s century farm in Orange County, Virginia where he gives workshops on how to grow and market ethnic vegetables. In addition, he runs Africulture, a nonprofit dedicated to educating and expounding upon the principles, practices, plants and people of African descent that has contributed to
agriculture. He sits on the board of directors of the Montpelier Descendants Committee, the Virginia Association of Biological Farmers (VABF), Virginia Food Systems Council, The Center for Natural Capital, Virginia Agrarian Trust and Virginia Foodshed Capital
respectively. He serves as a fellow for the Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation. Michael was recognized as a 2020 Audubon Naturalist Society Taking Nature Black Regional Environmental Champion, the 2020 VSU Small Farm Outreach Agent of the year and Future Harvest Casa Farmer of the Foodshed for 2021. He acquired an agricultural economics degree from North Carolina A&T State University and has worked in Ghana, Kenya and Israel as an agronomist and organic agricultural
He presently consults with numerous governments, organizations, institutions, and individuals throughout the region and nation on food access, food security/insecurity, market outreach, social and economic parity/equity/evaluation programs, racial understanding, immersion, history, and cultural training, among other areas. As a cliometrician, curriculum developer, and program coordinator for his educational, cultural, and vocational platforms, Hen Asem (Our Story) and Africulture, he also teaches and expounds on the contributions of Africans and African Americans to agriculture worldwide and trains students, educators, and professionals in African cultural understanding, racial literacy, empathy, and implicit bias recognition. He happily assists his sons in running their respective businesses, Carter Brothers and Sunnyside Entertainment, when not coaching soccer or mentoring young people in his community.

Stacy Dean
Stacy Dean was appointed by President Biden to serve as the Deputy Under Secretary for USDA’s Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services where she will work to advance the President’s agenda on increasing nutrition assistance for struggling families and individuals as well as tackling systemic racism and barriers to opportunity that have denied so many the chance to get ahead.
Prior to joining President Biden’s Team at USDA, Dean served as the Vice President for Food Assistance Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).  She directed CBPP’s food assistance team, which published frequent reports on how federal nutrition programs affect families and communities and developed policies to improve them.   
In addition to her work on federal nutrition programs, Dean directed CBPP efforts to integrate the delivery of health and human services programs at the state and local levels. Before joining CBPP, she worked as a budget analyst at the Office of Management and Budget.  
Dean earned her B.A. and master’s degree in public policy from the University of Michigan. 

Bob Etheridge
Bob Etheridge was appointed by the Biden Administration to serve as the State Executive
Director of the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) in North Carolina in October 2021.
Etheridge is a dedicated public servant with a long history of service to his country, beginning with two years in the U.S. Army. First elected in 1996, he served 14 years in Congress, representing North Carolina’s 2nd District. For 12 years, Etheridge served on the House Agriculture Committee and for two years as Chairman of the General Farm Commodity and Risk Management Subcommittee. Previously, he was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives and served as State Superintendent of Public Instruction for eight years.


Etheridge returns to USDA after being appointed by President Obama as FSA State
Executive Director for North Carolina in 2013, where he served until January 2017. Etheridge has a beef cattle operation and timber acreage. During his time away from the Agency, he participated in a clean water project by installing fencing and a new water system for his cattle. Etheridge is a member of several organizations and previously served as president of the Rotary Club and Shriners Masonic Lodge. He also holds conferred doctorate degrees from Campbell University, Fayetteville State University, Pfeiffer University, and Shaw University. In 2002, Campbell University inducted Etheridge into the Athletics Hall of Fame. Etheridge was born in Sampson County, North Carolina, but currently lives in Lillington with his wife Faye, a retired public educator. They have three children and nine grandchildren. Etheridge plays basketball every Tuesday and enjoys spending quality time on his farm, feeding cows, and occasionally baling hay.

Debra C. Farrington, MSW, LCSW
Debra C. Farrington, NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Deputy Secretary/ Chief Health Equity Officer is a native North Carolinian reared and educated in rural Columbus County.  Through her humble beginnings in Chadbourn, Debra learned the value of family, hard work and perseverance. From her mother, who raised five children after being widowed at the age 28, Debra learned to work diligently, never give up on your dreams and always strive for better.  Debra’s values of fairness, equity, and concern for others along with her deep faith were shaped by her grandparents and mother, a factory worker who didn’t finish high school but earned her GED at the age of 45. With their love, support and guidance, Debra received a BA in Psychology and Master of Social Work degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a licensed clinical social worker with over 30 years of experience in community-based services for children and adults with behavioral health needs. 

Debra joined the Medicaid program in October 2016 as a member of the transformation design team and was later appointed chief of staff, providing support to the Deputy Secretary on overall program vision, leadership, and strategic direction to NC Medicaid. Several of Debra’s biggest priorities during her tenure as chief of staff was to address equity in hiring, career advancement and health equity policies for historically marginalized individuals. 

As the Deputy Secretary/Chief Health Equity Officer, Debra’s focus is on addressing health disparities and the health needs of North Carolina’s most vulnerable citizens.  The Health Equity portfolio key objectives include building and maintaining trust between DHHS and communities, engaging individuals and communities to receive feedback and input on health equity strategy and ensuring robust data is available and utilized to drive decision making around prioritization of strategies and tactics and resource allocation. The portfolio is made up of committed and insightful leaders and staff in the Offices of Rural Health, Health Equity and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Ruby Jones Gerald
Currently serves as the Health Liaison for North Carolina Central University in Halifax County, North Carolina.  Ms. Gerald has worked in the health care field for more than 30 years with a focus on research and health advocacy.  Understanding the need for better health outcomes in communities which have high disparities related to food and nutrition issues, she volunteers on several health-related boards and community agencies.
Morgan Wittman Gramann, JD
Morgan joined the North Carolina Alliance for Health (NCAH) in 2015. In addition to her role as executive director, she also serves as one of NCAH’s registered lobbyists. Passionate about healthy equity and policy change, Morgan has been an advocate for public health since 2006, when she began advocating for commercial tobacco use prevention and cessation policies. Morgan earned her JD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law and her BA in Anthropology from American University in Washington, DC. She is an active member of the North Carolina State Bar. Morgan lives in Durham with her husband, three children, and 19-year-old cat.
Lisa Macon Harrison
Lisa Macon Harrison, local health director in Granville and Vance Counties in North Carolina, has worked at the intersection of public health research and practice in North Carolina since 1995. Ms. Harrison’s areas of expertise and public health leadership and training include: 
·      Advocating for the Public Health Workforce and Rural Health
·      Establishing the NC Practice-Based Research Network (PBRN) and Rural Academic Health Department Models
·      Training the Public Health Workforce in Evidence-Based Public Health Approaches
·      Directing the NC Office of Healthy Carolinians and Health Education at NCDPH
·      Leading the North Carolina Public Health Incubator Collaboratives Program
·      Directing the Southeast Public Health Leadership Institute (SEPHLI)
·      Facilitating a 5-county regional Stepping Up Initiative in northeastern NC to better address and treat mental health and substance use disorder needs among those who are justice-involved 
·      Creating integrated care models for individuals and improving systems of care for communities
·      Addressing health equity during the COVID-19 pandemic response in Granville and Vance Counties

Ms. Harrison previously worked with the NC Center for Public Health Quality, the NC Division of Public Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on a Public Health Infrastructure grant for performance improvement.  

Lisa has a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Health, a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy and a Master of Public Health (MPH) from the Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC Chapel Hill.  She is a co-author on more than 30 peer-reviewed publications in public health.  Lisa remains associated with UNC-Chapel Hill as an adjunct research associate in the Public Health Leadership Program, and as a consultant adjunct with the Duke University School of Nursing.  Lisa helped establish the Rural Academic Health Department model for GVPH which receives approximately $1,000,000 per year in grant funds.  She served as President of the NC Public Health Association in 2015 and was elected to represent five southern states on the Board of Directors of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) 2018-2022 where she now serves as Past-President. Lisa was also recently invited to serve as a member of the NC Institute of Medicine (NCIOM) for a five-year term beginning in 2019 and co-chairs the NCIOM “Future of Public Health” task force.
Carmen Samuel-Hodge
Dr. Samuel-Hodge is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health and School of Medicine.  She is also the Evaluation Core Director at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Duke University’s School of Medicine. With a background in biology and nutritional science, she first worked as a public health nutritionist for 9 years in the Virgin Islands, and later returned to the U.S. to complete her doctoral training in public health nutrition at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.  Her research has focused on chronic diseases that disproportionately affect African Americans and other racial/ethnic minority populations.  In particular, her research focuses on clinical and community-based diabetes self-management training programs for African Americans with type 2 diabetes, behavioral weight loss programs for low income women, and cardiovascular disease prevention programs that show participants how to change their eating habits and physical activity behaviors to reduce their risk.  More recently, she has expanded her interests to include developing and testing family-centered interventions that help African American families play a more positive role in helping family members take better care of their diabetes.  


Dr. Samuel-Hodge now serves as co-lead investigator (Co-PI) on two research projects funded by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)) to test a Southern-style Mediterranean dietary pattern for weight loss and cardiovascular disease risk reduction. Since 2015, she has served in an ‘embedded’ role as a “Translation and Research Implementation Specialist” at a rural Academic Health Department (Granville-Vance Public Health).
Fred Johnson
Assistant Professor, Duke Department of Family Medicine and Community Health servicing as Vice Chief of the Division of Community Health. In the past twenty years I have organized and served on many community collaboratives throughout the Kerr-Tar region, Durham and Wake County.  I am Currently a board member and Treasurer of GRRO.  
Sandi Kronick
Sandi is an ardent supporter of organic family farmers and proud business partner of 16 growers. Since founding Happy Dirt (formerly Eastern Carolina Organics) in 2004 with a group of farmers, Sandi Kronick has been one of the leaders working to build a sustainable organic food system in North Carolina and beyond. What started as a small pilot project hoping to help organic tobacco farmers diversify their organic acreage for the future of their farms and rural communities, Happy Dirt has grown to pay hundreds of organic farmers millions of dollars, supporting many farmers transitioning into organic vegetable production. Sandi is committed to creating a more equitable food system for all, and has stoked critical conversations around sustainable business, mindfulness and mental health, anti-racism in the food system and employee engagement.


Sandi received her B.A. in Environmental Studies from Oberlin College, and currently serves as the Chairperson of the USDA’s Administrative Council for Southern SARE and a Board member for the Black Farmers Market.  She has given hundreds of workshops about the sustainable food movement; integrity and transparency in the supply chain; and all aspects of the Happy Dirt business model including financing, marketing, employee engagement, and grower-ownership. The magic that fuels Happy Dirt is the authentic connection between our farmers and our buyers, and we're just the lucky ones who get to serve as that bridge.
Ted Lord
Ted Lord joined the Golden LEAF Foundation in 2005 as a program officer and now serves as senior vice president and general counsel. Golden LEAF is a nonprofit organization established in 1999 to receive a portion of North Carolina’s funding from the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement with cigarette manufacturers. It focuses on promoting economic development in rural, tobacco dependent, and economically distressed areas of North Carolina.  Over two decades, Golden LEAF has funded 2,058 projects totaling more than $1.1 billion. These projects have helped create 66,000 jobs, more than $700 million in new payrolls, and have trained more than 90,000 workers.  Ted works with the Community Based Grants Initiative, the Open Grants Program, the Economic Catalyst Program, the SITE Program, and a variety of special projects and initiatives. 
Ted’s duties include discussing projects with potential applicants, conducting due diligence regarding proposals, and monitoring projects after grants are awarded. He also helps develop policies and programs to implement the priorities of the Golden LEAF Board and identifies and addresses legal issues related to programs and projects. Before joining Golden LEAF, Ted was a fellow and special projects coordinator for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, served as law clerk to the Honorable James A. Beaty, Jr., United States District Judge, and practiced law with a firm in Greensboro. 
Ted was born and raised in North Carolina. He attended Swarthmore College and Wake Forest University School of Law.
Mary Jane Lyonnais
Mary Jane Lyonnais is a Regional Planner specializing in Food Systems for the Upper Coastal Plain Council of Governments. Mary Jane received her undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and her Masters of Public Health at East Carolina University. She spent the last 5 years in Northeastern NC as a Healthy Foods Coordinator for a District Health Department working to increase access to healthy foods in rural North Carolina communities. She now coordinates a Food Systems Economic Development Project to strengthen urban-rural connectivity through food in partnership with two adjacent Councils of Governments: The Kerr-Tar and Triangle J. Mary Jane is passionate about understanding the underlying causes and solutions for health and economic disparities in North Carolina and believes the food system to be a driving force to do so.
Michelle Schroeder-Moreno
Dr. Michelle Schroeder-Moreno is the new Director at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) at North Carolina (NC) State University and a Agroecology Professor in the Department of Crop & Soil Sciences at NC State.  CEFS is a longstanding partnership among a multidisciplinary team of faculty and staff at NC State University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NCA&T), and Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services.  Located in Goldsboro, North Carolina, CEFS at Cheery Farm has one of the largest facilities (2,000 acres) of its kind nation-wide dedicated to sustainable agriculture and food systems research, education and extension programming. CEFS sustainable agriculture research projects focus on long-term farming systems impacts, agriculture and climate change, soil health, weed ecology, organic grain and vegetable production, pasture based beef and dairy systems and agroforestry to name a few. CEFS food system projects are also diverse and include understanding economic impacts of local food procurement, developing local food to school and early childcare programs and understanding impacts of race and equity in the food system.

Over the course of her career, Dr. Schroeder-Moreno has taught more than 1,500 students and mentored numerous students in research focused in agroecology. Dr. Schroeder-Moreno provided leadership for the Agroecology Education Programs at NC State University, which includes a new Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems Bachelors of Science major and the Agroecology Education Farm that is dedicated to hands-on education for diverse students and the surrounding community. She has published diverse peer-review articles than span broad topics from research in active student-centered learning to sustainable strawberry production, soil health, and management of beneficial mycorrhizal fungi and has led or collaborated on grants totaling over $7 million. Dr. Schroeder-Moreno was one of the founding members of the national Sustainable Agriculture Education Association (SAEA) helping to elevate agroecology as a discipline and was recognized for her innovation in agroecology education and teaching receiving the 2019 United States Department of Agriculture APLU National Teaching Award.
Larry Morris
Larry serves as the Director of Network Engagement at the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina. He has worked with the Food Bank since 1993. 
He is the Food Bank’s technical expert for agency compliance issues related to Food Bank and Feeding America policies. He leads a team that is responsible for ensuring agency engagement and compliance for nearly 700 partner agencies in a 34-county service area. Larry has extensive experience in Food Bank disaster relief efforts in response to hurricanes, ice storms, tornadoes, and the COVID-19 pandemic. He helped to coordinate the Food Bank’s participation in five national hunger research studies from 1993 through 2013. Larry also has served on Feeding America’s Agency Relations Council. He has presented numerous times at Feeding America conferences; sharing information and experiences from the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina with other agency relations professionals from food banks throughout the U.S. 
In his spare time, Larry enjoys spending quality time with his family, working out, gardening and reading anything related to astronomy.
Cheryl Parquet
Cheryl Parquet is the Director of Community Engagement and Marketing Activation at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC), the state’s largest health insurer. She is responsible for the development and implementation of all corporate-based philanthropic initiatives including community investments, strategic partnerships and outreach programs, employee volunteerism, sports sponsorships and activation, marketing events to help improve the health and wellness of North Carolinians. In 2019, Parquet was appointed to serve on the Commission for Volunteerism and Community Service by Governor Cooper. She is an active board member for Durham Children's Initiative, Girls Scouts of Coastal Pines NC, Leadership North Carolina, Leadership Triangle, UNC Board of Visitors, Institute of Emerging Issues, and Wake Technical Community College Foundation. Parquet is a Goodmon Fellow and a graduate of Leadership North Carolina Class of XXVI. She is a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc Durham Alumnae Chapter and The Durham Rotary Club. Parquet earned her Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, holds a Certificate in Nonprofit Management and Corporate Social Responsibility from Duke University and a Certificate in Diversity and Inclusion from Cornell University. She is married and has two children.
Omari Richins
Omari Richins, MPH is a public health thought partner and equity agent. Omari works as a Health Improvement Program Officer for Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust where he works in community to improve health and well-being of marginalized communities using an equity and population health lens. Omari engages with residents in some of North Carolina’s most vibrant yet underserved communities, to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table in improving their community’s health and well-being. He is the founder of The Public Health Millennial, a media platform aimed at helping public health people navigate their career journeys. This consists of a social media platforms, online community, and his podcast - Public Health Careers. Prior to this role, Omari worked as a Community Health Fellow at the Mat-Su Health Foundation after graduating with his Master of Public Health degree in the concentration of Health Management and Policy from the University of Florida. Omari has a unique worldview, being originally from Trinidad and Tobago, while also having lived in the Sultanate of Oman, Florida, Alaska, and now North Carolina.
Melissa Roupe
Melissa Young Roupe, MSN, RN is the Vice President for Healthy Opportunities at Access East, Inc.  Melissa, a registered nurse for over 30 years, has held a variety of roles focused on Patient Care, Safety, Quality, Disease Management and Health Promotion.  As a graduate of East Carolina University, she understands the many unique challenges and opportunities within eastern NC.
In her current role with Access East, Melissa provides visionary leadership to improve the health and well-being of community members in eastern NC.  As a native eastern North Carolinian, Melissa understands the challenges of rural eastern NC and appreciates the value of partnerships to move the needle on difficult health issues.  Through the development of innovative, non-traditional partnerships, Melissa is leading Access East, Inc.’s efforts to address social determinants of health through the Healthy Opportunities Pilot.
Melissa lives in Greenville, NC with her husband, Tom.  They have two children, Zachary (23 years old) and Lauren (18 years old).  In her free time, Melissa enjoys spending time with her family and preparing many new recipes.
Pamela Gibson Senegal 
President, Piedmont Community College 
Dr. Pamela Gibson Senegal has served as president of Piedmont Community College since 2017. She recently completed the Aspen New President’s Leadership Fellowship program in June of 2021. She mentors doctoral students at NC State University and at Winthrop University, where she also serves on dissertation committees.  She is a lifelong educator who is committed to ensuring that educational opportunities are available equitably to all communities. With more than 22 years of experience in both industry and education, she brings strengths in economic development and partnership creation.  Her dedication to public service is seen in her work on various boards: Person Memorial Hospital, UNC Chapel Hill World View Council of Advisors, Roxboro Savings Bank, Person and Caswell Economic Development Boards, membership in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., Occoneechee Council member for Boy Scouts of America and in various roles at her church.  Senegal earned degrees in Political Science and Spanish (Bachelor’s), Public Administration (Master’s) and Adult and Community College Education (Doctorate of Education) from North Carolina State University.  Senegal has three sons, two of whom are Eagle Scouts, graduates of Hampton University and Winston Salem State University, and one who is a high school student at the Person Early College for Innovation and Learning (PECIL).  
Walter Smith
I was born and raised on a family farm in Robeson County that grew tobacco, cotton, corn, soybeans, and small grains. We also had a beef cattle and swine operation. After graduating from high school, I attended North Carolina State University. While there I was involved in many campus activities and was on the varsity football team that won the 1973 ACC Football Championship. I retired from USDA and currently live in Yadkinville where I own and operate a poultry farm. I also grow industrial hemp in Yadkin and Robeson counties. I have been active in promoting the hemp industry in North Carolina and lobbying the North Carolina General Assembly on behalf of the hemp industry.   I have two grown sons. I am a member of North Oak Ridge Baptist Church where I have served as a Sunday School Teacher and on various Church Committees. I have coached baseball and football for K-8th grade children and served as a volunteer for field days for special needs children in Yadkin County. 
Ashlyn B. Smith-Sullivan – Chef / Owner
Chef Ashlyn Smith-Sullivan is a graduate of Johnson & Wales University, Providence, RI, where she received her Associate’s and Bachelor’s Degree in Culinary Arts. Prior to starting her culinary education, she was the Grand Prize Winner of the 2002 National High School Recipe Contest. While at JWU, Chef Smith-Sullivan worked in the Culinary Events Department where she executed culinary and pastry events for the University for visiting lecturers (Emeril Lagasse, Tyler Florence and Ming Tsai) and corporate events for Nations Restaurant News, Rodney Strong Winery and Longhorn Steakhouse. She additionally taught in the Culinary Education Department, and served as chef for private dinners for the JWU President. Upon graduation Chef Ashlyn trained at the Alexander House Hotel in West Sussex, England, Casanova Restaurant in Carmel, CA and locally at Four Square Restaurant in Durham, NC. Also, during this time, she served as the Foundation Development Coordinator at the Professional Culinary Institute in San Jose, CA responsible for coordinating culinary scholarships for under-privileged students. Her passion for food led to the opening of Spicy Green Gourmet, LLC Personal Chef Catering in 2008 and then to Spicy Green Gourmet Café & Catering in 2011. The Café is currently closed due to Covid-19, but catering is in full swing to the community’s seniors and youth.  During her travels the passion for serving the community lead her to Green Rural Redevelopment Organization, LLC where she is the Executive Chef of the Dr. Andrea Harris Food Hub. Chef Ashlyn has a unique love and passion for the essence of food, especially local naturally grown, that is demonstrated through her cuisine. She promotes this attitude with her hands-on involvement with local farms and participation in area Farmer’s Markets. In addition to her restaurant responsibilities, Chef Ashlyn (or Chef “A”) was a Culinary Instructor at the Art Institute of Raleigh/Durham where she taught Culinary Fundamentals, Purchasing/Storeroom. Intro To Baking and additional regional cuisines. She continues to instill her passion for culinary arts into future chefs.
Linden Thayer
Linden Thayer, PhD is the Assistant Director of Food Systems Planning for Durham Public Schools, and the co-founder of Food Insight Group (FIG). She holds a PhD in Nutrition Intervention and Policy from UNC-Chapel Hill, and she relishes the opportunity to work across disciplines, social agendas, and geographies to build programs, policies, research, and connections that promote the health and wellbeing of communities. She has a particular passion for supporting schools’, students’, and families’ efforts to grow school food systems that support community wellbeing from farm to school to child. Food systems work is social justice work, and she believes that institutions like k-12 schools have an outsized role to play in the movement for healthy and strong regional food systems.
Tanya Weary
Tanya S. Weary has been the Executive Director of The Vance-Granville Community College Foundation since March 2022.  The Foundation cultivates and oversees an array of resources critical to VGCC’s success, as well as its students’ through scholarships; investments; grants; contributions; in-kind support; student emergency fund and The VGCC Food Pantry.  These resources allow VGCC to meet instructional, institutional and student needs that promote equitable outcomes for all learners. 
Weary began her career with VGCC in 2012 as the Small Business Center Director.  During her tenure as Director, she received from the Small Business Center Network the Center of Excellence Award for Most Impact.  Since that time, she has served in several roles at the college, including Dean of South Campus and the Dean of Business & Industry Solutions.  During her tenure at VGCC, she has focused to have an agricultural presence.  Under her leadership, the College was first in North Carolina to offer the NCREAL Agricultural Entrepreneurship program.  Weary is certified to teach the curriculum.  She has also successfully acquired agricultural grants, had approved a CCP Pathway in agriculture and ag entrepreneurship, and held the first ever agricultural camp during summer 2022.
Weary holds a B.A. in English from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a Masters in Public Administration from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.  She is a member of Pi Alpha Alpha, the National Honor Society for Public Affairs and Administration.   She also holds a MMC (Master Municipal Clerk) from the International Institute of Municipal Clerks.  She is a graduate of the Municipal and County Administration Course offered by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Government.  She also is a certified Business Counselor through the Small Business Center Network.  She has been awarded badges for Intuit Design Thinking Innovator and Global Entrepreneurship Catalyst.
In her spare time. she enjoys photography, gardening and her chickens, along with spending time with her husband, Michael and three sons, Trevor, Ronan and Alex, and assisting with their businesses located in her hometown of Oxford. 

Jessica Slider Whichard
VP of Communications & Public Policy at the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina

Jessica Slider Whichard joined the Food Bank in 2016 and was promoted to the role of Vice President of Communications & Public Policy in 2021. The communications and public policy team is responsible for all external and internal communication, advocacy, and strategic public policy work to strengthen awareness, education, and impact of the work of the Food Bank and hunger relief. Jessica previously held roles in the office of Vice President Joe Biden, and as a senior executive for strategic communications and engagement at the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs. She is a graduate of Southern Illinois University, where she received a bachelor’s degree, cum laude, in communications. She resides in Raleigh with her husband and two young daughters.
Leonard L. Williams
Dr. Leonard L. Williams currently serves as Director of the Center for Excellence in Post-Harvest Technologies (CEPHT) located on the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, NC.  
A member of numerous professional societies, Williams is widely recognized as a leading scholar and researcher focused on food safety and understanding the use of plant-derived nutrients to reduce peanut allergy.  His most recent publications examine how specific polyphenols from peanut skins can be an effective strategy for reducing hypersensitivity to peanuts in targeted populations.
He is co-author of one textbook, as well as, 101 peer-reviewed journal articles, 6 extension or outreach publications, 14 book chapters and more than 200 presentation papers and abstracts.  In 2017, he was awarded the Partnership Award, along with his collaborators, for research excellence from United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA).
He holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology, a Master of Science in Animal Health Science from North Carolina Agricultural Technical State University, a Master of Business Administration from Wake Forest University, and a PhD in Food Science and Technology, specializing in microbiology and immunochemistry from Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University.
Norbert Wilson
Norbert Wilson is a Professor of Food, Economics, and Community at the Duke Divinity School and a Professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. Norbert is the Director of the World Food Policy Center at Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. Currently, norbert is president of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.

His research touches on several food issues, such as access, choice, and food waste. Before Duke, Wilson was a professor of food policy at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University (2017-2020) and a professor of agricultural economics at Auburn University (1999-2016). While on leave from Auburn, Wilson worked on agricultural trade policy at the Organization of Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) in Paris, France (2001-2002 and 2004-2006).
Jen Zuckerman
Jen Zuckerman is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at Duke University’s World Food Policy Center. Her work focuses on people-first policy development for equitable food policy in the US.  As a result, she has supported research to demonstrate the racialized history of policies that have created the inequities in the food system of today, identifying strategies that shift power and decision making to community leadership.  
Prior to her current work, she spent twelve years at the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, serving as the Senior Program Officer for Healthy Living and the Director of Strategic Partnerships, focusing on increasing access to safe active environments and on providing sources for healthy, locally sourced food. 
Jen serves on the Board of the Sustainable Agriculture and Food System Funders Network and Communities in Partnership.  She also serves as the Chair of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems Advisory Board.

bottom of page