Ruminate supports food systems with a conscience and fosters smarter connections between good people and good food.
 

our team

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Kara Kaminski-Killiany | Executive Director

Kara sees repairing the food system as the most fundamental way to impact some of humanity’s greatest woes. The inability to feed our families well breeds anger. Childhood hunger has ramifications throughout entire lives. Externalized costs of certain industry players ravage our environment and in turn, our health. Chemicals are now regularly present in what we eat. What troubles her further is that food is too often politicized and the deep urgency in our need for action can make those who care deeply too forceful in how they try to enact change. Kara looks to turn the tide with her team at Ruminate.

She brings a decade of experience growing innovative programs from concept to scale to her role as Executive Director. She has worked across several continents, in many fields, breaking down and translating complex information into learnings that are in turn used to educate and inspire action. She believes in educating and building programs that keeps in mind how real humans, with all of our illogical quirks, work and learn. An economist and researcher at heart, she believes in the power of evidence based research while never losing sight of the power of human connection and passionate people. On her days off, Kara enjoys engaging with her local food scene through Slow Food West Michigan and indulging in all of the local, humane, sustainable cuisine she can stroll her daughter to, steps of her home in Grand Rapids, MI.

Kara’s mission @ Ruminate, this year, to engage stakeholders outside of the “good food” world into the food change conversation.

 
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Monika Krol | Food Anthropologist

Monika is committed to using her human-centered research skills to make the food system. or parts of it, more democratic, sustainable, healthy, ethical and culturally appropriate. She is keen to understand the interrelationship between food and culture in communities and society as a whole and connect an ethnographic and historical perspective, with contemporary social issues in food production and consumption systems, to create horizontal relationships based on data and discourse to generate social change.

In 2017 she completed her master’s degree in Cultural Anthropology, with a concentration in Sustainable Citizenship from Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Her thesis examines the role of The Hague in building a sustainable city in a changing environment caused by climate change. The research focuses on the connection between local rural and urban sustainable food initiatives and The Hague’s government Climate Plan mission to become CO2 neutral by 2040. During her bachelor’s degree in social science at Ramapo College of New Jersey she conducted a 6-month field study testing various park waters for contamination and its impact on the environment, health and well-being of the Lenape Tribe of Ramapough. She has over a decade of experience as an administrative professional and project manager and is currently starting a new chapter in developing a career in the non-profit sector working to bring meaning to her work and contribute to a cause she is passionate about.

She splits her so-called free time between the Meadowlands Museum in Rutherford as research curator and Utrecht University NYC alumni ambassador. She cherishes her time with her cat, Oscar and dog, Emma Sage and determined to collect as many stamps on her passport as possible before its expiration date.

Monika’s Ruminate mission is to bring academia outside the classroom. To bridge those often marginalized, often excluded from the narrative, in creating emancipatory knowledge and active political engagement to campaign for human equality, sustainable food and environmental justice.

 

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Sam Stroebel | Community Outreach Coordinator

At Ruminate, Sam bridges her specialty food industry experience as a cheese professional with her background as a community organizer for issues including food justice and educational equity. She believes that building relationships and mobilizing people often starts at the kitchen table. She hopes to continue learning, teaching, and spreading food for thought through her work at Ruminate and through Riding Curdy, her small business offering cheese services through pop-up events, educational tastings, and food collaborations.

When she’s not working on allyship and advocating for cheese, she’s outside exploring and learning from nature. She lives and breathes food and loves making breakfast (especially cheesy waffles). She enjoys traveling near and far places, studying astrology, collecting rocks, and spending time with animals.

Sam’s mission @Ruminate, this year, is to build a more supported and collaborative food community by connecting industry members and providing them with resources that allow them to take agency in building a more sustainable and equitable food system. By building mutual support in our industry she believes we can tackle the various issues that we face in our country and abroad. Our food system needs to change and that can only happen through learning from each other, the animals, and the land.

 
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Sascha Anderson | Education Director

After over a decade of work in the specialty food industry and a lifetime dedicated to activism, Sascha endeavors to marry the two into transforming our food system. After requesting cheese for Christmas throughout her childhood, Sascha parlayed a childhood love into work at her hometown cheese shop. From there Sascha spent several years teaching and developing curriculum and training programs at storied Murray’s Cheese. Through working directly with makers and producers of food, Sascha saw not only the thoughtful care that went into creating real food, but the myriad issues behind it: the true cost of labor, land use challenges, the impacts of climate change. Later work with orchard based cider makers and small food businesses reinforced her desire to change the system to better serve makers, laborers, and consumers of food.

In addition to her work in specialty food, Sascha spends her time as a community activist around issues of equity, including immigration, public safety, and public education, and she spends her downtime thinking about the points at which these intersect food: access to food with a conscience, fair labor standards for those who get food to our tables, the ways in which we think about food from an early age, and all of the other areas where food is intertwined with issues of justice. As Education Director, Sascha helps mold the excellence of producers and partners into a curriculum that enlightens and enlivens Ruminates educational programs. When not talking cheese and equity, she raises chickens, children, and calendula in the high desert of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Sascha’s mission @ Ruminate this year is to shed light on the issues of equity and access at all levels of our food system, while addressing our industry’s opportunities to positively impact issues like climate change, fair labor practices, and immigrant justice.

 
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Ryan Kaminski-Killiany | Creative Director

Bio coming soon.

 
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Nick Di Stefano | Behavioral Design Specialist

Nick is focused on research-based design and on learning, collaborating, and advocating for users. He has spent the last few years educating and providing resources for others to do the same. Since 2014, he has co-organized the Boston chapter of Action Design, an international nonprofit exploring the intersection of behavioral studies in economics, psychology, and design for advocacy and positive change. He served as Director of Education, VP, and Director of Partnership and Community Outreach for AIGA Boston. Nick currently works at Mendix, leveraging and advocating for behavioral design and design thinking practices within the emerging low-code space.

Nick’s mission @ Ruminate is to foster collaboration between people across aspects of our food system and leverage design thinking and behavioral studies to encourage people to discover ways to make positive changes with how they interact with their food.

 

board of directors

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Melanie Kwon-Duch | President
Business Strategy

Melanie Kwon Duch is currently a senior technical product manager at Amazon, where she bridges user research, business, and technology to build transparent financing solutions for millions of customers. Before joining Amazon, she spent five years working with nonprofits on issues of economic equality and financial security. She believes good design can lead to sustainable and positive behavioral change, and is passionate about the intersection of public policy, education, and identity. Melanie graduated from Brown University with a BA in Public Policy and received an MBA from the NYU Stern School of Business.

Melanie’s mission @ Ruminate is to answer the question: How can we reduce food waste and end overproduction while driving sustainable and equitable access to healthy, affordable food?

 
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Rebecca Baran Rees | Policy Strategy

Rebecca currently serves as the Food, Agriculture, and Sustainability Program Officer at the Santa Fe Community Foundation and as Project Director for MoGro, a mobile grocery initiative that supports sustainable local food systems and eliminates barriers to affordable healthy food. Rebecca has previously worked in prison reform, monitoring mental and medical health care in California State Prisons, and as a legal advocate for low-income families experiencing homelessness and the loss of their public benefits in New York State. She received a BA from UC Berkeley and a Graduate Degree from Cornell University in city and regional planning with an emphasis on community development and participatory planning.

Rebecca's mission @ Ruminate is to help push for broad social and environmental justice through food education, community building and direct advocacy.

 

 
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Connie Wang | Treasurer
Marketing & Communications

Connie is a marketing and communications strategist, writer and editor who believes in the power of storytelling to motivate people to action. She loves the concept of using a cheese board to describe the food system at both the macro and micro levels, even as it irresistibly compels people to gather on important issues.

As Group Vice President at Ruder Finn, an integrated communications agency, Connie advises clients on how to build their reputations and drive strategic results. She works with both blue chip companies and start-ups in the health, agriculture, restaurant and CPG industries, leveraging creativity and analytics for award-winning success. Connie graduated from Barnard College, Columbia University with an Economics degree and coursework in Environmental Science and Sustainable Development.

Connie’s mission @ Ruminate is to help spread the word far and wide so that one day the food systems of the U.S. and countries around the world might be more equal.

 
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Margo Roen

Margo Roen joined Education First this March as the founding Principal, Innovative Systems and Schools, where she works with school districts, state education agencies, researchers, and nonprofits across the country, all with a focus on creating more high-quality seats and more innovative and/or student-centric schools. Prior to this role, Margo was a founding member of Tennessee’s Achievement School District, where she served as the Deputy Superintendent. Margo has nearly fifteen years of experience thoughtfully and comprehensively supporting and advancing public education with an eye on equity and impact for kids and families. Her background includes working as an educator at the school (charter and traditional), city, and state level; as a teacher, administrator, strategic planner, and policy maker; and in Memphis, where she lives, and across the country. Margo holds a masters of public policy from Peabody College at Vanderbilt University and undergraduate degrees from Tulane University in business, dance, and arts administration. She also is an alum of Leadership Memphis’ Executive Program and Teach For America, and serves on the boards for multiple equity-focused nonprofit organizations.

Margo’s mission @ Ruminate is to push for sustainable systems change in the food industry as a way to dismantle inequities around food access and food quality.

 

Board of advisors

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Gordon Edgar

Gordon Edgar has been a cheesemonger and worker/owner at Rainbow Grocery Cooperative in San Francisco since 1994. He has judged numerous cheese competitions, spoken at cheese events all over the country, and written two books on cheese: Cheesemonger (2010) and Cheddar (2015). Additionally, Edgar has organized conferences for worker cooperatives and helped found the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives in 2004. Currently he still works behind a counter, writes an occasional cheese article and is a member of the American Cheese Society's Judging and Competition Committee.

Gordon's Mission @ Ruminate is to continue to try and bridge the gap between urban and rural communities by promoting the work and struggles of scale-scale cheesemakers to city people who may not have experience or knowledge of rural issues, farming, or even cheese as a food staple.

 
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Tia Keenan

Tia Keenan is a New York City-based writer, cheese specialist, cook, stylist, and community organizer. She writes the “Cheese Wisely” column for the Wall Street Journal, is a regular contributor to Bon Appetit and other food publications, and is the author of The Art of the Cheese Plate: Pairings, Recipes, Style, Attitude (Rizzoli, 2016), Short Stack Chèvre (Short Stack Editions, 2018) and Melt, Stretch, & Sizzle: The Art of Cooking Cheese (Rizzoli, 2018). Keenan lives in a "movement house" in Queens, New York City, with her husband – sommelier Hristo Zisovski – her son, a dog, a small flock of backyard chickens, and rotating cast of organizers, artists, and refugees. You should visit.

Tia's Mission @ Ruminate is to create food media that honors and amplifies the work of farmers, makers, and marginalized workers in the food industry.

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Elena Santogade

Elena is the producer and host of the cheese industry podcast, Cutting the Curd, and co-host of Wisconsin's The State of Cheese educational video series. Elena also facilitates Women in Cheese, a New York City based network of cheese professionals. She sits on the American Cheese Society Education Committee and judges cheese and specialty food competitions around the country.

Elena is based in Brooklyn, NY and is active in local city government as a member of her community board. While Elena's cheese career has been rooted in retail operations and sales, her pre-cheese-career background is in organizing and non-profit advocacy. She is also a self-proclaimed 'budgeting and tech geek'!

Elena's mission @ Ruminate is to advocate for fair labor practices and community health. She wants cheese businesses to be nurturing and profitable entities that also sustain a high quality of life for everyone involved.

 

 
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Louise Kennedy Converse

Louise Kennedy Converse is the owner of Artisan Cheese Company, an independent specialty cheese shop open 6 years in Sarasota, Florida. Louise recently relocated the shop to a larger space where she has launched an Apprentice Kitchen, partnering with Girl’s Incorporated, to teach young women about hospitality, how to cook, and the magic of cheese.

Prior to cheese, Louise was the deputy director of a multi-year initiative at Harvard Kennedy School on Community in America. During her 20 plus years on and off as a senior administrator at Harvard, she managed the national rollout of several book projects, coordinated and managed several multi-national conferences, an annual transnational two-week symposiums in England, and oversaw general fundraising and financial stewardship for the research program. But strangely she would find herself eavesdropping at the cheese counter at Formaggio Kitchen as often as she could. In between all of that, Louise also has a background in graphic design, and she dabbled for some time in the fine art world.

Further back, like most people wandering around looking for meaning, she spent some years working in restaurants. She is a bit of a techno geek. Louise is originally from England and Scotland. She's always loved cheese, and her first cheese memory was Stilton which she called sweaty socks cheese. Her descriptive vocabulary has since evolved. She has always wanted to open up a proper cheese shop, which she has done.

Louise's Mission @ Ruminate is to support the sustainability of the independent cheese shop in the wake of the growing big box/online marketplace monopolies. With that as a backdrop, she's always looking for opportunities to provide a better experience through service, product mix, and community connections.

 
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Lorraine Lewandrowski

Lorraine Lewandrowski is a working dairy farmer in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. Her family's Honeydale Farm works cooperatively with the adjoining Diaz Family Farm. Together, they are milking 200 cows who graze over several hundreds acres of wild and pretty lands of Upstate New York.

Lorraine Lewandrowski became a practicing attorney after the government attempted to seize Honeydale to serve as a landfill for New York's garbage. After beating eminent domain (thanks to Honeydale's resident threatened birds), Lorraine went to law school. Her clients have included the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly, dairy farmers, land owners, municipalities and cheesemakers.

The art and science of cheese is a fascinating topic for Lorraine. A graduate of Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese (VIAC) program at University of Vermont, she helps out occasionally at local cheese plants. Lorraine likes practical projects and has served on some New York State commissions including the Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor Commission and the New York State Solid Waste Management Board. She is currently working with Farm Women United advocating for farmers in crisis. Lorraine comes from a long line of militant dairy farmers and wishes she could be a member of a French dairy farmers union.

Lorraine's Mission @ Ruminate is to share her love of farmers, landscapes, and dairy.

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Carlos Yescas

Carlos Yescas founded Lactography in Mexico City, serves as the Consejero Rector of the Instituto Mexicano del Queso, A.C., and is the Program Director of the Oldways Cheese Coalition.

Carlos is an experienced food advocate and business development professional with over 18 years supporting food producers and new businesses in global markets across Latin America, Europe, and the United States. He is passionate about finding innovative solutions to enable responsible business practices and encourage rural food production globally.

In his free time, Carlos is finishing a PhD in Politics and tries to spend time in the pottery studio working on the wheel.

Carlos' mission @ Ruminate is to explore his interests in topics of Latinx empowerment and visibility and open up spaces for other LGBTQ folks.


 

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