Monica Banks was raised by her baptist grandparents in Eastern Nebraska. Monica’s grandmother always said, “Leave a seat for Jesus at the table.” She spent most of her career as a restaurant manager and corporate trainer, opening restaurants in Kansas City, Omaha, Scottsdale, and New York. In 2016 Monica co-founded New Communion: Mobile Market and Pantry, an asset-based model of community development centered around food insecurity in the Winston-Salem area. Monica is currently a candidate for ordination with the North Carolina Commission on Ministry of The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She is passionate about the biblical narrative of “shared abundance” and believes that real reconciliation begins at the Table. The experience of the Eucharist outside the walls of the church allows us to truly experience the gospel. Monica is a wife, mother, and current 3rd year student at Wake Forest University School of Divinity.
The Rev. Sam Chamelin is proud to call Carroll County, MD home, where he grew up on a family dairy farm and where he now serves as an ordained clergyperson in the United Church of Christ. Sam is the founder of The Keep & Till, a new church expression founded on the principles of spiritual formation, sustainable agriculture, and ecological responsibility. He also serves as the Sustainability Coordinator at Gettysburg Seminary (ELCA), where he develops sustainability competencies and sensibilities for a new generation of ministry leaders. He also serves on a variety of local agricultural boards and councils, where he is a voice for sustainable agriculture and an advocate for ongoing conversation within the diverse elements of the agricultural community. He is most proud to be husband to Jennie and father to Caleb, Charlotte, and Brenna.
Eugene Cooke began working in the urban agriculture movement in Southern California. He was baptized in urban gardening with a full immersion mentorship with Adonijah Miyamura El in Los Angeles, developing Food Forestry at Crenshaw High school. The apprenticeship deepened Eugene’s awareness of the vital need to restore the soil and encourage tree and vegetable growth in urban areas. Eugene met Rashid Nuri in Los Angeles, and after two years of planning, they both came to Atlanta in 2006 to begin Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture. Since then, Eugene has continued growing his skills by traveling nationally and internationally to learn from exemplary local food systems. Eugene has worked in Jamaica with One Love Learning Foundation, in Haiti with League of Hope, and he traveled to Kenya twice to absorb the rich possibilities of small-scale, intensive local food systems. After years of working as an independent contractor supporting urban agriculture organizations, Eugene established Grow Where You Are LLC, to create a structure for the collaborative efforts of local food heroes to yield tangible results.
Nikki Cooley serves as the co-manager for the Tribal Climate Change Program at the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP). She is of the Diné (Navajo) Nation by way of Shonto and Blue Gap, AZ, and is of the Towering House Clan, born for the Reed People Clan, maternal grandfathers are of the Water that Flows Together Clan, and paternal grandfathers are of the Manygoats Clan. Nikki received her Bachelor’s and Master’s of Forestry (emphasis in ecological restoration and traditional ecological knowledge) from Northern Arizona University (NAU). For her undergraduate and Master’s studies she has worked extensively with the Cherokee Tribe of North Carolina, and now works at ITEP with tribes across the nation, including Alaska, on learning about and planning for the adaptation to current and future climate change effects. In addition, as a river guide and cultural interpreter working on the Colorado River-Grand Canyon and San Juan River, Nikki is the co-founder of the Native American River Guide Training Program and Fifth World Discoveries, was the first Native American President and Vice-President of the Grand Canyon River Guides Association (GCRG), and is a former associate director of the Native Voices Program. She also served a six year term as the first Native American to serve on the board of the Grand Canyon Association (GCA). She is very passionate about advocating for and education about the protection and preservation of the environment and its resources. Nikki fluently speaks her Navajo language and culture, and is committed to encouraging people to continue the path of a holistic respect and knowledge towards food and life.
Emma Garcia’s journey into work within the food system began in the charitable food sector. After 5 years of coordinating activity among food pantries and other charity sites, Emma began getting to know local small farms and developed connections with organizations across the food system. Feeling as though her eyes had been opened to an unfamiliar and important world, Emma found herself listening to webinars on soil and talking about social determinants of health – there was much to discover within the many facets of the food system. In the last two years Emma has focused her work at the intersection of food security, food justice, health equity, and Christian community development. As the Co-Executive Director of Access of West Michigan, Emma regularly presents on food system topics to a variety of audiences and chairs the Kent County Food Policy Council formation team and the food security workgroup of Invest Health Grand Rapids. Emma holds an M.A. in Ministry Leadership from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. Emma and her husband live in Grand Rapids, Michigan in an intentional community house with 6 other individuals and are active in the Boiler Room and 24/7 Prayer networks.
Matt Gundlach serves as Garden Coordinator for Blackburn Community Outreach, a Methodist-based non-profit in the rural mountain town of Todd, NC. Matt manages two biointensive garden plots, distributing produce to low-income households in the area, while also facilitating garden internships and volunteer workdays. He is currently working to expand the garden’s reach with both a market/CSA model and a full permaculture design for Blackburn’s Chapel UMC’s property. Matt grew up in Southern California, and after graduating from Biola University spent a volunteer year with Mission Year in Houston, TX, followed by an internship at Koinonia Farm in Americus, GA, which ignited his passion for learning and teaching about sustainable agriculture. Matt is a certified permaculture designer, a poet, a lay teacher at Blackburn’s Chapel UMC, and lives with his wife, Jaimie, who is also on staff with BCO.
Jonathan McRay is a farmer, ecological designer, writer, and community peacebuilder committed to the regenerative use of energy from the sun to rushing water, from calories to conflict. He grew up in the Appalachian Mountains of East Tennessee and worked in Palestine/Israel as a journalist, in nonviolent direct action in rural villages, and with a therapeutic community before learning on a community farm and resource center in Mozambique. He also assisted with an action research initiative for watershed restoration, served as the sustainability curriculum coordinator for a small university, co-facilitated the Uprooting Racism Farmer Immersion at Soul Fire Farm, and, for the last several years, lived in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where he primarily worked with Vine and Fig, a neighborhood education center and therapeutic community that cultivates and celebrates works of mercy, social justice, and ecological health to build a society in which it’s easier to be good. Jonathan is returning home to the Cumberland River watershed of Tennessee to practice his vocation near family.
Dave Pritchett grew up the child of missionaries in the foothills of Mt. Kenya, and is grateful for a formative childhood living alongside an indigenous culture. Now he lives in Portland, Oregon, and as an associate medical director for a detoxification center and as a permaculture teacher and designer, he works for the health and recovery of both people and landscapes. His research and writing combines his curiosity at the interface of ecology and theology, and he has an essay in the recently released Watershed Discipleship Anthology edited by Ched Myers. He enjoys volunteering his skills in organizations like Ecofaith Recovery and Portland Fruit Tree Project, and cherishes time spent with the Wilderness Way community.
Alex Raabe is the founding pastor of Table of Mercy, a dinner church in Austin, TX with roots in both the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Episcopal Church. Table of Mercy is centered on the belief that there is a need for a community of people excited about food but who hunger for something more. He is also beginning a partnership with a local Episcopal priest in creating a pop up farm church in Austin which is forming a faithful community connecting people, food, and the land. He is passionate about helping people understand where food comes from and how it connects us to God and one another. Working with both dinner church and farm church allows him to proclaim God’s presence in people’s lives from the seed to the harvest and from ground to plate. He believes gardening, care for creation, and cooking with strangers is a subversive act of faith that unites us in a world which seeks to keep us separate. Alex is a graduate of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (’14) and is ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Elizabeth (Liz) Richardson is currently serving as Assistant Director of Plenty!, a non-profit organization that nourishes community and feeds hungry neighbors by growing and sharing food in Floyd County, Virginia. She is also a faculty member at Springhouse Community School, where she helps facilitate a culture of connection to self, community and the earth via project-based learning for 7th-12th grade students. Liz grew up on a large family farm on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, which instilled a deep respect for the land and water that sustain us. Study abroad and research opportunities during her time at Virginia Tech furthered her interest in our complex food and agriculture systems, and provided a global perspective from places such as Ethiopia and Sri Lanka. Her vocation is driven by a desire to cultivate self-empowerment within others, restore reverence for creation, and serve from an attitude of gratitude and generosity.
Danny Szemple is a farmer-theologian, essayist, and seminarian at Wake Forest University School of Divinity. He has served two seasons as a farming intern at the Lord’s Acre in Fairview, NC and currently serves as a project manager and chaplain at Peacehaven Community Farm in Whitsett, NC. Danny has published a number of essays on a variety of topics including social justice, food, ecology, and creation care. He is currently working on his first book on the subject of eco-liturgy titled, “With Our Hands in the Earth: Experiments in Eco-Liturgy.”
Kendall Vanderslice is a baker and writer convinced that food and reconciliation go hand in hand. She holds a B.A. in Anthropology from Wheaton College (IL) and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University, where she studied the importance of the meal in fostering community. As the Head Baker at Simple Church, a United Methodist dinner church in Central Massachusetts, Kendall shares with others her love for a faith made known through the tactile, the taste of bread. She’s a liturgy-loving Anglican based in Somerville, MA, and blogs about the intersection of food, faith, and culture at www.AVandersliceoftheSweetLife.com.