SOSS 2017 Speakers


Salvatore Ceccarelli, independent consultant in crop breeding and plant genetic resources

Salvatore Ceccarelli was full professor of Agricultural Genetics at the Institute of Plant Breeding, University of Perugia, Italy until 1987.   In 1980 he started conducting research at ICARDA (the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas, Aleppo, Syria) as manager of the barley improvement program until 2006, and as a consultant until 2014.  Currently lives in India and is a freelance consultant.  During his career, he supervised nearly 25 MSc and PhD students, trained several scientists and published nearly 270 papers of which more than 150 in referee Journals; has been an invited speaker at nearly 30 international conferences.  He is currently involved in projects in Ethiopia, Jordan, Uganda, Iran and Europe. His areas of expertise are international plant breeding, genotype x environment interaction, breeding strategies, drought tolerance, participatory and evolutionary plant breeding, crop adaptation and use of genetic resources.  He interacts with scientists from countries in Latin and North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Jim Houston, California Department of Food and Agriculture

Jim Houston was appointed by Governor Brown as undersecretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture in January 2015, after serving the agency since 2011 as deputy secretary for legislation and public engagement. He was a senior account representative at BGS Group Consulting Inc. from 2004 to 2010, representing numerous entities involved in agriculture. He worked for the California Assembly from 2001 to 2004, serving as Legislative Director for Assembly Member Simon Salinas. He received a law degree from McGeorge School of Law in 2009.

Jane Dever, Texas A&M

Jane Dever is Professor and Project Leader of the Cotton Improvement Program at Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Lubbock.  She has a B.S. in Textile Technology, M.S. in Crop Science, and Ph.D. in Agronomy from Texas Tech.  Her research includes developing cultivars for organic cotton production and screening cotton germplasm collections for native traits to facilitate enabling technology useful for basic germplasm development. Jane is a cotton breeder, fiber quality expert, and genetic resources advocate; previously directing technical aspects of a public/private venture from conception to prominent global cottonseed company, and now leads a public cotton breeding program. She served on National Genetic Resources and Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research Advisory Councils.  She is currently National Association of Plant Breeders Communication Committee chair.

Tom Gradziel, University of California-Davis

Thomas Gradziel is a faculty member in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of California-Davis.  Dr. Gradziel’s research focuses on the development of improved breeding lines and varieties of almond and processing peach. In his teaching, he examines the genetic and agro-ecological components of tree crop production as well as effective problem-solving approaches in these complex, multidisciplinary systems.

Dave Yewman, Elevator Speech

Dave Yewman is a strategic communications expert with more than 20 years of experience in the field.  A former newspaper reporter and columnist, Dave has counseled senior executives at a variety of companies, managed communications teams and led business development efforts.  His clients include thousands of executives at numerous companies. He has spoken to numerous groups about how to use clear, concise, compelling language as a strategic weapon when dealing with reporters, employees, sales prospects, shareholders and consumers.  Dave was an award-winning reporter and columnist at The Galveston Daily News in Texas and an on-camera spokesman for The University of Texas Medical Branch.  He is a graduate of the University of Northern Colorado's school of journalism.

Lau Ackerman, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Lau Ackerman grew up in southwest Colorado on a dry land wheat farm.  He eventually made his way to Chico, CA to earn a degree in Agronomy at CSU, Chico and then spent two years in Paraguay, South America with the United States Peace Corps.  Lau worked for the CSU, Chico College of Agriculture for twelve years before spending a year in agricultural chemical research and then moving to Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in 2009 as their Agriculture Manager. 

Anders MacCarthy, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Anders MacCarthy is the Commercial and Quality Lead at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.  He is responsible for sourcing and supplying Sierra Nevada’s breweries with the finest ingredients in the world.  Anders graduated from UC Davis in 2013 with degrees in Food Science and Biochemistry.

Suzanne Ashworth, Del Rio Botanical

Suzanne is the owner and farmer at Del Rio Botanical, a 70 acre certified organic farm in Yolo County, California.  Her vast knowledge of specialty produce products is reflected in her farm’s seed production and publications including “Seed to Seed”, now in its seventh printing and second edition.  Other publications cover medicinal herbs appropriate for organic production in California and techniques for organic coffee production in Guatemala.  Suzanne lectures on reducing input costs in organic multicrop farm production, as well as on specialty crops for Consumer Supported Agriculture.  She is a former instructor for the Small Farm Center at University of California Davis where she now guests lectures and consults on Consumer Supported Agriculture and Farmers’ Market development.  Suzanne is also a Master and Chartered Herbalist, Dominion College and has masters degrees from the University of California in Davis and Sacramento.

Amy Kaplan, Vitalis Organic Seeds

Amy Kaplan is the Senior Organic Product Specialist for Vitalis in California.   She works with a wide range of organic vegetables, including arugula, lettuce, leek, and open field pepper.  Prior to joining the Vitalis team in 2011, Amy worked for the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, implementing on-farm native plant hedgerows on agricultural lands in California. 

Adrienne Shelton, Vitalis Organic Seeds

Adrienne is the Northeast Organic Product Specialist for Vitalis Organic Seeds.  She earned a masters degree in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics and a doctorate in Environment and Resources at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Her research included plant breeding for organic farming systems and intellectual property rights for public cultivars.  Adrienne is proud to have participated in the breeding and release of Who Gets Kissed?, an open-pollinated sweet corn bred for and with organic farmers.  She helped to organize the first Student Organic Seed Symposium in Vermont in 2012, and has been actively involved with the group ever since.  Adrienne serves on the board of directors for the Organic Seed Alliance, and has been engaged with the organic farming movement as a farmer, organizer, seed saver, and researcher for 15 years.

Benito Juarez, Sakata Seed America, Inc.

Benito has been the Hot Pepper Breeder for Sakata since November 2014. He has worked for smaller and larger seed companies but always with a passion for genetics and plant breeding. Benito was watermelon and melon breeder for Seminis for 10 years, and hybrids he developed are still on the market. He also worked for a Biofuel Project in a San Diego based company (Seeds, Genomics and Biofuels) domesticating and improving the oil content of Jatropha curcas. Benito is originally from Central Mexico (in the highlands) where he graduated with a B.S. degree in Agronomy. He also holds a M.S. degree from UC Davis. The focus of his research is genetic improvement of plants for resistance to diseases and others pests, as well as improving the yield, taste, nutrient and water use efficiencies.

Tom Stearns, High mowing organic seed

Tom began gardening at an early age at his family home in Connecticut.  Prior to completing a degree in Sustainable Agriculture from Prescott College in AZ, he began saving seeds.  A hobby was born in 1996 in Vermont, when Tom began sharing these seeds with others through a small seed flyer.  High Mowing Organic Seeds has since expanded into one of the leading organic seed companies in the US, supplying both home gardeners, commercial growers and retailers.  Tom’s vision has always been to create a company that would help support the re-building of healthy food systems, first in Vermont, followed by the rest of the US.  He has also taught numerous workshops since 1996 on many topics such as ag education, economics, community supported agriculture, genetic engineering, plant breeding, local food systems, sustainable business, investing and more.  His informal, personal style, ability to explain complex issues and infectious enthusiasm makes him a popular and inspiring speaker.  In addition, he has served on the board of several agricultural organizations including NOFA-VT, The Center for an Agricultural Economy and Sterling College.  He lives on 50 acres in Vermont, with his wife Heather, and their two girls, Ruby and Cora.

Timothy Blank, California Crop Improvement Association

Timothy is a native of California, originally from the San Francisco Bay Area.  He attended the University of California, Davis, and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Entomology in 2005 and a Master of Science degree in Horticulture and Agronomy in 2013.  Since 2005, Timothy has worked for the California Crop Improvement Association (CCIA), California’s official seed certifying agency.  As a Certified Seed Program Representative, he manages field inspection services and seed certification activities for alfalfa, rice, wheat, barley, oat and triticale.  He also manages seed crop isolation mapping programs for sunflower, vegetable crops, GMO alfalfa, and GMO sweetcorn.  In his local community, as a board member of the Yolo County Taxpayers Association, Timothy is an advocate for the efficient and proper use of tax revenue.

past speakers


Jim Gerritsen, Wood Prairie Family Farm; Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association.
Kiki Hubbard, Organic Seed Alliance
Neil Lash, Heirloom Seed Project at Medomak Valley High School
Kris Nichols, Rodale Institute
Theresa Podoll, Prairie Road Organic Seed
Jane Rabinowicz, Bauta Family Initiative
Bill Tracy, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Janny Van Beem, The Crop Trust


Alfonso del Rio, USDA/ARS US Potato Gene Bank
Irwin Goldman, University of Wisconsin- Madison
Lori Hoagland, Purdue University
Rob Johnston, Johnny's Selected Seeds
Claire Luby, University of Wisconsin- Madison
Theresa Marquez, Organic Valley
Barb, David, and Jesse Perkins, Vermont Valley Community Farm
Logan Peterman, Organic Valley
Annake Ramsey, Organic Valley
Adrienne Shelton, High Mowing Organic Seeds
Michael Sligh, Rural Advancement Foundation International and National Organic Standards Board
Tom Stearns, High Mowing Organic Seeds
Ira Wallace, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Aaron Whaley, A.P. Whaley Seed Company


Albert Culbreath, University of Georgia
Jane Dever, Texas A&M
R. Ford Denison, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Major Goodman, North Carolina State University
Humberto Rios Labrada, International Centre for development oriented Research in Agriculture (ICRA)
Mark Sorrells, Cornell University
Edith T. Lammerts Van Bueren, Louis Bolk Institute and Wageningen University, The Netherlands
Jared Zystro, Organic Seed Alliance


Micaela Colley, Organic Seed Alliance
Julie Dawson, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Matthew Dillon, Seed Matters
Irwin Goldman, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Patrick Hayes, Oregon State University
Kristina Hubbard, Organic Seed Alliance
Nash Huber, Nash's Organic Produce
Molly Jahn, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Stephen Jones, Washington State University
Jack Kloppenburg, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Brian Love, Seminis
Frank Morton, Wild Garden
Kevin Murphy, Washington State University
Jim Myers, Oregon State University
John Navazio, Organic Seed Alliance
Erica Renaud, Vitalis Organic Seed
Jules Riske, Osborne Seed
Tom Stearns, High Mowing Organic Seeds
Lindsey du Toit, Washington State University
Bill Tracy, University of Wisconsin-Madison


Julie Dawson, Cornell University
Matthew Dillon, Seed Matters
Irwin Goldman, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Rob Johnston and Janika Eckert, Johnny's Selected Seeds
Stephen Jones, Washington State University
Jack Kloppenburg, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Jodi Lew-Smith, High Mowing Organic Seeds
Michael Mazourek, Cornell University
John Navazio, Organic Seed Alliance
Erica Renaud, Vitalis Organic Seeds
Tom Stearns, High Mowing Organic Seeds
Bill Tracy, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Jared Zystro, Organic Seed Alliance