Introducing speakers for soss 2015:

michael sligh

Michael Sligh is the Program Director of the Rural Advancement Foundation International's (RAFI) Just Foods Program. As a founding member of RAFI, Michael manages policy, research and education regarding agricultural best practices, agricultural biodiversitybiotechnologyorganic identity preservation and a range of food justice and other value-added food labeling, and marketing issues. He has more than 30 year of experience in agricultural practices and policy analysis, including both domestic and international work. Michael holds the following titles: Founding Chair of the National Organic Standards Board (a federal advisory committee to the USDA); Founder of Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG); Founder of National Organic Coalition, Founding partner of Agricultural Justice Project, Founding member of Domestic Fair Trade Association. He is also a part-time family farmer and a trained anthropologist. Michael lives, farms and works in North Carolina.

tom stearns

Tom Stearns began gardening at an early at at his family home in CT. 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 U.S., supplying both home gardeners and commercial growers. 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 U.S. He has also taught numerous workshops since 1996 on many topics such as agriculture 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, most notably as the current president of The Center for an Agricultural Economy. He lives on 50 acres in Vermont, with his wife Heather and their two girls, Ruby and Cora.

Adrienne Shelton

Shelton is the Product Development Coordinator at High Mowing Organic Seeds, and a Seed Matters post-doctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research includes policy analysis and advocacy to support public plant breeding programs at land grant universities. She earned a master’s degree in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics and a doctorate in Environment and Resources at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She 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. Shelton has been involved with the organic farming movement as a farmer, organizer, seed saver and breeder for 15 years.

irwin goldman

Irwin was hired in 1992 to conduct research and instruction in plant breeding and plant genetics and horticulture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has spent considerable effort working with students to develop SOSS,  a platform for community-building around the developing field of organic seed production. Irwin's research focuses on vegetable breeding and genetics with an emphasis on plant secondary metabolites that have some potential value for human health and wellbeing. His lab has also bred numerous cultivars and inbred lines that have been used to make commercial hybrids. In 2014, Dr. Goldman's lab released two new carrot cultivars via a mechanism called open source. This means that the cultivars will remain in a “protected commons” and can be accessed, used, bred, saved, and sold by anyone as long as no restrictive license is put on the materials or their derivatives. Open source breeding has also become part of his laboratory’s research agenda, and one of his graduate students is currently investigating some of the biological questions surrounding the proportion of phenotypic and DNA sequence variation for key traits in carrot that still remain unprotected through patents and licenses.

lori hoagland

A small diversified farm run by Lori Hoagland’s grandparents would loom large in influencing her career choices. A native of Lincoln, Nebraska, Hoagland went to the University of Nebraska to study environmental science. She then spent three years in the organic seed industry before returning to Nebraska for a master’s degree and honing her interest in soil microbial ecology. After earning her doctorate in soil science at Washington State University, she came to Purdue in 2010 to fill a newly created Specialty Crop Production Systems position in the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture. Hoagland’s research focuses onpractices that can help farms reduce their reliance on chemical and other off-farm inputs, improve soil health and crop productivity, and enhance the overall sustainability of their operations. She conducts her research using laboratory, field and greenhouse studies to better understand soil microbial ecology and its effect on agriculture.

Rob Johnston

When Rob Johnston first began his plant seed endeavors in 1973, in a farm attic in New Hampshire, he was only twenty-two years of age and he had $500 in savings.  It appears that Rob Johnston has always been ahead of his time.  He traveled to Japan to acquire seeds for vegetables when he couldn’t find them in the United States.  He experimented with seed breeding and focused on varieties that would do well in short growing seasons.  His penchant for discovering hard-to-find seeds and his love for heirloom varieties was well-received. He aligned himself with organic farming long before it was in vogue. Time has produced some real changes!  The employee-owned, Maine based company, Johnny’s Selected Seeds is now selling seeds and gardening supplies throughout the country and to over fifty countries throughout the world. 

Theresa Marquez

After 17 years as Chief Marketing Executive, helping grow CROPP Cooperative from $5 million in 1994 to $720 million in 2011, Theresa Marquez is now serving as Organic Valley’s Mission Executive. A pioneer of the natural foods movement, Marquez has been a passionate advocate for organic farming and organic foods since 1978. Well known for her unwavering belief that organic is the key to solving many of the challenges we face today, Marquez has demonstrated that organic can make a difference for farmers, citizens and the planet. Marquez is currently serving on the Board of Directors for the Organic Center, a nonprofit organization that supports scientific research to prove the benefits of organic food.
“The CROPP mission is to keep farmers on the land farming while maintaining the highest standards of environmental stewardship. It just so happens that these methods also produce the best tasting food! Nurturing this mission, so aligned with what we all want for the earth, our families, and our stomach, is immensely joyful work.”  —Theresa Marquez


Ira grew up gardening with her grandmother in Florida and carried that interest forward as a student at New College in Sarasota, Fla., studying native plants, starting an organic gardening co-op, and volunteering at the Sarasota, Succulent Society. As a young woman Ira traveled and learned about gardening on a Kibbutz in Israel, a large organic farm in Denmark and a small cooperative community in Canada where she became a certified plantsman in Ontario. In 1984 Ira moved to Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia to pursue the good life growing delicious organic food and herbs. In 1993 helped to found Acorn Community, the home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange where she still lives and works on building a cooperative and sustainable organic seed system for the Southeast. Ira was one of nine contributors to the Southern SARE-sponsored Saving Our Seeds Projects and serves on the board of the Organic Seed Alliance and is working with OSA to bring more seed growing education and organic variety trials to the Southeast.


Alfonso Del Rio is a Senior Scientist in charge of the USDA/ARS US Potato Genebank (USPG) Research Lab of the US Potato Genebank at UW. He  received his Ph.D. degree in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from UW-Madison. Del Rio’s  research uses molecular marker technology to answer questions related to conservation, organization and use of potato germplasm. The objective is to provide scientific insights to make conservation and genebank’s activities more efficient. Del Rio is also in charge of the international projects in Peru. These efforts in Peru are focused on conducting collaborative research projects to develop strategies for sustainable agriculture, mitigate the impact of climate change on agriculture, promote food security and, improve conservation and protection of genetic diversity. In addition of achieving valuable scientific advances, their goal is to develop specific technologies and strategies that are affordable and can be implemented in the Andean Highlands for the subsistence farmers.  They have made significant advances in producing potatoes with extreme frost tolerance and, using supplemental calcium to improve yield and tuber quality of local native potatoes. These projects have been recognized--in 2012, he received the CALS Award for Excellence in International Activities.


Claire Luby is a PhD student in the Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research examines the effect of intellectual property rights on access to and sharing of plant diversity using carrot as a model crop. This work aims to characterize the diversity present in commercially available varieties, along with the intellectual property rights that govern their exchange. Using carrot varieties that were not protected by intellectual property rights, she has developed a number of carrot populations that encompass the 'available diversity' present among these varieties. These populations will be released through OSSI.

Logan Peterman

Logan Peterman manages the Farm Resources Department at Organic Valley Headquarters in La Farge, WI.  With a background in ecology and organic vegetable production he has strong experience in the biological and scientific constraints associated with organic production and research.  In his position at the cooperative he advises CROPP staff and management on research proposals, solicitations, and technical issues confronting farmers throughout the US.  He works closely with a staff of veterinarians and agronomic specialists to bring independent services and advice to farmer/members across the country.  He brings his experience implementing and analyzing ecological data to bear on the development of new programs and projects, and advises the Farmers Advocating for Organic committee with the review of submitted agronomic grant proposals. 

Annake Ramsey

Annake Ramsey manages Organic Valley’s produce program, which involves more than 150 farmers in the midwestern, southeastern and northwestern United States who grow more than 40 varieties of vegetables for regional wholesale markets.  Annake began her relationship with the co-op as a farmer growing produce for Organic Valley, a 150 member CSA and farmer’s markets.  In her day-to-day role at the cooperative, Annake manages farmer education for the on-farm food safety program and communicates production and program information to the co-op’s sales staff.  She also oversees a staff that manages produce quality standards, identifies well-performing varieties through trialing and research, oversees handling and storage logistics, and connects growers with resources that will improve their success. 

David Perkins

David, with his wife Barb, founded Vermont Valley Community Farm out of a desire to return to the country and to conduct a grand experiment to see whether local people would support a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. David grew up on a traditional southern Wisconsin diversified family farm, went on to earn a degree in Agriculture, and entered the pesticide-dependent world of agriculture as an Agronomist. Disillusioned by this system, he shifted to the political world and spent many years working in our State Capital, where he was exposed to the politics of agriculture. It is here that he converted to organic agriculture and began to look for a new model that made sense for both farmers and eaters. The grand experiment to start a CSA farm became a grand success and now feeds over 2,000 member households annually.

Barb Perkins

Barb Perkins, with husband David, founded Vermont Valley Community Farm in 1994. Since then, she has nurtured the farm to become, in her words, “a rather large and independent 20 year old,” that she continues to support. On a daily basis, she manages the labor crews, is responsible for the harvest, and manages all aspects of getting the food from field to share box. As a former sociology major, she loves working with a wide diversity of people, and she loves the daily challenges of CSA farming. Her years working in the non-profit sector prepared her for managing a CSA: juggling many tasks at once, feeling as if there is not quite enough time to get it all done, and somehow getting done anyway! She is especially grateful to work with her children and their partners. 

Jesse Perkins

Jesse has been working at Vermont Valley Community Farm since his parents, Barb and David, started the farm 20 years ago. He worked during summers during college and began working full time after he graduated from UW-Madison in 2005. He is involved with field operations, manages irrigation, and manages the Seed Potato business.  Jesse, his wife Jonnah, and two kids, Paavo and Mischa, also raise a small herd of pigs and steers.

aaron whaley

Prior to founding A.P. Whaley Seed Company in 2009 Aaron Whaley was Vice President of Sales at Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, IA. In this role, he directed SSE's commercial seed sales operation. Whaley grew up at Seed Saver's Exchange- and within the seed industry- as the son of SSE's founders, Kent Whealy and Diane Ott Whealy.


more speakers to come...

past speakers include:


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 LabradaInternational 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 JonesWashington 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