Staff

Zenobia Barlow, Interim Executive Director, Board Member, and Cofounder of the Center for Ecoliteracy, leads the organization to fulfill its mission and accomplish program, fundraising, and administrative goals. One of the nation’s pioneers in creating models of schooling for sustainability, she has designed strategies for applying ecological and indigenous understanding in K–12 education, including the Food Systems Project, Rethinking School Lunch, and Smart by Nature. Prior to joining the Center for Ecoliteracy, Barlow was editor of an international publishing company, a university program director, and executive director of the Elmwood Institute, an ecological think tank. She enjoys traveling and documentary photography.

Laura Benitez, Office Manager / Event Coordinator, creates and maintains our work environment, manages the day-to-day office operations, and coordinates our events. She spent 12 years in the catering and event planning industries before bringing her organizational skills and knowledge of food production to the Center for Ecoliteracy. She managed large-scale, high-end events, handling everything from tech-industry conferences to weddings and house parties. Raised by parents who both worked in the public sector, she has always been passionate about public service, and has now made the transition into the nonprofit sector. She is also a musician and songwriter. 

Karen Brown, Creative Director, oversees design and creative development of the organization’s materials and brands. An award-winning designer, her work has been included in the Smithsonian Institution and Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and featured in The New York Times, Architectural Digest, TODAY on NBC, and dozens of other popular and technical media. She has lectured on design and environmental topics in many countries, and spoken on behalf of the Center for Ecoliteracy at the United Nations. She comes from a family of growers, makers, and inventors who provided her with a garden, a glider flight, and a visit on a military submarine, all before the age of five.

Abby Halperin, Policy and Grants Manager, advocates for policies and manages grants that transform how students eat, learn, and grow. She uses the power of data to amplify the voices of school nutrition professionals, provide strategic insights to policymakers, and celebrate the collective impact of the organization’s California Food for California Kids® initiative. Her background is in research, environmental policy, and environmental education. A passion for climate change and translating science, data, and research into real world decisions led her to complete a Master of Science in Environmental Change and Management at the University of Oxford. In her free time, she can be found gardening, knitting, and hiking with friends and family.

Jim Koulias, Deputy Director of Finance and Operations, manages finances and oversees the administration team, project management, and assessment, for the range of activities at the organization. He manages the Center for Ecoliteracy’s use of technology and website properties. He began his professional life as an educator, then moved into project management in the fields of animation, documentary filmmaking, web communications, and global operations before joining the Center for Ecoliteracy. He has lived abroad in Mexico, Japan, and France, becoming fluent in each language, and indulging thoroughly in the food and culture of each country.

Anne Moertel, Outreach and Communications Manager, creates strategic communications and cultivates partnerships and fundraising opportunities for the organization. A former nonprofit creative director and public school district communications strategist, she brings 10 years of experience in school food advocacy and communications. She is passionate about the power of effective communications to create change and seeks to identify missing voices in the ongoing conversation to improve school food and education. Originally from the Midwest, she enjoys finding new areas to explore in warmer areas of California with her husband and dog.

Alexa Norstad, Director of Programs, oversees all program efforts across the organization, ensuring efficient and effective team management and program administration to advance education for sustainable living. She brings extensive project management, contract management, quality control, and evaluation capabilities to the position. Her background in publications, where she worked in New York at the corporate offices of Condé Nast Publications, lends editorial expertise to the organization’s publications and communications work. A farming apprenticeship in Vermont left her with a deep appreciation of one’s food system and the importance of connecting to place. She is passionate about cooking and minimizing food waste and spends time in the kitchen doing just that with her husband and two small children.

Jess Simonson, Executive Assistant / Project Manager, provides logistical and administrative support to the Executive Director and creates workflow efficiencies that support the organization's leadership team. Prior to joining the Center for Ecoliteracy, she earned a Masters in Philosophy studying structural (in)justice and teaching environmental ethics. She also provided operational and executive support for a technology consulting company in DC. Jess believes in the power of education to shape the ways children and adults think about, relate to, and live sustainably in the world. In her free time, she enjoys home life with her cat and outdoor life hiking new environments, learning about new plants, and practicing yoga in the sun.

Crystal Whitelaw Hall, Program Manager, California Food for California Kids®, cultivates relationships with school districts to build and sustain the California Food for California Kids Network. A former school food service director and communications manager, she brings an extensive background in school food, nutrition, communications, and marketing. Her interest in food literacy is rooted in a desire to develop a more equitable and accessible food system across local municipalities, and a passion for building healthy and sustainable school communities. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering at community gardens and trying out new recipes in her home kitchen.

Krysta Williams, Program Manager, California Food for California Kids®, maintains relationships with school districts and allied organizations throughout California to cultivate, support, and sustain the California Food for California Kids initiative. She has extensive experience as a public school teacher as well as designing and directing informal out-of-school time educational programs across the US and Costa Rica. She received a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership, Policy, and Advocacy from New York University. A passion for nourishing local food began in her childhood garden and has extended to working on educational farms, leading cooking workshops, and advocating for policies to support a healthy and accessible food system.