Staff

Laura Benitez, Administrative Coordinator, assists with calendar and supply management, event support, and office maintenance. 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. In her previous role as an event coordinator in San Francisco, 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, presentation, aesthetic, 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 publications and shows. She has lectured on design and environmental topics throughout the world, and spoken on behalf of the Center for Ecoliteracy at the Interactive Dialogue on Harmony with Nature 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.

Nate Evans, Finance Manager, is responsible for financial systems throughout the organization and leads all day-to-day accounting operations, with functional responsibility for HR, accounts payable, contracts, and payroll. He has nearly 35 years of experience in a variety of finance-related positions with both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. Prior to working at the Center for Ecoliteracy, he served as accounting manager and controller at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley, where his responsibilities included audit oversight, internal control procedures, daily accounting operations, finance functions related to grants, and staff training and education. He is a graduate of Golden Gate University.

Abby Halperin, Assessment and Grants Manager, uses data to establish feedback loops and celebrate the collective impact of the organization’s California Food for California Kids® initiative. She also writes grant proposals and manages the grant submission and reporting processes. She has a background in research, environmental policy, and environmental education. She is passionate about climate change and translating science, data, and research into real world decisions. She received an MSc in Environmental Change and Management from the University of Oxford. Having lived in England, New York, Colorado, and Ohio, she is now living back in her hometown of Berkeley, California.

Caitlin Joseph, Statewide Coordinator, California Food for California Kids®, collaborates with school districts and allied organizations across the state to support leadership and advance community health, sustainability, and resilience. She brings multiple perspectives from her experiences as a farmer, classroom educator, farm to school manager, and food policy researcher and advocate. She holds a Masters of Science in Agriculture, Food, and Environment with a specialization in Urban Planning from Tufts University. Her work has spanned the country, including stints in Phoenix, Michigan, Boston, Washington, D.C., and the Bay Area. Outside of work, she can be found fermenting things, singing in a community choir, and soaking up the aroma of Bay Laurel trees wherever she finds them.

Adam Kesselman, Executive Director and Board Member, leads the organization to fulfill its mission and reimagine education for sustainable living, driving its strategy, program, fundraising, and administrative goals. He brings 15 years of sustainable food business entrepreneurship and a track record of fostering partnerships with community and environmental leaders. Throughout his career promoting local food systems, he has been inspired to cultivate the rich narrative between food, culture, health, and the environment. Through his leadership, he pursues opportunities for the Center for Ecoliteracy to further ecological education and promote systems change. A chef and an avid outdoor enthusiast, he can often be found experimenting in the kitchen and exploring nature’s wild places.

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.

Katie Kurlyandchik, Social Media Coordinator, manages the organization’s multiple social channels, engaging with our online community and connecting like-minded individuals with meaningful and relevant content. She has worked in media and sales administration for a multi-title magazine publisher and a digital marketing company. A volunteering stint harvesting corn for a food-rescue nonprofit inspired her to spend three weeks as a farmhand on an organic aquaponics farm in Hawaii. There she learned about sustainable and cutting-edge farming techniques and witnessed firsthand the power of community fostered by small-scale, local farming. She lives in Detroit with her husband and their two boys.

Leyla Marandi, Program Manager, California Food for California Kids®, manages the organization’s programmatic efforts designed to increase students’ ecological understanding of where food comes from and how it reaches the table. Her work is informed by prior experience working with local governments and nonprofits in Los Angeles, Seattle, and the Bay Area on initiatives to improve student health and nutrition. She received her Master of Public Health from the University of Southern California in Health Education and Promotion. Her career path has been inspired by the intersection of food, community, culture, and health. She enjoys living in Oakland, where she spends free time at local farmers markets and hiking in Redwood Regional Park.

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.

Jan Stone, Program Support and Event Planner, plans and executes the organization’s events from statewide conferences to small stakeholder meetings, always incorporating signature brand elements and hospitality. She has spent over 25 years in various executive positions in marketing and special events with major retailers, property developers, financial institutions, and K–12 education before forming her own consulting business. She provided event-planning services for the Center for Ecoliteracy for a number of years before joining the staff in 2015. Her combined understanding of marketing, special events, and how children learn best in an education environment are an enormous benefit. She and her husband live in Oakland.