Staff

 

People are always surprised by how small our staff is. It's because we create such a huge organic ruckus on the hill, in the field, on the streets, and on the web. Our work for organic farmers goes well beyond a 'day job'. It's a belief in the vision.

Brise Tencer
Executive Director

Brise Tencer brings 17 years of leadership experience working on organic food policy, farming, and research issues to OFRF.  Ms. Tencer most previously served as Director of Policy and Programs for California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), where she managed the government affairs and grower education program, coordinated their regional chapters of members, and ran a grant-making program. Prior to that, she served as lead lobbyist on food and agriculture issues for the Union of Concerned Scientists. There she developed legislative campaigns on a range of agriculture issues, including organic (focusing on the connection between organic practices and climate change), USDA research priorities, and food safety. She also worked on a successful campaign to end overuse of antibiotics in livestock production. 

Brise worked as Acting Policy Program Director and later as Legislative Coordinator for The Organic Farming Research Foundation from 2000 to 2006. During this time she helped initiate the Organic Agricultural Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Organic Farmers Action Network (OFAN), a grassroots political action network to support organic-friendly policies. She helped secure language in the Agriculture Risk Management Act of 2000, which said that organic farming was considered a “good farming practice”, that enabled organic producers to be eligible to participate in federal crop insurance programs for the first time.

Ms. Tencer has served on the boards of the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, the California Climate and Agricultural Network, and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. 

Ms. Tencer holds a B.A. in Community Studies from University of California, Santa Cruz and received both a Certificate in Conflict Resolution and a M.A. in International Environmental Policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies.  

Diana Jerkins
Research Program Director

Dr. Jerkins brings to OFRF decades of experience in agricultural research, federal program management, university administration and hands-on farming. She was a National Program Leader with the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) between 2002 and 2014, and also helped implement the agency’s first sustainable and organic agriculture programs. Prior to joining NIFA, Dr. Jerkins directed the Center for Regenerative Studies at Cal Poly Pomona.

Dr. Jerkins earned her graduate degrees from the University of Georgia, including an MA in Agronomy, and a PhD in Entomology.

Dr. Jerkins will work remotely while continuing management of her historic, 240-acre organic farm in Gordonsville, VA.

 

Dominica Navarro
Executive Assistant

Dominica is passionate about alternative forms of food production that promote social and environmental health. She believes strongly in the importance of increasing the number of farms and gardens producing organically so that healthy, nutritious food is more readily accessible to all, including in low-income and low-access neighborhoods.

Ms. Navarro graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2010 with a BA in both Environmental and Community Studies with an emphasis in Food, Agriculture and Social Justice. For several years she has combined her passion for social change with nonprofit administration, and has enjoyed working with various organizations on a local, national and global level. Previously, Dominica was working with SACNAS, a national nonprofit working to change the face of science by fostering the success of underrepresented minorities to attain advanced degrees and roles of leadership in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).  Dominica strongly supports organizations that champion educational equity, public health, environmental stewardship, cultural recognition and social justice within our communities. 

Joanna Ory
Research Program Associate

Joanna Ory believes organic agriculture is essential to protecting the environment and public health. Having researched the impacts of pesticides on human health and the environment for her PhD in Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz, she is excited to support organic farming and positive changes in the food system at OFRF. Joanna spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar in Italy performing research on environmental policies and farmer decision-making. She was a USDA NIFA fellow, having directed a project on herbicide use and water quality in Wisconsin. She is dedicated to equity and health in the food system, and served as a UC Global Food Initiative Fellow working on food equity in 2014-15. Joanna is also a passionate educator, and teaches classes at UC Santa Cruz. She is excited to work with and learn from farmers and researchers at her work at OFRF.

Laura Ridenour
Senior Development Officer
Laura Ridenour joins OFRF’s development team with a lifetime of experience working with all aspects of food and farming—with and for farmers, chefs, entrepreneurs and retailers, and grassroots food advocates. Growing up, her father was CEO of an organic soyfoods business, Wildwood Natural Foods, based in Santa Cruz, California. She also spent her youth with her mom in rural Tennessee on a farming commune. Before she was 21, Laura was a veteran of natural foods trade shows. Beginning with an internship at California Certified Organic Farmers in 1994, Laura has worked for an “alphabet soup” of farmer and community-led NGOs from California and Washington DC to Colorado and Washington State. Along the way, she gained extensive project management, marketing and fundraising skills, and was part of the establishment of two food policy councils. Laura chaired the Farm Fund from 2010-2016, developing successful grants and micro-loan programs for small scale organic and sustainable farmers. She has extensive board experience, recently serving as director of the Community Food Co-op in Bellingham, as leadership team chair for the North American Food Systems Network, and previously as a member of the Washington State University Small Farms Team. Most recently, Laura served as communications manager at the Non-GMO Project. Working for OFRF is full-circle for Laura, as she served as OFRF’s special events coordinator from 2000-2002.
 
Laura holds a M.A. in the Sociology of Food from Colorado State University, a B.A. in Food Systems and Social Change from the University of California at Santa Cruz, and a certificate in Organic Farming and Ecological Horticulture from the UCSC Farm and Garden. She works with the Santa Cruz home office team remotely from Bellingham, Washington, and her favorite place to be after work is with her young son in the garden, and riding bikes outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.
 
 
 
Liz Birnbaum
Senior Partner and Engagement Officer
Liz Birnbaum is a community activist and professional event organizer who has contributed locally, nationally, and globally to the good food movement. She was first sparked by founding and managing a community farm in 2007 at Lake Forest College. In 2012, she moved to Santa Cruz to work as team leader for EcoFarm, the oldest and largest ecological agriculture conference in the Western U.S. 
 
Liz has also worked extensively in the the farm-to-table sector, managing events and community outreach for Santa Cruz based restaurant group The Glass Jar; consulting on special projects with traveling feast Outstanding in the Field; and serving as board chair for the local chapter of Slow Food. She also served as one of 240 U.S. delegates to Terra Madre 2014, the international conference of Slow Food held in Turin, Italy. 
 
Liz is thrilled to work with the inspiring team at the Organic Farming Research Foundation, because she passionately believes that Great Minds Think Organic!
 
Mark Lipson
Senior Policy and Program Specialist

Mark Lipson is a 30-year pioneer and influential leader in the organic farming and food community in California and nationally. Mark recently received the "Champion of Sustainable Agriculture Award" from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.  He served a 4 ½ -year term of service as the Organic and Sustainable Agriculture Policy Advisor in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (until late 2014). Since completing his term at USDA, Mark has been appointed as a Research Associate in Organic Agriculture Policy at the University of California at Santa Cruz, affiliated with the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. 

Mark graduated with honors from UC Santa Cruz in 1981 with a B.A. in environmental studies. Since 1983 he has been a member in Molino Creek Farm, a cooperative multi-family organic farming community near Davenport, California and the original home of the famed, dry-farmed tomatoes.  He was the Assistant Executive Director of California Certified Organic Farmers ('85-'93) and the Policy Director at Organic Farming Research Foundation ('95-2010).  

Mark serves as a Trustee of the Homeless Garden Project and the Organic Center.

Michael Stein
Policy Associate

Michael Stein is an attorney and scientist who is passionate about organic and sustainable agriculture.  He has focused his career on implementing legal and policy tools to address the environmental, health, and economic impacts of our food system.

Michael has worked extensively on food law and policy issues.  He first started working to protect the health and wealth of our natural resources with Midwest Environmental Advocates, assisting family farmers in protecting their homes and communities from the negative environmental impacts of large-scale industrial agriculture.  While at Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic, he focused on the environmental and public health impacts of food waste, and also worked to address food sovereignty issues faced by Native American communities. His policy experience includes working with the Navajo Nation’s Washington, D.C. office, and managing the food campaigns at Green America.

Michael holds a J.D. from the University of Wisconsin Law School, where he focused on environmental law. He also earned an M.S. in environment and resources from the University of Wisconsin’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, with a focus on sustainable agriculture. Michael is currently based in Washington, D.C. where he advocates on behalf of organic farmers and organic agriculture to members of Congress and the federal government. 

When not in D.C., Michael can be found hiking the hills of Virginia and procuring delicious products from local organic farms. 

 

Vicki Lowell
Communications Manager

Vicki joined OFRF in October 2015 after five years working with Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz County. At the food bank, she was responsible for sharing stories of people in need and the individuals, schools, businesses and non-profits that come together to ensure everyone has access to healthy food and resources to help them get back on their feet.

Originally from New York, Vicki moved to California in the early 80’s, and began working at Apple Computer on the original Macintosh introduction team. After eleven years with Apple, she left to pursue a career as an independent marketing writer. She continues to write for clients ranging from Adobe to GoPro.

Vicki is passionate about music and food and also works as a deejay at KPIG, a free-form Americana station broadcast from Freedom, California and streamed worldwide.