Marina Vergara (she/her/hers)

Research & Education Intern

email: research[at]

Marina Vergara (she/her) joins the OFRF team as the Fall 2023 Research and Education intern. Marina is a graduate student at the University of California, Davis studying International Agricultural Development. Her interests lie in exploring participatory agricultural extension and ways to better support marginalized farmers. Her research examines a participatory silvopastoral extension program in Panama, and the ways in which this model facilitates an informal knowledge exchange amongst model farmers and farmers newly entering the program.

Marina discovered her passion for food and agriculture in college after being drawn to the interdisciplinary nature of food systems. After graduating from Cornell University in 2018 with a BS in Environmental and Sustainability Sciences, Marina moved to Panama to serve with the U.S. Peace Corps as an Agriculture Extension Agent, working with small-scale, organic cacao farmers in product development, marketing, and sales. Marina then served with AmeriCorps VISTA in South Texas, where she focused on coalition building for increasing food security and youth curriculum development for food justice and sovereignty in the Rio Grande Valley.

Marina is passionate about supporting marginalized farmers, through collaboration in projects and increasing equity in access to extension support and materials. In her free time, you can find Marina outside hiking, biking, or lounging with her dog Claudia, at the local coffee shop with a good book, or trying something new and tasty to eat.

By |2023-10-11T20:41:42+00:00October 11th, 2023|Staff|

Annika La Fave (she/her/hers)

Policy & Communications Intern

email: policy[at]

Annika La Fave (she/her) joins the OFRF team as the Fall 2023 policy & communications intern. Annika is a graduate student at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, focusing on public health communications & food systems policy.

Annika began farming in 2010 while completing her B.A. in Education at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. She has since had a varied career in sustainable agriculture raising livestock, vegetables, and cut-flowers, teaching organic farming and small business management at Clackamas Community College, founding her own small vegetable farm business promoting food equity in partnership with Oregon Health & Science University, and, most recently, managing Baltimore County’s Agricultural Center.

Annika is passionate about land stewardship and the pursuit of occupational tenability for small and beginning farmers. She aspires to help create a more equitable food system for producers and consumers. She spends most of her spare time walking and running with her two energetic greyhounds.

By |2023-10-10T17:55:31+00:00October 9th, 2023|Staff|

Heather Estrada (she/her/hers)

Research & Education Senior Scientist

email: heather[at]

Heather Estrada has been a part of the organic farming community for the past 20 years, as a scientist, professor, grower, and advocate. She has worked with transitioning and certified organic farmers in the field, conducted organic crop and weed research, and has spent much of her career educating students in regenerative organic farming principles and practices. 

Heather started her organic agriculture career in Edmonton, Canada, studying and researching organic wheat breeding and agronomy. She graduated from the University of Alberta (BS, Crop Science; PhD, Plant Science) and then moved to Kalispell, Montana to work as a cropping systems research agronomist with Montana State University. Heather switched her career focus to education in 2012, taking on the role of college professor and Agriculture program director at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell. While there, she created degree programs and curriculum, started a working educational vegetable farm on the college campus, and taught classes such as plant science, soil nutrient management, integrated pest management, practical farm production, and building community food systems.

Heather is looking forward to bringing her experience and passion for research and education to OFRF, and hopes to make a meaningful contribution to the lives of farmers through her work.

By |2023-10-10T17:55:04+00:00August 1st, 2023|Staff|

Jose Perez (he/him/el)

Research & Education Engagement Coordinator

email: jose[at]

Jose has over seven years of experience in education and research positions supporting small scale and organic farmers in Florida. He has held positions such as Small Farms Extension Coordinator with UF/IFAS Extension and Outreach and Education Coordinator with Florida Organic Growers. Jose has a B.A. in Human Ecology with concentration in sustainable agriculture from College of the Atlantic in Maine and a Masters in Sustainable Development Practice from the University of Florida.

Jose is working on his Agricultural Extension PhD, and firmly believes that farmers are experimenters by nature, and they are in the best position to conduct relevant research that impacts their farms every day. He is a native Spanish speaker from Guatemala and is passionate about supporting organic agriculture, promoting farmer-led research, and engaging farmers and researchers in learning and sharing among their peers.

By |2023-10-10T17:54:40+00:00July 19th, 2023|Staff|

Leah Lawson (she/her/hers)

Partnerships & Development Director

email: leah[at]

For the past decade, Leah has been an active and passionate advocate for an equitable food system that uplifts communities and reinvigorates the land. She fell in love with agriculture while working on a process evaluation in a small farming community in Maharashtra, India, as part of her Masters’ degree in International Development. The combination of regenerative practices and community-led action left a deep impression on her work. Since then, she has built skills in grant writing, fundraising, board structure, strategic planning, project management, and facilitation, which she uses to further the creation of a strong and inclusive food system.

Leah lives in Chicago, where she has worked for organizations that serve rural and urban farmers, including Angelic Organics Learning Center, one of her favorite places in northern Illinois. She enjoys board service and helping new and young organizations get their footing. She has served on the board of Advocates for Urban Agriculture and North Branch Projects, both community-based orgs. Currently, she sits on the board of Windy City ToolBank, an affiliate of ToolBank USA, where she is helping to establish programming that allows organizations in the region to participate in radical sharing; ensuring everyone has access to tools they need to create, improve, and care for their community.

By |2023-10-10T17:54:13+00:00February 16th, 2023|Staff|

Mary Hathaway (she/her/hers)

Research and Education Program Manager


Mary Hathaway is the Research and Education Manager at OFRF. Over the past decade she has worked as an activist and farmer in the sustainable and equitable food movement in the Southeast. Her most recent experience includes managing direct marketing farms, administering USDA grant projects, and organizing regional food summits.

Mary specializes in supporting local food systems and is passionate about creating opportunities for organic farmers to be leaders in climate change solutions. Mary has a Master’s Degree in Agroecology that helps her frame the necessary work before us with a collaborative, systems thinking approach. She is a powerful force in the workplace and uses her positive attitude to encourage others to work hard and be engaged participants in their community.

In her free time, Mary likes to play in the ocean, talk at great length about composting, and build Legos creatures with her son.

By |2023-10-25T20:42:12+00:00January 11th, 2022|Staff|

Gordon Merrick (he/him/his)

Policy & Programs Manager


Gordon N. Merrick joins the OFRF team with first hand experience working on organic farms, distributing food into the marketplace, cooking food in the service industry, and, most recently, helping draft agriculture, natural resource, and municipal laws for the Vermont General Assembly.  Alongside this hands on food and legal system experience, prior to attending Vermont Law School, Gordon was a community organizer working on climate justice related issues in New Hampshire. Throughout all of these experiences, Gordon was able to learn what it takes to lead successful teams and that resilient change stems from, and is led by, people-powered movements.

While attending Vermont Law School, Gordon was very involved in the school’s Food and Agricultural Law Society. During his second year, Gordon was able to take part in a Lobby Day hosted by the Farm Bill Law Enterprise where he spoke with Representatives and Senators about the importance of the Conservation and Food Assistance titles in the Legislator’s districts.  In his third year, he was selected to be the co-president of the National Food and Agriculture Law Student Network, where he now sits on the advisory board.  Gordon was able to use this position to further his interest in sustainable agriculture policy, and the processes that shape it.

Gordon holds a B.A. in Political Science with a concentration in Legal Studies from the University of Maine, and a J.D. from Vermont Law School.

When Gordon isn’t in the (home) office, he’s generally outside enjoying whatever the current New England season has to offer, or enjoying a good nonfiction read if it’s raining!

By |2023-10-10T17:52:58+00:00June 19th, 2021|Staff|

Thelma Velez (she/her/ella)

Research & Education Program Director


Meet Thelma! Thelma Velez (she/her/ella) is the Research and Education Program Director at OFRF. She has been embedded in organic agriculture, sustainable food systems, and climate justice for over 15 years. In her role as director, Thelma engages in collaborative efforts with farmers, university faculty, Extension specialists, and government and non-government organizations nationwide. Her focus is on fortifying existing research and education programs and pioneering new initiatives that equitably contribute to the enhancement of our nation’s food system and provide a strategic advantage for organic farmers. With support from the OFRF team, she has helped advocate for organic at the federal level and provided expert testimony to the U.S. Congress House Agriculture Committee on the importance of organic agriculture for climate change mitigation and adaptation. She is a two time alum of Florida International University (BA and MS), and earned her PhD in from Ohio State University, where she focused on the expansion of agroecology in Puerto Rico, post-Hurricane Maria, as a means to create a more climate resilient food system and address systemic injustices. 

Thelma loves growing food, cooking food, and introducing friends to the politics of food and agriculture. As a first-generation American and a woman of color, she is mindful of matters related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and she incorporates her experiences into both her personal and professional life. In her spare time she enjoys planning and executing DIY projects that stretch her creative and physical boundaries. 

By |2023-10-10T18:20:39+00:00April 6th, 2021|Staff|

Kelsey Grimsley (they/them)

Office and Administrative Manager



Kelsey Grimsley graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a B.A. in Politics. Right out of college Kelsey gained valuable experience working with diverse populations through jobs in grassroots organizing, community engagement projects, and congressional offices. They lived at a Buddhist retreat center, off-the-grid in Santa Cruz County, where they explored how to live a sustainable lifestyle first-hand, while working for the center as Community Relations Coordinator.

Kelsey has always been passionate about environmental stewardship and social justice, which has informed their career path and led them to working here at OFRF. They are excited and proud to be a part of an organization that has a meaningful mission that aligns with their passions.

By |2023-10-10T17:51:41+00:00December 12th, 2019|Staff|

Dominica Navarro Martinez (she/her/ella)

Dominica Navarro

Deputy Director

email: dominica[at]

Having worked with organizations championing public health, diversity in higher education, pesticide reduction, and organic and climate-smart farming practices, Dominica has devoted much of her professional career to nonprofit management, finance, administration and strategic development. She graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz with majors in both Environmental and Community Studies and has worked on various sustainable agriculture projects in the US and abroad. Dominica is a current board member of Rogue Farm Corps and also serves on the Advisory Boards for Re:Wild Your Campus and Oregon Climate and Agriculture Network. Dominica lives in Central Oregon and loves working outside on her homestead, hanging out with her family, cooking, sailing, hiking and traveling.

By |2023-10-10T17:50:53+00:00October 1st, 2019|Staff|
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