OUR TEAM

Growing Hope’s strength is in our team.

Whether it’s our volunteers, seasonal employees, interns, board members, or our full-time staff, we depend on people to grow our food, maintain our facilities, share our work with the larger community and run our programs. Learn more about the people making Growing Hope happen.

Board of Directors

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Sarah Wixson, President

Sarah L. Wixson is a partner at Varnum LLP. She is a member of the Health Care Practice Team, with a focus on transactional and real estate law and complex commercial litigation and her unique practice in health care law includes working with physicians, physician groups, hospitals and health care entities. Ms. Wixson serves as counsel for business clients and represents businesses and individuals in residential and commercial real estate matters.

Jordan Valentine, Secretary

Jordan Valentine is an Associate at Varnum LLP. She is a member of the Litigation Practice Team, with a focus on complex commercial litigation. She also has experience in various practice groups, including the corporate, labor and employment, and privacy and mobility teams. She serves as counsel for business clients and represents businesses and individuals in various residential and commercial matters. Jordan was born and raised in Southeast Michigan and graduated as an undergrad from Eastern Michigan University.

Jessica Krueger-Koupal, Director

Jess has worked for Ypsilanti Community Schools for 10 years, first as a math teacher and now as an Instructional Coach. She first got involved with Growing Hope when her school started a garden on campus. She now works with teachers as an Instructional Coach with a focus on math and science at Ypsilanti Community High School. In this role, she supports teachers in developing projects, working with community partners and getting students outside on field trips and around the campus. In her free time she enjoys hiking, kayaking and working in her garden.
Wayne Millette, Director

Wayne Millette is a native of Grenada and earned his doctorate in Educational Administration and Leadership from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Master’s
degree in Sociology from Clark Atlanta University, Atlanta and bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania. Wayne most recently served as Director, Office of Faculty and Resident Life in the Department of Surgery at the University of Michigan. Prior to this position, he served as partner and CFO of Sensei Change Associates, LLC a strategic management consulting firm. Wayne has served in multiple leadership roles in educational and non-profit organizations as well as providing coaching to organizational leaders. Prior to becoming a partner at Sensei Change, he was the Principal of Ann Arbor Learning Community, and served as Principal at New Beginnings Academy, a K-5 charter school in Ypsilanti, MI. Wayne was one of two members who founded New Beginnings Academy in 1998.

When Wayne is not busy at work, he loves spending quality time with his family. He is married to Diana Wong, an Associate Professor in Strategy at Eastern Michigan
University. He is most proud of his two children, Quentin and Maya. He is the family cook and prefers to use the best and freshest ingredients for all his dishes. In addition to growing and building things, Wayne enjoys traveling, soccer, downhill skiing, cricket, and tennis.

Robbin Pott J.D., M.P.P, Director

Robbin Pott, J.D., M.P.P. is the creator and co-founder of Pott Farms L3C, a regenerative hemp company in Willis, Michigan. What does it mean to be regenerative? It means that our systems are designed to restore and sustain rather than deplete and harm our resources, and that they are rooted in justice. For the past four years, Robbin has been practicing regenerative farming and learning about living soil while cultivating hemp naturally. She comes from a 20-year academic career as a child advocate and has designed the farm to also provide job opportunities for youth from disadvantaged backgrounds.   

Germaine Smith, Director

Germaine is proud to be a 2nd generation Korean- American. At an early age, she understood the meaning of justice and has carried that closely in her life, values and work – she protested, disrupted, and never took the easy route to get where she wanted to go. This drive and calling evolved into advocacy and activism and dedicating her life to mission driven work and serving the community.


Germaine currently serves as the Assistant Director for the Dispute Resolution Center. In her role at the DRC, she leads the organization’s development priorities, donor cultivation, and marketing and communications strategies. Prior to joining the DRC team, Germaine was already deeply involved in non-profit mission driven work originating at Growing Hope in program development. In that time, she also developed her skills in policy advocacy and campaign development work in sustainable agriculture and pollinator initiatives. She transferred these skills to another local non-profit, the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, helping to build and strengthen capacity for the organization. There she gained a lot of experience in organizational development and trained in non-violent communication practices, as well as helping develop the Bystander Intervention Training Program. Germaine currently serves as the Chair for the Community Advisory Board for Law Enforcement (CABLE)
of the Washtenaw County Sheriff”s Office and the 21st Century Policing Commission – Policy and Oversight Committee. She is an alumni of Michigan State University and Eastern Michigan University and in her spare time enjoys playing the cello, loves all dogs, hiking, beekeeping, growing food, cooking, and feeding people.

Stefanie Stauffer PhD, Director

Stefanie brings her multifaceted experience with food, farms, markets, and movements to the Growing Hope Board of Directors. As a 13 season veteran vendor of the Ypsilanti Farmers Markets and former resident of Ypsilanti, she is deeply rooted in the local food community. As an activist, Sociology Professor, and farmer who has been feeding this community heirloom, organic produce and farm products since 2010, she is uniquely situated to help move forward Growing Hope’s food justice goals. As former Program Manager of the Tilian Farm Development Center incubator and current Ann Arbor Farmers Market Manager, she works closely with farmers, food producers, and other local entrepreneurs, to increase the vibrancy of our local food economies and regional food system. Stefanie is thrilled to have the opportunity to get involved more directly with Growing Hope’s mission.

Loren Townes Jr., Director

   Loren holds a BSBA and MBA from Wayne State University. For the last seven years of his
career, he served as a Higher Education practitioner on both sides of the institution; academics and workforce community development. His expertise is informed by years of cross-channel marketing, strategic outreach, program development, event management, and building community relations.

Currently, Loren leads the Business+Impact collaborative design studio for social impact creators and innovators, known as the +Impact Studio, at the University of Michigan, Ross
School of Business. He oversees studio programming and provides management of the studio community, co-curricular programs, events, and space. Loren engages with students, faculty, and studio mentors and experts in residence, including partnering across Michigan Ross and the university and with alumni and external stakeholders to advance the studio’s strategic goals to bring impactful ideas to life that build a world that is sustainable and just for all.

Erinn Williamson, Director

Erinn Williamson is a Ypsilanti Native, currently employed as a school social worker at a local academy. She is a mother of fraternal twins and an avid reader and researcher. She has a passion for finding innovative ways that children and their families can become self-sustaining and flourish within their community. Erinn is District Director for Senator Jeff Irwin.

Staff

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Esha Biswas, Youth Programs Manager

Esha comes to Growing Hope with a passion for infusing traditional ecological knowledge and the arts into environmental education. She has an academic background in Conservation Ecology, having completed a B.S. and an M.S. in progress from the University of Michigan, but her interests span various disciplines, from Indian classical dance to photography. Her professional experience has included wild songbird rehabilitation and higher education student affairs, and she is currently working on her Master’s thesis– a combination of prairie restoration, education, and the arts– in collaboration with the Freeman Environmental Education Center in Ann Arbor. In her spare time, Esha enjoys art journaling, foraging, leading birding field trips with Detroit Audubon, writing poems, making soup / music / pies, imagining a more just world, tending to her indoor jungle, and nurturing her inner child.

Julius Buzzard, Executive Director

A native Michigander, Julius found his home in Ypsilanti in 2013, and never looked back. He spent the formative years of his career within the local nonprofit and education sectors and always created ways to tie his passion for growing and environmental justice into each context. Developing meaningful and intentional relationships with the community is at the core of everything Julius does—knowing that together, we can foster a safe, caring and just food system and community as a whole.

Whether it was gardening with his grandparents, participating in community gardens, teaching students how to grow and harvest, or tending his own garden; Julius has lived a life with his hands in the dirt. These experiences shape the way he enters into the work of Growing Hope, leaving him three basic principles: relationships matter, food is for everyone and the land will be our liberator.  

Julius has a deep spirit of curiosity, hopes to listen and learn daily, and believes in the art of storytelling. Julius recharges by spending time with his wife and daughter, running, bicycling, writing and volunteering within the community.

Carolyn Gehrke, Finance Manager
Carolyn loves figuring out how things work and thinking about how they might work better. She is currently using her skills to help manage Growing Hope’s finances. She has previous experience with retail bookkeeping, inventory management, photography, layout design, and spent a few years teaching physics, design, and photography. She has a degree in Physics from Lawrence University and an MFA from University of Arizona. Carolyn has lived in Ypsilanti since 2001 with her husband and now has two children.
Christopher Hallett, Farm Manager

With a heart full of love and dirty hands, Christopher could not be happier to get his hands back in the dirt at Growing Hope! During the last three years, he started a micro farm of his own that mostly generated food for himself and loved ones, and some of the best radishes around town.  Around that time, he dove into mushroom log cultivation to give people the experience of watching them grow. After deciding it was time to travel, Christopher, his climbing partner and her dog jumped in a van and traveled all over the country in search of the raddest places to climb. It wasn’t too long, before the dirt seemed to be calling them back. This season he has been starting up a small-ish operation of watermelon at Dancing Willow Farm, and volunteering at Blue Spring Farm. Christopher’s farming super power is working with a smile no matter the task or conditions. He is enamored with multifunctional farm implements, and his favorite tool is the wheel hoe.  One day he might just come out with his own line of dedicated farm tools!

Sarah Campbell Jones, Marketing Manager

Sarah is a longtime Ypsilanti resident and cherishes the deeper connection she feels for her hometown working for an organization that works for and collaborates with the community. She is naturally drawn to the creative side of things, giving her an acuity for Growing Hope’s design and aesthetic projects. Sarah prioritizes the collective voice of Growing Hope and our partners for our marketing materials, and values authenticity and care in the ways we portray our staff, program participants, volunteers, and the wider Ypsilanti community. 

Sarah enjoys painting with watercolors, drawing, gardening, traveling, swimming in Lake Michigan, cuddling her two cats, and spending time with family and friends.

Bee Mayhew, Incubator Kitchen Manager

Bethany, better known around these parts as “Bee”, has been an Ypsilanti resident and advocate for over 12 years. Having an itinerant upbringing, born in Quebec, Canada and moving to the States at the age of 2, she lived up and down both coasts and a smattering of midwest places before finding her forever home here in Ypsilanti. She joined the team as the Kitchen Incubator Manager in September 2021, bringing 25 years of restaurant and community oriented small business experience with her. She looks forward to further invigorating the Marketplace and Incubator Kitchen with an eye toward building cohesion along the Washington street corridor that aligns with Growing Hope’s vision and the needs of the community through her gregarious energy and tenacity. Bee has a passion for deconstructing the mythology of “foodie culture” to make food fun, practical, and accessible utilizing straightforward ingredients and processes. She loves word games, puzzles and playing Pokemon Go with her family.

Sara Mayo, Development Manager

Sara comes to Growing Hope from Sarasota Florida where she spent most of her life. A native of Columbus Ohio, she has lived in Boston, and now Michigan. She brings knowledge in communications and the non-profit sector – primarily in the elementary school system – where she created a children’s garden, a butterfly garden and an outdoor classroom for the students of her son’s school. Sara is energetic and outgoing, and she is very excited to be a part of Growing Hope’s mission. Her interests include gardening, photography, rock collecting, crafts, writing poems, discovering new places to visit, and long walks in the woods with her pit bull, Sage. On any given day, you can find her trying to figure out the science of growing food from scraps as a way to lessen our food waste and come up with alternative ways of growing food Sara’s mission in life is growing love and hopes to apply that same philosophy in all that she does here at Growing Hope!

 

 

Vivi Nguyen, Farmers Market Manager

Vivi is a native Michigander with a deep perspective on the culture at large. As a daughter of war refugees and a first generation American, she is always processing the meaning of goodness, connection, and metamorphosis. Her interest in these pulse-points led her to the food sovereignty movement and ecological-cultural systems-thinking.Vivi is a passionate student of agroecology, permaculture. and the human condition. At Growing Hope, she is working with the farmers markets to create a vibrant community space for food-earth-people lovers. In her free time, she is reading, thinking, writing, cooking, playing instruments, and loving people. Her favorite experiences are wild and numinous ones. To connect, email .

Dayna Popkey, Program Director

Dayna grew up in Ypsilanti just blocks from the downtown farmers market and has been involved in food systems work since her first job at the Ypsilanti Food Co-op. Over the years, she has worked in local kitchens, volunteered on local farms, became a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, completed a master’s degree in Human Nutrition at EMU, and worked for Growing Hope as a nutrition educator, Farmers Market Assistant, and Farmers Market and Nutrition Manager. She now serves as the Program Director supporting Growing Hope through grant writing and strategic development of our programs, partnerships, and staff. As a dietitian, Dayna practices an anti-diet, weight-neutral approach to food justice and health activism, and also believes in the transformative power of gardening, cooking, and eating as a community. At home, she enjoys canning and food preservation, camping and hiking with her husband, and singing around a campfire with her friends.
 
Cristi Rodriguez-Alfaro, Garden Manager

Cristi has lived in Ypsilanti for the majority of her life. They speak Spanish and are a first generation Salvadoran-American. Her parents fled El Salvador during a civil war and preserving the culture, history, and ways of life of her Salvadoran family make up a large part of her identity. Their passion for nature, subsistence, and community-based farming was established through storytelling and demonstration at a young age. She studied sociology at Eastern Michigan University, and enjoys discussing the interconnectedness of human relationships with plants and wildlife and how they depend on one another for survival. Cristi looks forward to approaching work at Growing Hope in their own community through a global and systemic lens. Outside of work, she loves to hike, go camping, paint, take care of houseplants, and play rugby.

 
Juniper Wolfenbarger, Teen & School Manager

Juniper is a fiber artist, graphic designer and youth mentor, raised in Toledo, OH. After graduating with their BFA in 2016, they began working with community based non-profits, acting as a mentor for young creatives in the Toledo, Ann Arbor, and Ypsilanti areas. They collaborate with teens to amplify and highlight youth voices, including mutual pursuits for equity, inclusion and compassion for each other and our surrounding environment.

Juniper also has a lifelong passion for gardening. They’ve had their hands in the dirt from age 10, growing tomatoes, zucchini, green beans and numerous other vegetables with their mother in a small backyard plot.

When they’re not in the studio, Juniper spends their time taking nature hikes with friends, knitting giant scarves, doing yoga, reading Sci-fi novels, watching anime and teaching tricks to their cat, Merry.