Our People

Our people are passionate and committed! Benicia Community Gardens is almost entirely volunteer run.  Our  volunteers and members are changing Benicia, one garden at a time.

Staff

Elena Karoulina, Executive Director elena@beniciacommunitygardens.org
Elena joined BCG in 2011, first as a Board member; she became an executive director for the organization at the end of the same year. Elena brings to BCG more than twenty years of management and business analysis experience in telecommunication and health care industries, an MBA from Vanderbilt University, her passion for nourishing sustainable food and her deep interest in local economy and community resilience. In her role of the executive director, Elena is responsible for strategic planning, financial and legal aspects of the organization, day-to-day operation and program development and management.

Benicia Community Gardens Volunteer Garden Leadership Team

BCG is a true community-based organization and enjoys continuous support from our community members. As an all-volunteer organization, BCG has relied on the generous spirit and initiative of people of Solano County for more than a decade. Volunteers run our programs, tend to the Community Share Plot and deliver donation harvest, install demonstration permaculture food forests in Benicia, teach local school children how to grow food, and support all the business functions of our organization. Besides a very active working Board, BCG has grown a volunteer leadership team that is actively involved in decision making and running of the organization.

Carol Thompson, Swenson Garden Coordinator gardens@beniciacommunitygardens.org 
Carol recently arrived in Benicia from the Mad River Valley in Vermont where she spent her spare time gardening, kayaking, snowshoeing, hiking, biking and cross-country skiing.  She loves to see how much produce she is able to harvest from her extra-large garden plot at Swenson Garden, and has had great luck growing zucchini and strawberries for her grandson.    When she was in Vermont, her gardens covered 1/2 an acre, with blueberries, strawberries, fruit trees, asparagus, jerusalem artichoke, lots of summer and winter squash, peas, pole beans, lettuce, kale, garlic, broccoli and cauliflower.  She has been enjoying the extended gardening season in California and is thankful to former Swenson Coordinator, Rocky Delarocca, for his advice, and for keeping the gardens in such great shape.
Jack Kolk, Avant Garden Coordinator gardens@beniciacommunitygardens.org or kolkj@bellsouth.net
Jack recently moved back to the bay area from Atlanta Georgia, where he and his wife Maggie were avid gardeners and helped cofound Lanier Community Gardens. Having grown up in Southern California, he always has at least heirloom tomatoes, basil vegetable garden and compost pile, water permitting. With a love of plants, mushrooms and healthy food, volunteering to support the Benicia Community Gardens and its vision of community came easily. Working mostly online by day in information security and regulatory compliance, playing in the dirt at Avant Garden is welcome relaxation! A graduate of UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources with a multidisciplinary focus on environmental microbiology, Jack has worked on biological control of mosquitos and is a former Chairman of the Mycological Society of San Francisco Toxicology Committee. An avid mushroom forager and sometimes cultivator.
Maggie_IngallsMaggie Ingalls, Community Orchard Coordinator orchard@beniciacommunitygardens.org
Maggie Ingalls has been a gardener for more than 30 years, first in Southern California, then the Chicago suburbs, and for the last 9 years, in Benicia. She grows vegetables, fruit trees, flowering perennials and California natives. She is a passionate advocate for supporting local ecosystems by growing native plants. She volunteers at the Solano Land Trust and the Regional Parks Botanic Garden, where she is a docent.

Shannon Ramirez,  “What’s For Dinner?” Program Volunteer Educator /Chef
Shannon is very excited to volunteer with Benicia Community Gardens.  She has been involved with food justice and activism throughout the Bay Area. Shannon worked with Alice Waters, the Edible Education Foundation and Oakland School Food Policy Foundation. Shannon is a professional chef and she currently works as a personal caterer for musicians when they tour in the Bay Area. As the Orchard Coordinator, Shannon oversees the growth and development of the Orchard and is actively involved with the Orchard community to ensure active participation in learning the skills necessary to take care of our Orchard.  Her role in the “What’s for Dinner?” program is to lead a conversation about all the local food that was delivered to Benicia during a week by our CSA partners, examine the food in front of the attendees and suggest a seasonal nourishing menu for the entire family built around Benicia CSA offerings and other fresh seasonal ingredients.

Steacy Sadler, Benicia Community Chickens Volunteer Coordinator chickens@beniciacommunitygardens.org Steacy was born and raised in the Bay Area and spent most of her childhood on a family farm in the outskirts of Vacaville with chickens, rabbits, cows, horses, geese, and ducks. She moved to Benicia as a teen and has lived there ever since. Experienced homesteader herself, she quickly met and became active with local urban homesteaders. Steacy is the Volunteer Coordinator for Benicia Community Chickens, a part of the Benicia Community Farm. Her goal is to offer guidance, training, assistance and resources to local backyard chicken keepers, and to establish a sense of community among both beginning and experienced urban homesteaders.

IMG_1280aPaula Schnese, Creator of Benicia Fresh Foods (BFF)
Paula grew up in a small town in Wisconsin surrounded by family farms. However, she had her sights set on California and pursued a commercial photography degree at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara. Living in California increased Paula’s interest in health and nutrition and in ’92 she became a vegetarian after reading John Robbin’s book ‘Diet for a New America’. Living in Santa Barbara, San Francisco and Berkeley, she was grateful for the abundance of wonderful, healthy, flavorful, local food choices. Moving to Benicia in 2013, she feels a void here (and is doing something about it)! “I can’t be the only one who feels this way. Local farmers pass by Benicia to provide for other communities. Let’s have them stop in Benicia.” She organized the creation of BFF-Benicia Fresh Foods in August 2015 with a few interested members of the community and its mission is to connect local farmers and artisan food producers with the community. Now she is thinking Food Co-op. “What a wonderful way to build community and share the types of foods I’ve grown accustomed to living here in California.”

Jessica Kielman, “Benicia Community Table” (formerly “What’s For Dinner?”) Program Volunteer Educator Jessica has a degree in biology with a focus on zoology, but her current passion revolves around cooking and teaching people how to feed their families wholesome, nutrient dense meals. Although she is not a formally trained teacher, her passion to share health, her experiments and recipes, drives her to spread the news to as many people she can in her community. She came to the BCG through its organic partnership with Essence of Life Healing studio and became a prominent volunteer speaker and educator. As her little ones grow she hopes to become a larger part of the BCG family and help to bring other local groups together in the BCG network.

Mariano Espinosa, Volunteer Finance Adviser
Mariano, a VP of Finance at Wells Fargo, stepped in to help BCG establish clear financial processes and procedures, and solid accounting practices. He actively advises the Board on financial metrics and internal reporting. Besides his active role on the financial side of the house, Mariano volunteers his time at various BCG events, providing IT, graphic design and “a handyman” support, which earned him a title “BCG’s Jack of all Trades”. Mariano’s motivation? – “I want my kids to grow up in a healthy vibrant community.”

Kyle Varga, Volunteer Legal Advisor
Mr. Kyle Z. Varga is the founding attorney of KZV Law.  He currently serves as the legal advisor for the Benicia Community Gardens and helps implement outreach programs and counsels the BCG board of directors regarding various legal issues. He also teaches community education classes at Solano Community College that focus on legal subjects such as entity formation, intellectual property, contracts, and commercial leases. Mr. Varga has an array of legal experience ranging from in-house counsel to independent financial auditing to civil litigation. He enjoys practicing law using modern technologies to meet his clients’ various interests and loves working with new people and businesses. Outside of the law he participates in outdoor activities, such as camping, hiking, biking, and gardening. Mr. Varga strives to continuously learn and challenge himself, and hopes to reach out to inspire others to do the same via his blog and social media presence Traveling Esquire. www.KZVLaw.com

Rick Beeson, Permaculture Advisory Board, Share Garden Farmer
Rick recently retired after 45 years as a pipefitter in the construction field. He likes to spend his time gardening in his back yard that he refers to as a laboratory He received a Four Seasons Permaculture Design Certificate Sept 2012 from Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas, CA He joined Benicia Sustainable Backyards as an adviser in fall of 2014 He was involved in the initial stages of soil testing for toxic contaminants for one of the food forest installations in 2015
Chris Francis, Permaculture Advisory Board, Share Garden Farmer
Chris grew up in Benicia and is grateful to be able to support efforts to care for the earth and feed the community. When she was introduced to Permaculture, she jumped at the chance to be a student of the natural world, resulting in a Four Seasons Permaculture Design Certificate from Regenerative Design Institute. Her years of teaching and degrees in Psychology, and Culture and Spirituality provided great training grounds for embracing this work that offers what John Muir calls, “places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.”
Constance M. Beutel, EdD, Memory Keeper
With a 50 year professional career that spanned Active Service in the USAF (highly decorated Vietnam Veteran), Telecommunications and Higher Education, Constance was strongly influenced by a great love and responsibility to the Earth as modeled by her parents, education and her hero, R. Buckminster Fuller.  Constance helped to bring higher education to thousands of employees on corporate premises throughout the State of California, served as the Associate Dean at Golden Gate University’s School of Technology, was a Hewlett Scholar at Menlo College and completed her Academic career as a founding Faculty member in Union Institute & University’s Doctorate in Education emphasizing Social Justice.  She initiated and held Benicia Emergency Response Team (BERT) training for several years, is a licensed amateur Ham radio operator, and was a founding member and Chair of the City of Benicia’s Community Sustainability Commission.  She is a passionate videographer with over 300 videos on her Youtube.com/cmbeutel channel.  Constance is committed to the advancement of women and the preservation of our planet.

BCG Board of Directors

Marilyn Bardet, Chair
Marilyn, a long-time resident of Benicia, is a civic & environmental activist with a life-long commitment to social and environmental justice. She is a founding member of the Good Neighbor Steering Committee, a local grassroots environmental watchdog, a founding member of Benicia Tree Foundation, an ex-officio member of the Benicia Community Sustainability Commission, and a certified member of the Benicia Emergency Response Team; in the past she served as a council-appointed member of the City of Benicia General Plan Oversight Committee. In her free time, Marilyn writes poetry, gardens, paints and hikes. She is also an active member of Arts Benicia.
Larry Lamoreaux, Treasurer
Larry, a retired biomedical engineer and a long-time Benicia resident, has been interested in farming since boyhood. In his youth, Larry became a pig farmer through the Future Farmers of America program. Larry’s other passion – engineering – took his life in a different direction and he spent most of his professional career in biomedical field working for the VA and Shriner’s Hospital for Children, designing artificial legs, among his many projects. After retirement, Larry returned to his roots, first by actively gardening himself and later becoming Benicia Community Gardens Treasurer and our “chief engineering officer”: Larry designs and oversees the construction of all garden beds and other small structures in our programs (and he builds them too! – with help from other volunteers). Father and grandfather, Larry spends a lot of time with his family; he also enjoys cycling, canoeing, and singing.
Chris Francis, Secretary, Permaculture Advisory Board, Share Garden Farmer
Chris grew up in Benicia and is grateful to be able to support efforts to care for the earth and feed the community. She has a Four Seasons Permaculture Design Certificate from Regenerative Design Institute. Her years of teaching and degrees in Psychology, and Culture and Spirituality provided great training grounds for embracing this work that offers what John Muir calls, “places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.” Chris has served for more than two years at the BCG Permaculture Advisory Board and has been managing our Share Plot since April. Joining the Board is a natural progression of Chris’s commitment to the mission of the organization. In Chris’s own words, “serving on the Board is an opportunity to support the organization’s efforts in exploring, developing and implementing principles that inspire an ecologically vibrant, healthy, “mutually-enhancing” community”.
Mary Condit, Board Member
Mary, a life-long gardener and a long-time Benicia resident, grew up in a farm and used to manage a 35-acre family food garden and orchard in WA State. Mary is very active in our community; Besides serving on the BCG board since its creation (Mary recently retired from the position of the secretary of the Board after completing 100 (!) Board Meeting Minutes), Mrs. Condit belongs to the Benicia Friendship Club, P.E.O, women’s philanthropic organization, and Vallejo Choral Society, where she was an active Board member until recently, and is still an active singer.
Elena Karoulina, Board Member
A Board member since 2011, Elena brought a vision for growing the organization from community gardening toward an all-encompassing local sustainable food movement.

Marcella Licea, Board Member
Marcella began her food-growing journey with planting her first seeds at her garden plot at Swenson Garden in 2013 and has been an active BCG volunteer and supporter ever since. She has served as Public Outreach Volunteer Coordinator and a Communications Committee Member helping increase awareness of events and programs in the community. Marcella grew up in Vallejo, CA and holds a Psychology degree from UC Davis. As her interests in environmental efforts centered in food production and climate change evolved, she went and obtained an Environmental Science Certificate from her local college. Her passion for sustainable agriculture and community, background in nonprofit administration and acquired career in nonprofit capacity building led Marcella to join the BCG’s governing board. She hopes to make a difference by helping grow the organization’s financial stability and program reach. She enjoys gardening, doing yoga, cooking and diving into new experiences that she can grow from.

Each new program is now overseen by its own Advisory Board – a group of community members with relevant experience and passion for the program’s goals and objectives.

Benicia Sustainable Backyard (Permaculture)

 

David Mudge, Permaculture Consultant martinezpermaculture.blogspot.com
David grew up in England on a family farm. After moving to the United States, he started his own landscaping company, incorporating permaculture design and earthwork. He has been in business for more than 20 years and holds a Permaculture Design Certificate.  David is a founder and keeper of Martinez Permaculture Center, a firm believer in urban permaculture and local sustainable food production, a visionary, and a mentor.
Rick Beeson, Permaculture Advisory Board, Share Garden Farmer
Rick recently retired after 45 years as a pipefitter in the construction field. He likes to spend his time gardening in his back yard that he refers to as a laboratory He received a Four Seasons Permaculture Design Certificate Sept 2012 from Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas, CA He joined Benicia Sustainable Backyards as an adviser in fall of 2014 He was involved in the initial stages of soil testing for toxic contaminants for one of the food forest installations in 2015
Chris Francis, Permaculture Advisory Board, Share Garden Farmer
Chris grew up in Benicia and is grateful to be able to support efforts to care for the earth and feed the community. When she was introduced to Permaculture, she jumped at the chance to be a student of the natural world, resulting in a Four Seasons Permaculture Design Certificate from Regenerative Design Institute. Her years of teaching and degrees in Psychology, and Culture and Spirituality provided great training grounds for embracing this work that offers what John Muir calls, “places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.”

Kathleen Huffman, Owner of Re-Purposed Okie

Kathleen Huffman, Owner of The Repurposed Okie Landscaping Company
A recent graduate of the BCG Land Caretakers program, Kathleen’s passion for gardening began many years earlier on her parent’s farm in Oklahoma. Here her family raised organic fruits and vegetables and she developed a love of the land and a passion for plants. Kathleen hopes to use her background to help others learn about urban food gardening.   She also helps spread the word about using water more wisely, installing Laundry 2 Landscape systems and retaining rain water by the use of bio-swales. Kathleen is the owner of The RePurposed Okie, a landscaping company specializing in the design, installation and maintenance of urban food forests in the Solano County area.

Community Food Center

We envision a community-supported kitchen and food center – a place where local chefs cook healthy, affordable meals using local sustainable ingredients, and community gathers around good food, education and inspiration. This is a core group of people who are at the root of this initiative. If you are a local chef or you have expertise in food business management, food safety regulation and/or legal aspects of community-based food centers, we’d love to hear from you. Heathy food for healthy community!

Veronica's VeggiesVeronica Bearce, Veronica’s Veggies Catering
Retired educator for 24 years…mother…soon to be grandmother…cancer survivor on a mission to bring vegan comfort food to those in need, the elderly, those with physical maladies, or even those who are too busy to cook.

 

 

bio picWhitney Sutterley, Bread Baker
Whitney is fascinated with food: where it comes from, how it’s prepared, and how people come together to create it. She is currently attending culinary school, and will be the valedictorian for her 2016 graduating class. She has a particular passion for sourdough bread, and sees the local production and preparation of grains as a crucial aspect of the farm-to-table movement. She grew up in Benicia, and is excited to be involved with Benicia Community Gardens as a food producer. Whitney holds a B.A. in anthropology from UC San Diego.

 

unnamed-50Stephanie Oelsligle Jordan, Chef
Chef Stephanie Oelsligle Jordan grew up in rural Nebraska, among a family of gardeners and farmers. Her undergraduate work took her to Chicago, where she graduated from Northwestern University with a BA in Communication Studies. After working in Marketing and PR for several years, she caught the “cooking bug,” and in 2004 earned a Certificate of Professional Cooking from the Illinois Institute of Art.  Shortly after culinary school, she started her own company, Hot Dish, Inc., through which she successfully catered private events and taught cooking classes for seven years. In 2011, Chef Steph and her family moved to Benicia, California, where she currently serves on the Board of Directors for Healthy Cooking with Kids, and has recently joined the Community Supported Kitchen Initiative with the Benicia Community Gardens. As a mother of 2 young boys, Chef Steph is passionate about teaching children to eat healthy from a young age, and increasing the accessibility of organic food to families. She is an advocate of cleaning up our nation’s broken food system, and works for food justice whenever possible.  Chef Steph is very excited at the prospect of cooking in Benicia’s Community Supported Kitchen.

Communications Committee Volunteers

IMG_2706Kerry Rivers, Communications Committee Volunteer kerry@beniciacommunitygardens.org
Kerry has a degree in Environmental Studies from UC Santa Cruz, excellent writing communication skills and passion for sustainability. Kerry brings to BCG her experience as a volunteer for Sustainable Contra Costa’s communication committee, where she gained first-hand knowledge of and experience in public outreach, social media campaigns and newsletter production. Kerry’s major responsibility is to increase awareness of BCG mission, programs and accomplishments.

 

Marcella Licea, Public Outreach Volunteer Coordinator, Communications Committee Member
Marcella’s enthusiasm for food and support of sustainability efforts led to her involvement with Benicia Community Gardens. Her background in non-profit administration and desire to help spread the word about growing food and community resilience prompted her to become a volunteer PR Coordinator. She takes pride in tending her garden bed at Swenson and harvesting the reward of fresh veggies. She hopes to plant her very own permaculture food forest in the future.
Nam Nguyen, Communications Committee Member
Nam is a writer, developmental editor, polydidact, and mother of two. She is interested in environmental health and food systems and is married to a fledgling garden enthusiast. Passing by Avant Garden one evening coming from the Farmer’s Market with the kids in the wagon and the enthusiast beside her, she came upon BCG soliciting applications for their permaculture demonstration project. Intrigued, they applied and have met many lovely people and learned so much about gardening and more. When the word came out that BCG needed some writing help, she was delighted to volunteer and join the Communications Committee. Her favorite garden book is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Upcoming Events

Nov
25
Sat
9:00 am Community Share Plot Workday @ Avant Garden
Community Share Plot Workday @ Avant Garden
Nov 25 @ 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
BCG maintains a Benicia Community Share Plot where we grow food for donation to the community members in need. It’s cared for by volunteers and you are welcome to join in at any of our workdays. Chris[...]
9:00 am Community Share Plot Workday @ Avant Garden
Community Share Plot Workday @ Avant Garden
Nov 25 @ 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
BCG maintains a Benicia Community Share Plot where we grow food for donation to the community members in need. It’s cared for by volunteers and you are welcome to join in at any of our workdays. Chris[...]
Dec
30
Sat
9:00 am Community Share Plot Workday @ Avant Garden
Community Share Plot Workday @ Avant Garden
Dec 30 @ 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
BCG maintains a Benicia Community Share Plot where we grow food for donation to the community members in need. It’s cared for by volunteers and you are welcome to join in at any of our workdays. Chris[...]
9:00 am Community Share Plot Workday @ Avant Garden
Community Share Plot Workday @ Avant Garden
Dec 30 @ 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
BCG maintains a Benicia Community Share Plot where we grow food for donation to the community members in need. It’s cared for by volunteers and you are welcome to join in at any of our workdays. Chris[...]
Jan
27
Sat
9:00 am Community Share Plot Workday @ Avant Garden
Community Share Plot Workday @ Avant Garden
Jan 27 @ 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
BCG maintains a Benicia Community Share Plot where we grow food for donation to the community members in need. It’s cared for by volunteers and you are welcome to join in at any of our workdays. Chris[...]