Vassar Today

2012 Vassar College Inaugural Conference on Food and Agriculture

By Larry Hertz

Panel: International, Conventional, and Slow(er) Foods

Rebecca Roseman

Rebecca Roseman is an M.A. candidate in food systems at NYU, working on chocolate sourcing. She also researched the chocolate supply chain as a student at the French Culinary Institute and Vassar and has worked with chocolate as a pastry chef, chocolatier, and gelato maker. Her search for good to think, good to eat chocolate has taken her to France, Boston, Belize, and, currently, New York. In addition to her studies at NYU, she currently interns at Cissé Trading Co., a maker of Fair Trade cocoa and baking mixes.

Justin Leavenworth

In 2002, Justin Leavenworth co-founded Global Arena, a strategic consulting and language services company. Global Arena works with Fortune 500 companies to develop culturally appropriate messaging and branding. Seeing an opportunity in importing natural and organic foods from Latin America, Justin founded a second company in 2005—Chispa Group LLC. Chispa became the first company ever to import Chilean beef into the United States, and from 2005 to 2009, Justin developed a national grass-fed beef program with Whole Foods Market. He is currently the CEO of SOTE Ranchers Cooperative, the United States’ first range cattle cooperative. 

Eric Beringause

Eric Beringause graduated from Vassar in 1980 with a dual major in anthropology and sociology. While working for IBM in Upstate New York, he attended Cornell University’s Graduate School of Business, where he received an M.B.A. in 1982. Over the past 30 years, Eric has held a variety of management positions in top global companies, including Nestlé, Kraft, ConAgra, and Alcoa. For the past decade, he has focused on turnaround opportunities associated with private equity-controlled consumer products companies.

Panel: International, Conventional, and Slow(er) Foods, Part II

Lee Zalben

Lee Zalben is the founder and president of Peanut Butter & Co., based in New York City. While at Vassar, Lee majored in urban studies. During his sophomore year, he served as head usher on the Daisy Chain; during his senior year, he was co-chair of the Class Gift and business manager of Vassarion. Lee went on to work in advertising and publishing while concurrently earning a master’s degree in publishing from Pace University. In 1998, he opened the Peanut Butter & Co. sandwich shop and in 2003, expanded into retail distribution. His line of 10 different varieties of all-natural peanut butter (Dark Chocolate Dreams, Cinnamon Raisin Swirl, Smooth Operator, etc.) is now sold at over 15,000 supermarkets and natural food stores throughout the U.S. and Canada, including Kroger, Target, Walmart, and Whole Foods Market. Over the years, Lee has hired Vassar students and grads as interns and employees. In May 2011, Crain’s New York Business recognized Lee with its Top Entrepreneur Award. He sits on the American Express OPEN Customer Advisory Board and serves on the Supplier Marketing Council of the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT). He also writes the weekly That’s Nuts column for the James Beard Award-winning food blog Serious Eats. Join in the nutty fun:;

Patrick Martins

Patrick Martins was born in New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital on February 10, 1972 and has lived in the city ever since. He received a master’s degree in performance studies from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Patrick is the founder of Slow Food USA, Heritage Foods USA, and Heritage Radio Network and co-founder of the New York City Trivia Game.

Helen Nicholas

Helen Nicholas, along with her husband, started Royal Coffee in 1978. After graduating from Vassar, she and her husband started their business, buying their first bag of coffee with a credit card. They grew their business one bag of coffee at a time. Today, Royal Coffee imports “green” (eco-friendly) coffee and sells it to roasters.

Panel: Alternative Agriculture, Social Justice, and Healing Foods

Maura Schorr Beaufait

Maura Schorr Beaufait, M.S./M.P.H.,  is the healthy food access coordinator at the Bowdoin Street Health Center, in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, where she manages the on-site farmers’ market, subsidized CSA program, Healthy Corner Store Initiative, and youth employment program. She also teaches an online business planning course for new and immigrant farmers through the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. Maura brings a breadth of experience in community-based initiatives to promote food access in limited-resource urban communities as well as both academic and practical work in the areas of agricultural entrepreneurship and farm viability. She holds a dual master’s degree from Tufts University in public health and agriculture, food, and environmental policy. 

Carrie Blackburn

Carrie Blackburn is the development and membership associate at the New York City-based food and farming nonprofit Just Food. As an undergraduate at Vassar, Carrie worked at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project and taught ESL at George W. Smith Elementary School. She majored in Latin American and Latino/a studies and dabbled in English, anthropology, and geography—all of which cultivated her passion for food as a means to social justice. Carrie is a certified Master Gardener, a lover of surreal fiction, and the owner of a well-worn cookbook collection.

Robin Burger

Robin Burger oversees the daily business operations and sales growth for Hot Bread Kitchen, a mission-driven artisan bakery that creates professional opportunities for immigrant women and sells a line of authentic multi-ethnic breads inspired by the women who bake them. Robin joined Hot Bread Kitchen in 2009 as one of only two full-time staff members and has since helped grow the organization’s sales to support a seven-days-a-week business that employs over 40 people. Prior to Hot Bread Kitchen, Robin worked as an intern through Vassar’s Field Work Office and then as a full-time youth educator for the Green Teen Community Gardening Program at the Family Partnership Center in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Working and living in Poughkeepsie, she discovered her passion for empowering individuals and building community by creating meaningful work through food.

Panel: Alternative Agriculture, Social Justice, and Healing Foods, Part II

Valerie Linet

Valerie Linet  is a Hudson Valley poet-gardener-social worker. She has been a grower and educator for various garden projects, including those of Phillies Bridge Farm, Zen Mountain Monastery, and Kingston Land Trust. Valerie currently chairs the Phoenicia Community Gardens Steering Committee. She works in Kingston, N.Y., serving families affected by HIV/AIDS.

Abby Kinchy

Abby Kinchy is a sociologist, working in the interdisciplinary Science and Technology Studies Department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She majored in science, technology, and society at Vassar and later went on to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Abby specializes in the study of political controversies surrounding changes in the systems that produce food and energy. Her favorite course to teach is “Food, Farms, and Famine,” which addresses themes of food security, sustainability, and social justice.

Lynn Mordas

Born and raised in Beacon, N.Y., Lynn Mordas has operated Dashing Star Farm LLC for the past 19 years in Millerton, N.Y., marketing farm products to restaurants and retail establishments and at farmers’ markets, fairs, and festivals throughout the Hudson Valley and New York metropolitan area. Lynn chaired the Town of North East Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan Committee and now serves on both the Agricultural Advisory Committee and Conservation Advisory Council. She is also a member of the Dutchess County Sheep and Wool Growers Association, the New York Farm Bureau, and the Empire Sheep Producers Association. She is further employed as executive director of the nonprofit organization Friends of Coleman Station Inc., an historic preservation consultant, and a freelance grant writer. After beginning her undergraduate education at Vassar, Lynn earned a B.S. in geomathematics from Syracuse Universtity and an M.P.A. from Marist College. She also completed the LEAD New York certificate program at Cornell University, the NX Level Training Program for Agricultural Entrepreneurs, and the Cornell Cooperative Extension Beginning Farmers Course.

Erika Rumbley

Since completing her farm apprenticeship at West Wind Farm in Port Angeles, Wash., in 2005, Erika Rumbley has worked with people of all ages, sharing the tools for success in small-scale sustainable agriculture. She is a graduate of Vassar in environmental studies. Erika currently serves as the garden educator for Boston Natural Areas Network, managing a half-acre horticultural learning center in addition to designing and implementing educational programming for Boston community gardeners.