RURAL ACTION - Key Persons
- Land Bank Manager, Athens County Land Bank
- Media and Communications Director
Alexandria Polanosky is the Media and Communications Director at Rural Action. She has a passion for community organizing, creative direction, multimedia production, marketing strategy and small-scale agriculture. When she is not working on branding and communication strategies or producing multimedia content, she is most likely wandering around and staring at her gardens or flipping her latest thrifted furniture find.
Alisha joined Rural Action in September 2023 as the Farm to Institution Manager. She is passionate about restoring reciprocity with the earth, supporting local farmworkers and food producers, and building healthy communities of care.
Her position before Rural Action was working on a farm using organic and regenerative practices in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Before this she had lived in Columbus, OH, for ten years and her work there included positions at Nationwide Children's Hospital, the YMCA of Central Ohio, and serving as an AmeriCorps member with Homeport, an affordable housing agency. She has also supported the work of local community groups including Central Ohio Housing Action Network (COHAN) and the Resist Line 3 Media Collective through helping with their social media presence on instagram as well as the on the ground work.
She is not unfamiliar with the Southeast Ohio region though, as she grew up in Circleville, OH, and then attended college at Ohio University in Athens, graduating with her bachelors degree in Journalism with a focus on Public Relations, and specializations in English and Art History.
Alisha is interested in topics that include herbalism, land/water defense, fiber/natural materials art, and poetry. When not at work she can most likely be found crocheting, reading, posting on instagram, tending to plants, or out on a walk with her partner and their sweet pup Sally.
- Member of the Rural Action Board of Directors
- Social Enterprise Director
Andi Chatfield first began working with Rural Action as an independent contractor in 2020 after designing and developing the website for True Pigments. In 2022 she joined the Rural Action Social Enterprise team. In the role of Social Enterprise Director, she works with the Chief Innovation Officer and collaborates with Rural Action staff to provide business analysis and support to social enterprises within Rural Action.
Andi originally came to Athens County via an Apprenticeship at Green Edge Organic Gardens in 2016. She stayed on as a field worker after the program ended, and a few years later she was managing operations in multiple areas of the farm although a shoulder injury brought her career in sustainable agriculture to an untimely end. Undaunted, she pivoted to studying computer programming, graduating from Hocking College with an associate of applied science in Website and Application Development in Spring 2020.
Most recently Andi worked at the Athens County Public Libraries as a technology trainer, teaching digital literacy. It was there she fell in love with waking up every day and trying to make the world a more equitable place through her daily work. Andi's Core Values center around purpose and equity, and these guide her choices both personally and professionally. She originally hails from Scioto County where she grew up on a family farm that her parents still own and operate. In her free time, Andi enjoys working on her own fledgling Social Enterprise, the Appalachian Salt and Spice Company, foraging for wild edible plants and fungi, taking forest baths, and daydreaming about becoming feral.
Andrea Baird is an Ohio lady. She transitioned from the hustle and bustle of Columbus' big city life to slow down and seek a more intentional lifestyle in the beautiful rolling hills of Athens, OH in 2017. First and foremost she is a lover of live music, outdoor recreation and making friends.
Andrea received her degree from Hocking College in Applied Business in Music Management, where she discovered her love for event planning and community organization. In the year of 2020 it dawned on her that she could shift her skillset to the nonprofit world and use these powers for good and help create a lasting, positive impact for the community that she was growing to love. She founded a successful regional community festival called Skate Jam that raises funds for free youth programming and the Athens local skatepark.
Andrea is exceptionally extroverted and finds true joy in getting to know new people and developing relationships. She is excited to lend her fundraising experience and love for human connections to the Development Director position.
- Sustainable Forestry Manager
Andrea Miller's roots run deep in Appalachian Ohio. As a child, she spent countless hours on her great-grandparents' farm in Perry County. Her great-grandmother was a ginseng steward and had a "massive" garden, interests that motivated Andrea to earn a conservation biology degree with a botany minor at Bowling Green State University and then a master's in herbalism at Maryland University of Integrative Health.
After college, Andrea worked in Maryland for a while, managing the university's herb garden and working at the Green Farmacy Garden. But she knew she wanted to return home to Appalachian Ohio, which brought her to Athens, where she worked for Companion Plants for three years before joining Rural Action.
In addition to working at Rural Action, Andrea serves on the board of directors of The Athens Conservancy and the Native Foods Education Organization, and the leadership committee of the Southeastern Ohio Chapter of Women Owning Woodlands. In her spare time, she enjoys, hiking, kayaking, cooking and spending time with her cat, Kiwi.
Anthony has always had an interest in environmental conservation and ecology. Reducing his impact and remediating the environment has become a priority for him.
The degradation of the world's biomes is an anxiety felt by many people and it's easy to feel helpless at times, but there really is so much people can do to improve the quality of their local community and environment. When Anthony was 15, he discovered that he could support and attract wildlife in his suburban backyard by growing native plants. That led to an addiction to reading native plant seed catalogs and an obsession over what plants he could possibly grow.
Since then, he has been hooked on native plant propagation, which was one of his motivators to go to college. After graduating high school, he went and got his Biology A.S. at Sinclair Community College in Dayton in 2018 before transferring to Ohio University and completing his Field Ecology B.A. in the Fall of 2022.
While at Sinclair, Anthony did an internship at Cox Arboretum working under the lead horticulturist. At Ohio University, he did undergraduate research on wild leeks. He took a break from school and did landscaping as well as serving a term with Americorps, doing trail restoration projects and invasive species removal in several National Parks.
Today, Anthony's interest from adolescence still lives within. He still enjoys experimenting with the local flora. He is happy to be able to work with Rural Action to launch such an exciting social enterprise and hopes to see it grow in a phenomenal way.
Bailey Borland recently joined the team at Rural Action as part of Live Healthy Kids finding its home with Rural Action in June 2023. She oversees and manages the Live Healthy Kids (LHK) program, working with 2nd graders in Athens County. They learn the importance of eating real food, physical activity, and overall health.
She is continuing this work having already served in this role as part of Live Healthy Appalachia. She is excited to be a part of the Rural Action Sustainable Agriculture team and hopes to grow LHK's programming with them. Bailey is passionate about serving her community with services and programs to help better their lifestyles with healthy food programs and active living.
She enjoys spending time with her two dogs, Roscoe and Rocky. She also enjoys spending time outside, whether it's walking the dogs, visiting the dog park, kayaking, hiking, you name it, she's out there! Lastly, she is a big foodie, loves to shop, likes anything pink, enjoys a good book and her ultimate favorite - loves being a dog mom.
- Member of the Rural Action Board of Directors
Bryn Sowash serves Rural Action as the Operations Director overseeing staff onboarding, training and development, impact tracking, process improvement and implementation, and budget monitoring. Bryn previously served as the National Service Program Planner and successfully developed and helped implement an expansion of Rural Action's National Service programming. Under Bryn's guidance, the Appalachian Ohio Restore Corps expanded from 31 members to 70 members and specifically increased the Corps' capacity to address the climate crisis.
Before joining Rural Action, Bryn served on the Senior Leadership Team at a arts technology company, helping to develop new initiatives and providing operational support to clients and internal teams. Her background in service spans from an AmeriCorps term in college to cycling for affordable housing with Bike and Build to leading the National Conference for Women in Economic and Leadership Development.
At home, Bryn enjoys gardening, making music, practicing yoga, tending to her bee hives, and spending as much time outside as possible with her daughter, husband, and two dogs.
Caitlyn Park earned an AAS in GeoEnvironmental Studies from Hocking College and a BA in Anthropology from Ohio University. She first came to Rural Action by way of an internship and then via our AmeriCorps program, Ohio Stream Restore Corps (now titled Appalachian Ohio Restore Corps). She served three restore corps terms with the Watershed Program from 2015-2018. This led her to a short-term position as a Rural Action Watershed Specialist.
She then worked in education in Columbus, Ohio, before re-joining Rural Action's Watershed program in 2020 as Water Quality Specialist.
- Environmental Education Program Manager
Carrie Vieland is an Athens, Ohio, native, born and bred in the rolling hills and hollows of Shade. A graduate of Ohio University twice over, Carrie holds both a bachelor's and a master's degree from the School of Recreation, Sport Pedagogy and Consumer Sciences with concentrations in Outdoor Recreation and Environmental Studies.
In 2012, Carrie served as an AmeriCorps volunteer with the Rural Action Environmental Education program where she developed a love of outdoor education and an appreciation for her native community. After many years working in the field as a camp counselor, a bike touring guide, a challenge course facilitator, and most recently a Camp Director, Carrie is excited to be back at Rural Action bringing Environmental Education programming to the communities of South East Ohio.
- Chief Finance Officer
Christy joined Rural Action in 2021. During her accounting career she has specialized in financial management for small businesses and non-profit organizations, with a particular interest in food systems, small agriculture, and environmental stewardship. She works to provide professional-level long-term financial planning and management, compliance and fiscally healthy procedures to help mission-driven organizations thrive. She also has served as an auditor and tax-preparer in a public accounting firm.
Christy earned her bachelor's degree at Wake Forest University, and master's degree in Accounting and Information Systems from Virginia Tech. She is a licensed Certified Public Accountant. She strives to live a low-impact lifestyle in a tiny solar-powered home, and enjoys music, biking, growing food, and camping and kayaking with friends.
- Environmental Education Director
Dan joined the Rural Action team in 2017 as the Entrepreneurial Communities Coach after working in the outdoor recreation and adventure education field for more than 20 years. He is now the program director. His career experiences range from indoor classrooms to outdoor education centers, and leading wilderness trips in the northeast and upper Midwest with youth and adults alike. Dan has been both program administrator and instructor, most recently as faculty at SUNY Delhi College of Technology in the Natural Resource and Recreation Sports program. Dan completed education degrees at Penn State University, Minnesota State University, and finished his MBA at Ohio University.
- Member of the Rural Action Board of Directors
- Member of the Rural Action Board of Directors
Debbie Phillips was named as CEO of Rural Action in 2018, after having helped to grow the organization as its Development Director. She previously served as the area's State Representative in the Ohio House from 2009-2016, until term limits kicked in. While in office, she served on the House Finance Committee, House Education Committee, House Agriculture & Rural Development Committee, the Joint Legislative Ethics Commission and the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review. Phillips is particularly proud of having successfully changed Ohio law to prevent schools from charging low-income students for the materials necessary for their participation. Phillips served as a member of Athens City Council from 2003-2008, when she was elected to the House. While on Council she chaired the Planning and Development Committee.
She was the founding Executive Director of the Ohio Fair Schools Campaign, which grew out of a program of Rural Action's, the Community and School Connection, and focused on promoting quality public education for all K-12 students. Debbie is a graduate of Ohio University and lives near Albany.
Debbie's core purpose is to help connect people to a sense of agency and joy. She loves our region and its smart and resilient people.
Diana Goins graduated from Morgan High School and earned her business administration degree with a minor in human resources management at Franklin University in Columbus.
Ed Newman, the Zero Waste director at Rural Action, has been promoting alternatives to the linear path of consumption and disposal of materials in waste since 1981, starting through grassroots organizing and then with the Athens City-County Health Department, where he helped develop Ohio's first multi-material curbside recycling collection for the city of Athens.
Ed was the recycling and refuse manager for 22 years at Ohio University. He was board president of Athens-Hocking Recycling Center and is involved with several other local, regional and national organizations:
Mr. Conley is a professional landscape ecologist with 20 years of technical and analytical expertise in ecological management and research projects. He holds a Master of Science degree in Geography with a Landscape Ecology/Biogeography focus and Bachelor of Science in Specialized Studies in Geology/Ecology. He is currently the Vice President of the Ohio Invasive Plants Council (OIPC).
Mr. Conley launched the GreenReach, LLC in 2014 to provide ecological consultation to regional environmental efforts. Mr. Conley currently serves as the Owner, Senior Landscape Ecologist, and Ohio Licensed Nurseryman. Since its creation, GreenReach, LLC has engaged with the Ohio Supreme Court of Appeals and the Ohio Attorney General's Office to provide expert evaluation of contested mining permits, performed ecological assessments and land management strategies for numerous clients, managed high-level environmental monitoring projects, supported non-profit fundraising efforts through grant-writing, and provided important restoration resources for ecological projects.
Prior to engaging with the GreenReach full-time, Mr. Conley spent 12 years working for the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University. As the Research Supervisor, he coordinated and supervised applied ecological research projects relating to air quality, water quality, and ecological management with University faculty, staff, and students. He managed projects with external clients including the United States Department of Energy (DOE), Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA), United States Forest Service (USFS), and other local and regional clients. Mr. Conley was responsible for generating technical reports, presenting project work at state, national, and international conferences, publishing data and findings in collaboration with project partners.
Mr. Conley has specialized training in United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Wetland Delineation and the Restoration of Streams and Riparian Areas; OEPA Level III Wetland Biocriteria sampling for Amphibians (AmphiIBI) and Vegetation Index of Biotic Integrity (VIBI), Level II Ohio Rapid Assessment Methods for Wetlands (ORAM), Level II Macroinvertebrate Sampling, and Ohio Chemical Water Quality Assessment. Mr. Conley is an expert in atmospheric deposition of acid rain and air toxics, with a particular interest in the role of mercury (Hg) as an ecological pollutant.
Mr. Conley focuses on the application of best management practices and principles (BMPP's) to restore ecological services on degraded landscapes and utilizes complex spatial data analysis to provide comprehensive and adaptive management solutions. He has conducted hundreds of surveys, created thousands of sample points, and generated millions of data records to contribute to the global body of ecological science. He continues to pursue opportunities to restore the integrity, resilience, and functionality of our ecological systems that are fundamental to the productivity and health of our natural and human communities.
Hannah Kopp joined Rural Action as a Watershed Program Manager in 2022. Prior to joining as a staff member, they served as an Appalachian Ohio Restore Corps (AORC) member with Rural Action's Watershed Program.
Hannah graduated from Ohio University in 2020 with a Bachelors of Specialized Studies degree in Natural Resources Conservation following their graduation from Hocking College in 2018 with a degree in Wildlife Resources Management. Their passions lie in restoring impacted ecosystems in Appalachia while encouraging a community land ethic.
- Eastern Ohio Sustainable Ag Manager
Hans is the Eastern Ohio Sustainable Ag Manager at Rural Action. He is a 2016 graduate of Kent State University with a B.A. in Applied Communications, focusing on organizational communications, journalism, and visual design. In his professional career, he has worked as a full-time farmer as well as a sales representative in the agricultural and construction industries.
Hans is a lifelong farmer, working alongside his family to raise sustainable meat, eggs, and produce on their farmsteads outside of New Philadelphia, Ohio (Kneuss Family Farms).Their farm is proud to be one of the founding members of the Tuscarawas Valley Farm Market since 2008-the first producers-only market in Tuscarawas County. Hans also managed a multi-weekend fall festival his family's farm hosted for several years, attracting thousands of families to enjoy pumpkin picking, a corn maze, and educational hay rides. He is passionate about increasing local food access and educating the public about the importance of sustainable agriculture.
In his free time, Hans enjoys gardening, hiking, foraging, reading, creative writing, and live music.
- Social Enterprise Marketing and Communications Manager
- the Social Enterprise Marketing and Communications Manager
Isaac Miller joined Rural Action in June 2023 as the Social Enterprise Marketing and Communications Manager. He has lived in Southeast Ohio his entire life and was born and raised in Athens. He has a passion for storytelling and the historical significance of Southeast Ohio.
Isaac graduated from Federal Hocking High School in 2017 and then attended Ohio University. He graduated in 2022 with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism. During his final year of college, he interned with University Communications and Marketing as a PR Assistant. He was also design director of Southeast Ohio Magazine for his news and information capstone class. Isaac is familiar with Southeast Ohio and the names of its communities.
Outside of RA, Isaac is an avid train enthusiast who enjoys both real and model trains. He regularly volunteers on the nearby Hocking Valley Scenic Railway as a conductor. He is also the railroad's newsletter editor, marketing assistant, and holds the office of secretary. Isaac appreciates the role railroads played in building Southeast Ohio.
To put it simple, Isaac is thrilled to be a part of the RA team and hopes he can help it thrive for years to come.
- Operations Assistant
Jen Miler joined the Rural Action staff as Executive Assistant in February 2020. She assists the CEO and staff to cultivate and maintain relationships with both supporters and communities.
Before Joining Rural Action, Jen was a worker-owner of Crumbs Bakery for 13 years, developing and producing all-natural baked goods and pastas. Transitioning to a new career, while maintaining her principles of sustainability and community, Jen is inspired by both the scope of the work and the passion of those involved with Rural Action.
Jen and her husband currently reside in Meigs County, with their three mastiffs and new bulldog mix. In her free time, she enjoys designing and producing quilts, camping and experiencing live music events.
- Program Director for Sustainable Energy
- Sustainable Energy Director
Jess is the program director for Sustainable Energy at Rural Action. Stemming from her background as a professional photographer, her interest (obsession?) for the uses and applications of light has grown from making art, through optics, light therapy and photosynthesis, to now powering her family's Meigs county home from the sun. She has a lifelong love for the hills and forests of Appalachia, loves learning and saying the names of each creature she encounters there, delighting in the sheer abundance and resilience of life here.
When she isn't talking to friends and neighbors about the benefits of solar energy, she can often be found hiking, gardening, making weird art, or reading anything good.
- Chesterhill Produce Auction Site Manager
Jessica is the Site Manager for the Chesterhill Produce Auction. Jessica is responsible for managing the day to day operations at the Chesterhill Produce Auction, implementing the Rural Action Incubator Farm, and facilitating grower's meetings. Jessica is also available by phone at 740-554-7927 seasonally on auction days.
She is a native of Southeastern Ohio, growing up on her family's dairy farm near Caldwell, Ohio. She has over 5 years of experience working in a large scale greenhouse nursery. In 2005 she graduated from Washington State Community College with an Associate's degree in Criminal Justice Law with a minor in Corrections. Jessica has been self-employed running a small business as a bail bondsman for 10 years. She went back to school in 2015 to Ohio University and graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Applied Management in 2018. Jessica has also been an active leader/volunteer with local Girl Scout troops for the past 6 years.
Jilly Anderson moved to Ohio from her native South Florida in 2010 and grew up in Gallia County, Ohio. Always passionate about community service and development, Jilly attended Ohio University and completed her bachelor's in War and Peace studies and Political Science in 2021.
After spending time at the US Embassy in Prague, Jilly began focusing heavily on community development and uplifting marginalized communities. She studied the Roma community in Czechia, and often spent time talking to members of the Roma population to find innovative ways she could use her experiences in Prague to help members of her beloved Appalachia. Upon returning to Southeastern Ohio, Jilly shifted her focus away from international to domestic aid. She began researching broadband access in Athens and its effects on the development of the region, before shifting her focus to environmental activism.
Jilly is a friend to all beings, a skater girl, and lover of French marigolds.
Joe has been leading Rural Action's Environmental Education Program since 2010 with a great deal of collaboration and fellowship from 20 Americorps members, fellow staff, and education leaders in the region like Dana White, John Winnenberg, and Diana McCauley, who carved out a niche for him and Rural Action in local schools. Regional EE gurus Paul and Cathy Knoop, and many others at Camp Oty'Okwa, have drastically accelerated his meager knowledge of natural history and of organizing people around beautiful and powerful ideas like empowering youth leaders and gathering educators together.
His own affinity to the natural world began when he was still diligently filling diapers; his dad took his brothers and Joe for walks in their local woods. They played in the stream and observed deer tracks in the mud. One sunny autumn afternoon a large buck stepped forth on a grassy hilltop and gazed down at him, ivory antlers shining above those wild eyes, and Joe has never been quite the same. A feeling of belonging to nature has pervaded his life since then and continues to guide the personal and professional aspects of his life.
Since 2010 Joe has interacted with more than 20,000 kids in Appalachian Ohio. Many of them Joe has been fortunate to observe holding salamanders, starting fires without matches for the first time, tossing homemade mud balls into Sunday Creek, or daring him to eat crawdads. It has been and continues to be one of the greatest honors he can imagine to share these wild and life-giving Appalachian streams and forests with their muddy faces and curious minds.
- AmeriCorps Members
- the Leadership and Service Program Manager
Johna Metcalf joined Rural Action as the Leadership and Service Program Manager in 2022. Prior to joining as an AmeriCorps manager, she served out of the Northern Programs office in Tuscarawas County as a VISTA from 2021 -2022. Johna is excited to share her passion for service and hopes to uplift and support service members just like she was during her term.
Johna received her B.A. in History from Kent State University. When Johna is not recruiting AmeriCorps members, she can be found making a mean skillet of saurkeraut and brats or returning from the movies.
Katie Lloyd is the Beginning Farmer Outreach Assistant at Rural Action. Katie has a passion for sharing resources and connecting farmers with peer mentorship opportunities that allow all parties to grow and flourish in our local food system. When Katie is not working on outreach, she is reading, hiking, or doing hand embroidery.
Katie graduated from Miami University with a degree in Biology and Environmental Science, and went on to serve in the Peace Corps in Cameroon for two years as an agriculture extension agent. During her time in West Africa, she worked on various projects, including mushroom inoculations, tree distributions, and the creation of a modern beekeeping group in her village.
After the Peace Corps, Katie pursued an MA in Climate Change and Global Sustainability from the School for International Training, which took her from the Westfjords of Iceland, to the Island of Zanzibar, and finally to the coast of Kenya. Her experiences abroad and at home prompted her to write her thesis on the impacts of climate change on beekeeping practices in the United States and in Africa.
"Throughout my academic and service career I have noticed an underlying theme of the importance of the local community, especially local food systems, in building resilience in the face of climate change," Katie says. "The communities best prepared for negative climate impacts are those that have a network of resources at hand for local and diversified income from agriculture. Working with Rural Action to connect beginning farmers with the resources to help them succeed feeds directly into building capacity and resilience to change, and benefits everyone who shares in our local food system."
- Member of the Rural Action Board of Directors
- Member of the Rural Action Board of Directors
Kelly grew up in Marion, Ohio, and lived there for the first 30 years of her life. Cirumstances brought her to Pomeroy near her family. She was a certified peer supporter and is working toward getting her CDCA and help people with substance use disorder.
She left Larry's Dawg House to come to the Community Makerspace after two years. She has always worked customer service and loves the interaction with the public. She loves that there is so much to learn at the Makerspace and many opportunities.
Kelly has a small crystal and jewelry shop that takes the rest of her time. She also has six cats and two dogs that she enjoys spoiling.
- Action Media & Coms VISTA )
- Assistant to the CEO
- Member of Indivisible Appalachian Ohio ( IAO ), a Nonprofit 501 ( C ) 4
Assistant to the CEO
Lilah Gange joined the Rural Action staff as Assistant to the CEO in August of 2023. As a Meigs County native, Lilah spent her early youth harvesting and crafting herbal medicines in the Equinox Botanicals apothecary and exploring the forests, caves, ponds and prairie of Equinox Farm and United Plant Savers Botanical Sanctuary. Lilah also grew up attending Rural Action's watershed camps. These experiences shaped her core values in environmental sustainability, education and conservation.
In 2017 Lilah became a member of Indivisible Appalachian Ohio (IAO), a nonprofit 501(c)4 dedicated to serving Appalachian communities in Southeast Ohio through education, community engagement and advocacy. As a member of IAO, Lilah conducted research on the lack of broadband internet access in rural Appalachian communities, as well as basic infrastructure needs. Additionally, Lilah advocated for students, teachers and administrators who experienced technological challenges and the negative impacts on education caused by the digital divide. Her time spent with IAO fueled her passion for nonprofit work and the development of rural communities in and around Southeast Ohio.
Lilah earned her Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, as well as a specialization in marketing. Additionally, she obtained a minor in Retail and Fashion Merchandising with a focus on environmental sustainability in the textile industry.
In her free time Lilah enjoys thrifting, practicing yoga, hiking and printmaking.
Lindsey was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, and while she enjoyed eating and shopping in the city, the country setting of Athens always felt like home.
She first moved to Athens in 2000 to attend Ohio University and found home in the small town culture, rolling hills, forests, and people who would become lifetime friends. She always enjoyed finding unique clothing and household items at thrift stores and garage sales that she visited with her mother and grandmother. Her grandmother sparked in Lindsey a love for plants and consequently, she worked for over a decade in the green industry as a landscaper, a farmer florist, and garden center manager.
Lindsey finds joy in cooking, travel and gardening, and is passionate about supporting and participating in the community that she loves.
Madison Donohue served two AmeriCorps terms with Rural Action before she was hired full time as Tourism Manager to ride herd on Appalachian Understories: Guided Experiences in Southeast Ohio, one of the organization's social enterprises.
Madison earned an Ecotourism and Adventure Leadership degree at Hocking College and has worked in a variety of jobs in the area, including at Hyacinth Bean Florist, the Farmacy, Rising Appalachia Warriors, Camp Oty'Okwa, and Little Fish Brewing Company.
These jobs gave her deep connections to the community and heightened her environmental literacy and ability to interpret the natural world for others, she says.
Between jobs at local businesses, Madison and her partner hiked 1,700 miles of the Appalachian Trail, falling short of the approximately 2,200 mile total because she became ill along the way. But it was during that trip she realized Southeast Ohio was where she wanted to be.
- Conservation Cohort - Tuscarawas Co
- Member of the Rural Action Board of Directors
- Building and Grounds Coordinator
Marcus Bratton is Rural Action's Building and Grounds Coordinator. He also is a maintenance consultant for ACEnet, where he worked for 7 years before joining Rural Action, and he's a stay-at-home dad with a son who is in virtual kindergarten classes at Alexander Local Schools.
HIs family moved to Meigs County when he was a child, and he graduated from Meigs High School and earned an associate's degree in industrial ceramics at Hocking College. Marcus and his wife, Christina, live on an old dairy farm that's just over the hill from where he grew up.
Marcus also has worked as the supervisor of a brick plant in Arkansas, maintenance worker for Sandusky County, and he ran a Zamboni ice resurfacing machine at Ohio University's Bird Arena.
Maria Bonner joined Rural Action in 2021 as the Zero Waste Program Manager. She was first introduced to the world of zero waste programming through volunteering side by side with her fellow AmeriCorps members at the 2014 Columbus Earth Day Celebration with Rural Action's Appalachian Zero Waste Initiative. She was immediately moved by the passion the Zero Waste team had in the ‘dirty' work they were doing.
Since that first volunteer event, she has logged hundreds of volunteer hours and paid work as an Operation Manager with what has become Zero Waste Event Productions LLC, a social enterprise of Rural Action. After serving two years as an AmeriCorps VISTA for Ohio Campus Compact, Maria remained in higher education, working in student program management, student retention, and events. She believes it is vital to future generations for individuals and organizations to invest in a sustainable economy to protect the environment.
Maria is originally from Pennsylvania and holds a BA in History from Shippensburg University. She is happy to call Southeast Ohio home and be part of the vibrant Athens community. She enjoys running, roller skating, having adventures with her family, and of course, sorting "trash" to get it to the right revenue stream!
- Chairman of the Rural Action Board of Directors
Matt Ledford was planning to serve a second AmeriCorps term when he landed a full-time position with Rural Action's Watersheds program, where he's working as a water quality specialist. Matt is leveraging his AmeriCorps training to continue cleaning local watersheds, and he also is working on a project to create a marketable product from septage, the material removed from septic tanks when they're pumped. If that can be turned into safe fertilizer at an economical price, it could offset homeowners' cost of pumping their tanks regularly. Tanks that aren't properly maintained pollute local watersheds.
Matt grew up in Cleveland, served as an aviation hydraulics mechanic in the Marine Corps, and worked at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History for 13 years before becoming an AmeriCorps member.
Like many staff members, Meredith Hamsher came to Rural Action through National Service. After serving at Rural Action for two years in the Sustainable Agriculture program, she jumped at the opportunity to join the staff as the Program Manager of Ohio Stream Restore Corps (now called Appalachian Ohio Restore Corps). She originally came to Athens from the Canton, Ohio, area for school but quickly fell in love with the region and stuck around.
Meredith enjoys running and loves to cook a good meal. She is a mac ‘n' cheese connoisseur and has even appeared as a guest food judge at the Paw Paw Festival! She enjoys helping people find their strengths and hopes to help AmeriCorps members figure out their passions during their time with Rural Action.
- Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative Network Manager
- Network Manager at Rural Action 's Sustainable Agriculture
Michelle Ajamian, network manager at Rural Action's Sustainable Agriculture program, launched the Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative in 2009 as an informal network project to gather resources towards building local agricultural economies around staple seed crops. She is also the principal at Shagbark Seed & Mill, an organic processing facility she and her partner launched to develop a regional model for the production and processing of staple grain, bean, oilseed, and nut crops. She worked with Rural Action previously developing the organization's communication tools and brand and coordinating the Service Learning Program in the '90s.
- Director of Project Development for True Pigments
Michelle Shively MacIver is the Director of Project Development for True Pigments, LLC. She previously served as Rural Action's Sunday Creek Watershed Coordinator since 2011. During that time she worked throughout Appalachian Ohio, developing and implementing water quality projects addressing impairments, including acid mine drainage (AMD), sedimentation, wastewater, and protecting endangered aquatic species.
She is a Bobcat alum twice over, earning a B.S. in Environmental Geography and an M.S. in Environmental Studies from Ohio University. She serves as the president of the Ohio Mineland Partnership and chair of the Appalachian Ohio Watershed Council.
Michelle's great-grandparents operated a small "mom and pop" coal mine in southern Ohio and she appreciates the way her life's work of bringing AMD-impacted streams back to life has brought her family full circle. Michelle is happiest in her waders, out in a creek somewhere doing biological monitoring and community outreach.
- Sustainable Agriculture Program Director
Molly has been the Sustainable Agriculture Program Manager since 2021. She began with Rural Action in 2019 as an AmeriCorps member, serving two terms with the Sustainable Agriculture program after moving home to Ohio. In 2016 she graduated from Macalester College with a Bachelor's degree in English (Creative Writing) with a minor in Religious Studies.
After college, Molly worked with youth on urban farms with Youth Farm and taught food education in the Minnesota public schools with Midwest Food Connection. During summers, she worked on produce and cattle farms that were the inspiration for her current operation raising grass-fed beef on her family's property in Athens, Ohio.
Outside of working at Rural Action and running MoSo Farm, Molly makes jewelry, tends a large garden, plays music, and writes poetry.
- Senior Director of Ecological Restoration
- Watershed Program Director
is the Rural Action Watershed Program Director. He has an associate degree in fish management and aquaculture from Hocking Technical College and a Bachelor of Science degree in fish and wildlife conservation and management from Rio Grande University. Nate began working for Rural Action in 2008 as the Monday Creek Water Quality Specialist. He took over as the Monday Creek Watershed Coordinator in 2012 and began operating as the Watershed Program Director in 2020.
Nate coordinates partnerships, develops projects, and collects data that leads to the preservation and improvement of Ohio's water resources, one of our greatest assets. Outside of work, Nate enjoys practicing what Rural Action preaches by respecting and utilizing the land in a manner that ensures a beautiful and biologically diverse Appalachian Ohio will be preserved for generations to come.
- Special Projects Assistant
- Chief Innovation Officer
- in 2019 As Social Enterprise Director
Paul Patton joined Rural Action in 2019 as Social Enterprise Director and was promoted to Chief Innovation Officer in 2022. Paul provides technical and development assistance to Rural Action's seven social enterprises - Zero Waste Event Productions, Chesterhill Produce Auction, Appalachian Understories, UpCycle Ohio Thrift Store, Community Makerspace, True Pigments, LLC , and the Native Plant Nursery - and evaluates opportunities for the development of new ventures.
- Member of the Rural Action Board of Directors
- Community Makerspace Manager
Pauline Phillips joined Rural Action as the Community Makerspace Manager in 2022. Prior to joining as the manager, Pauline worked at the Makerspace's partner business, the UpCycle Ohio Thrift Store, as a sales associate.
Pauline grew up in Athens County and attended Rural Action's watershed camps, which sparked their interest in conservation and local land recovery work. Pauline then went on to work in environmental education at summer camps for several years. Their passions lie in animal rescue and combating climate change through education and action.
- Vice - Chair of the Rural Action Board of Directors
- Workforce Development Director
Sadie Meade is a Connecticut native who earned her undergraduate degree in painting at Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts. She also earned an MFA in printmaking from Ohio University. Sadie managed the bar at the now-defunct Corner on Union in Athens and worked at the West End Ciderhouse and Distillery.
When the COVID pandemic hit, leaving her on unemployment, she started volunteering at the Thrift before it had even opened. Once it did, she was hired on as a retail staff associate. After a few months, she was promoted to a supervisor role and was now the manager of Upcycle Ohio, before transitioning to her new role as Workforce Development Director.
"As a career path this suits me a lot better," Sadie says. "At the Thrift, I have agency in the workplace, which doesn't always happen when you are in service work."
Sadie is an avid, lifelong thrifter.
"I still thrift in my free time all the time," she says. " I have two days off and I'm often making day trips to neighboring towns. It's my research and development. When I see how other stores are processing inventory, pricing products, and displaying items, it gives me ideas on how we can rearrange our store."
- Secretary of the Rural Action Board of Directors
Sarah Benton joined Rural Action as a Watershed Restoration Project Manager in 2023. Prior to joining as a staff member, they served as an Appalachian Ohio Restore Corps (AORC) member with Rural Action's Watershed Program.
- Member of the Rural Action Board of Directors
- Appalachian Accessible Food Network Cohort Leader
- Service and Leadership Development
- Wraparound Support Manager
- Treasurer of the Rural Action Board of Directors
- Member of the Rural Action Board of Directors
- Senior Director of Sustainable Agriculture and Forestry