Charaf Abourached was born and grew up in the beautiful city of Marrakech, in Morocco. When he was young he helped on his great uncle’s farm that had vegetables and olive, apple, and orange trees. This awakened Charaf’s love of food and spices and his drive to give back to his surroundings. A person of many interests, Charaf has run a restaurant, made public art and giant puppets and sculpture, built his own furniture, and used to teach P.E. at LHA before joining the garden team. He loves to learn, and is excited to combine his experiences with food and farming in Morocco with growing practices in the U.S.. He is confident that in his classes students will take care of each other and learn life skills that they will be able to use throughout their lives. In his homelife, he is often immersed in one of his many hobbies, like woodworking or drawing.
A native New Orleanian, Claudia Barker comes from an Italian family with a love of good cooking and enjoying food in community. A strong proponent of teaching children where food comes from and how to prepare it in healthy ways, she also believes that we can change the world by attending to children’s social and emotional needs and teaching them respect for life. When Claudia’s not leading the charge for development and communications at FirstLine and ESYNOLA, she can be found reading and writing, hanging out on her screened porch with family and friends, or walking in City Park with her dog, Red Bean.
Amelia Bird, originally from north central Florida, comes with a background in environmental studies, nonfiction writing, and book arts. She wants all children to be able to forge an imaginative relationship with the natural world, and have access to good food in a joyful setting. She is passionate about visual aesthetics and operations, and wants ESYNOLA’s inner workings and communications to have the hand-crafted, joyful, and deeply considered nature that our classes and spaces do. When she’s not working behind the scenes at ESYNOLA, she might be creating something with her hands or swimming with her daughter Indigo, but most likely she’s making some kind of list.
Lead Chef Teacher, Green
Megan Brummer grew up in Colorado, has lived in Iowa and Washington D.C., but New Orleans is her heart and forever home. She earned her Masters in Social Work and Public Health at Tulane University. Megan worked in the HIV social work field before finding her calling in culinary education. As a chef educator, she is passionate about cooking and trying new foods, exploring other cultures and cuisines, eating for joy and nourishment, the trouble with sugar, and the necessity of salt. She believes our work promotes equity, and has the power to decrease violence, increase educational success, and foster happiness in students’ lives. When she’s not in the teaching kitchen, Megan might be lifting heavy things, running as fast as she can, listening to live music, or eating and laughing with her family.
Lead Teacher, Ashe
Jennifer (Jenn) Crawford grew up in New Mexico, and first moved to New Orleans in 2014. Formally trained in social work, Jenn has taught young girls to use power tools, helped start a community garden in the 7th ward, and worked as a social worker in Yuma, Arizona. She is excited to be at ESYNOLA where she can use all the horticultural, community-focused, and social and emotional education tools in her possession. She is passionate about helping students see how connected we are to the soil, and wants all New Orleanians to have free access to luxurious green spaces. When Jenn is not teaching enriching edible experiences or doing therapeutic work with students in the garden and kitchen at Ashe, she might be tending her porch garden, walking her dog Suzi, dancing with her friends, or folding origami cranes.
Angel Chung Cutno
Lead Garden Teacher, LHA
Angel Chung Cutno, a fifth generation Louisianian, is from an Afro Asian home in LaPlace. Growing up, she loved to eat the harvest from her father’s fruit and vegetable garden, and to invent skin products from the same harvest with her mom. Angel has channelled her upbringing into a legacy of investing in youth. She has developed project-based curriculum for several organizations and has been in and out of classrooms for the last ten years. Angel is passionate about guiding children to the dirt to connect with the earth and those who came before us. She believes that the skills and wisdom we pass onto children today have long-term positive ripple effects on them physically, mentally, and spiritually. When she’s not teaching, she’s beading with the Black Seminole Black Masking Indians, playing music, cruising on her skates or bike or longboard, or learning survival skills like archery or making tools.
Library Associate & Garden Educator, LHA
Gekera–or Kera–Gilmore, is a native of New Orleans. As a high school student at Carver High, she was a youth leader at Grow Dat Youth Farm, and as a college student at Delgado Community College, she worked in (and fell in love with) the library. Gekera cares deeply about books and education, and believes that children are our future. Her favorite book is Zora Neale Hurston’s I Love Myself When I’m Laughing. When she is not teaching garden classes, caring for Jenny the pig, or facilitating use of the library collection at LHA, Gekera is likely studying for her classes at Delgado, working on a project for her community, or reading.
Chesney Hardin grew up in middle Tennessee, outside of Nashville, and has been connected to New Orleans since she started at Tulane in 2011. With early training in urban gardening clubs, interning at ESYNOLA at Green, and connecting to garden initiatives around the city, Chesney honed her horticultural prowess at a farm school in northwest Alabama, where she worked as an assistant garden manager. Always attuned to the needs of plants, Chesney is increasingly interested in using plants for our health and exploring the ways plants affect our bodies and support us to be our best selves. She is of the mind that if you spend enough time in a garden, you wind up with a friend; stick around long enough, and you’ve got a whole family. When not gardening at our four school gardens, Chesney can be found biking, paddling, cooking, camping, and reflecting on the state of the world.
Library Assoc. & Garden Educator, Wheatley
Caiti Henderson, a veteran of both the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, was born in Los Angeles and has lived in Madagascar and Peru. This is her third year serving with FirstLine Schools. Ms. Caiti works to give children the best opportunities to learn, explore, play, problem-solve, and discover the world within and around them. She believes that building relationships goes a long way, and always prioritizes one-on-one time with students. Caiti also loves to read, write poetry, do yoga, and watch the occasional reality tv show (okay, maybe slightly more than occasionally!).
Associate Chef Teacher, Green
Imani Israel hails from Los Angeles, CA. She came to New Orleans to study public health at Xavier University of Louisiana. She is a former culinary education intern at Arthur Ashe Charter School, and she is passionate about food accessibility and addressing the food deserts in New Orleans. She believes in togetherness and in pouring love in everything you do. If you’re lucky, you might see Imani practicing roller skating tricks during her spare time in City Park or at adult night at Skate Country. Imani is also a skilled painter.
Associate Garden Teacher, Green
Regi Jones is from Fayetteville, NC, where they studied at Chowan University. After moving to New Orleans last year, Regi fell in love with sustainable agriculture while doing a year of service at Okra Abbey Community Garden. As a gardener and educator, they work to create spaces where young people can enjoy being outside and discover a passion for gardening. Regi believes that through programs like ESYNOLA people will be inspired to grow good food and good relationships with each other. When their hands aren’t in the dirt in the Green garden, Regi is probably cycling, cooking, or watching Living Single.
Greenhouse Manager, Ashe
Born and raised in south Louisiana, Mallory Naquin is a Community Dietitian and master gardener. Studying nutrition showed Mallory how little health literacy was covered in our educational system. It is her mission to offer evidence-based nutrition lessons that give individuals autonomy over their own wellness and healthcare. Mallory believes that food is personal, and it is the strongest tool she uses to care for herself and her family. When she’s not working in the garden, she can be found with her daughter exploring every green space they can find, endlessly cooking and taste testing, and of course gardening.
Lead Garden Teacher, Green
Zach O’Donnell, the son of science teachers in Chicago, has been an educator since 2006. He has a science teaching certificate from San Francisco State University, a certificate in Ecological Horticulture from UC Santa Cruz’s Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, and a B.S. in Biology from Saint Louis University. Before joining ESYNOLA, Zach lived in Mozambique where he worked as a field agronomist. Using gardens as educational spaces combines Zach’s passions for science, growing food, education, and playing in the dirt. When he’s not teaching garden classes or laying under trees and looking up, he is probably going for a very long run.
Director of SEL & ESYNOLA
Originally from Mobile, AL, Kerrie Partridge grew up in a family of gardeners and fishermen. After exploring teaching children in sculptural welding, dance, and Montessori pre-school, Kerrie earned her B.A. in Education and Human Development from the University of New Orleans. After years as a school teacher, Kerrie became interested in the ways social determinants of health impacted children’s learning and development. This led her to a Masters in Public Health in Maternal and Child Health from Tulane University. After serving children for more than 15 years, Kerrie holds the conviction that we build a strong community when we nourish children as whole and precious beings, and support them in their path to self discovery. When she is out in the world, Kerrie is a creator, dog lover, dinosaur-glitterer, dancer, star seeker, and yoga teacher.
Alisha Johnson Perry
Director of Development
Alisha (pronounced like a-dish-a) Johnson Perry comes from New Orleans, born and raised. Alisha prides herself in being malleable. When she interviewed with ESYNOLA in 2011 and observed a garden class, she was floored by students’ intuitive connection to food and the natural world, and inspired to deepen her understanding of the importance of growing and eating whole food. Alisha works to support programs that ensure children can grow their connections with themselves, their community, and the land that has served them and their families for generations. Alisha has raised over $15 million dollars for social justice work over the course of her career. In her free time she can be found volunteering for organizations like: Edgewood Park Neighborhood Association; the Association of Fundraising Professionals; the Foundation for Louisiana’s Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation; and the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. Her favorite centering activity is her daily 30-minute walk (#GirlTrekForever). She’s also a beast at Scrabble.
Kitchen Educator, Green
Sasha Solano-McDaniel first fell in love with Edible Schoolyard New Orleans kitchen classes while a student at Loyola University in Sociology and Latin American Studies. Sasha cares deeply for creating spaces for cross-cultural experiences and understanding, evidenced by her multiple trips to explore the culinary arts in Mexico. She is excited to be part of the Green kitchen team because she believes that creating healthy lifestyles and sustainable futures starts with our youth. When she’s not teaching and cooking with kids, she might be making a good meal or exploring a tasty happy hour, going for a run, travelling Latin America, or lounging in her hammock in the park.
Network Gardener & Volunteer Coordinator
When Jessica Spencer was a child in Los Angeles, CA, she used to lament that the vegetable garden at her elementary school went without care or use. Being able to work with ESYNOLA school gardens fulfills her childhood dream! She holds degrees in fashion design and history. Part of what fuels her work with ESYNOLA is a passion for hands-on learning outside the classroom. She believes that patience and curiosity can take a person a long way, and the garden is the perfect place to practice both. When she’s not gardening and communicating with volunteers, Jessica might be cooking with her husband and three-year-old, sewing anything from clothes to stuffed animals, tending to her indigo plants, or chipping away at her history reading list.
Lead Garden Teacher, Wheatley
Charlotte Steele hails from New Jersey, but it was in Michigan where she discovered the magic that is local food and farmers markets that inspired her lifelong love for food and the people who grow it. As an educator, she places importance on the therapeutic aspects of nature and community. Charlotte uses Emotional Freedom Techniques and other brain-based strategies to help children learn how to identify their needs and meet them self-sufficiently. She has been garden education staff at Wheatley since our program began there, and she believes that food is life. Don’t be surprised if you see the garden teacher students lovingly know as “Ms. Charlotte Cantaloupe” fiercely skating with the Big Easy Rollergirls.
Associate Garden Teacher, Wheatley
Braian (pronounced Brian) Tomé was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and grew up in Miami, FL. He first became interested in horticulture at Florida International University, where he studied environmental science. Braian has worked at farms, nurseries, and botanical gardens, and was an agriculture extension agent in the Peace Corps in Paraguay. Cultivating lush gardens and cooking and eating delicious food is Braian’s passion. He wants to live in a world where children have a deep appreciation for nature, and learn to grow their own food and cook it at home. When he’s not teaching and gardening at Wheatley, he might be playing soccer, practicing yoga, gardening and cooking at home, or running out of oxygen in a steam room.