Margarita Fernandez joined VCI as Executive Director in January 2015 to lead their programs in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Margarita comes to VCI with over 15 years of experience working on sustainable agriculture, community development and biodiversity conservation in Latin America, the U.S. and Southeast Asia. In 1998, Margarita made her first trip to Cuba as a volunteer in the urban agriculture movement of Havana. Building from this experience, she conducted her Master’s research on benefits of urban agriculture in Havana and New York City. While living on the island, Margarita led various sustainable agriculture research exchanges between U.S. and Cuban experts via Global Exchange, Food First and Oxfam. She worked as a consultant to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) where she co-led the development of a national level invasive species program. She served as external evaluation consultant of an EU funded national level agroecology project. Margarita coordinates the Cuba-US Agroecology Network.
In addition to her Cuba experience, Margarita has worked long term contracts as an urban farms community organizer in New York City (Green Guerillas), organic farm manager in upstate New York (Tierra Farm), program officer for organic agriculture program in Laos (Helvetas), and technical reviewer for organic product certification with a focal area of Mexico, USA, and Canada (QAI). She has also worked short-term consultancies for a wide range of groups such as Oxfam (Laos), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT-Mexico), and the Global Plant Clinic-FUNICA (Nicaragua).
Margarita received her Master’s degree in Environmental Science from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Science. She earned her PhD in Agroecology at the University of Vermont where she worked with coffee farmers in Chiapas, Mexico and northern Nicaragua to understand the relationship between agrobiodiversity, food security and sovereignty and rural livelihoods. Margarita is an Affiliate Fellow of the Gund Institute of Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont.
Helen Rortvedt joined VCI in 2017 as a Program Officer. She holds an M.A. in Sustainable Development from SIT Graduate Institute. Prior to joining VCI, Helen was a founding member of Food Connects, a nonprofit organization committed to advancing food system change in Southern Vermont. She also brings extensive experience in international and experiential education, having worked as a field instructor with Where There Be Dragons in Bolivia and Peru since 2009. Helen served as an Environmental Education Peace Corps Volunteer in Bolivia. She studied abroad in Cuba at the University of Havana as an undergraduate in 2002.
Mario Machado is a doctoral student in geography at Clark University with a focus on agricultural systems in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. Mario served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay from 2011-2013, working with subsistence farming communities and functioning as an agricultural extension agent. He has since completed his masters degree in geography from Pennsylvania State University with a thesis on food security and bartering systems in the Afram Plains, Ghana. In addition to this experience, Mario has also worked extensively in the field with conservation, food security, and social justice issues in South Africa, Mozambique and Cuba. His current doctoral research specifically looks at the dynamics of the Cuban agroecological movement during this current phase of global and regional change. Mario joined VCI in 2017 as an external consultant to support the Cuba program. He is also a National Geographic Young Explorer, freelance writer and photographer
Alida Duncan is currently the Development and Marketing Director at Hunger Free Vermont where she leads the organization’s strategic fundraising, marketing, and communications plan. Alida received her B.A. in Sociology from Smith College, attended the Middlebury Language School for Spanish, and holds a holds Certificates in both Nonprofit Management from Champlain College and Personal Leadership from Columbia Business School. Prior to joining Hunger Free Vermont in 2008, she worked at Affordable Housing Associates in Berkeley, CA and with the Burlington/Bilwi (Puerto Cabezas) Sister City Program. Alida has a deep interest in Latin American culture—Cuban culture in particular. In the summer of 2004, Alida’s study abroad semester in Cuba was cancelled due to changes in the policy around educational trips to Cuba; instead she studied in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. In the summer of 2012, Alida hosted a Cuban VCI Intern and joined VCI’s Board of Trustees shortly after. In April 2015, Alida finally fulfilled her dream of visiting Cuba and now looks forward to returning again soon!
Valerie Esposito lives with her husband and daughters in Burlington, Vermont where she has been the Director for the Environmental Policy program at Champlain College since July 2010. Her teaching and research focus ecological economics, environmental justice and local and global sustainability. She has lived, worked and conducted research in Costa Rica and Chile and has visited Cuba with students. She is also active in Vermont's Localvore food movement, is a Board Member of the Vermont Ibutwa Initiative and is on the Advisory Board of Vermonters for Sustainable Population. Valerie enjoys spending time with family and friends and taking advantage of Vermont's playground, through skiing, hiking, biking, canoeing, camping, theater visits, ultimate frisbee and seeing live music. Sustainable travel, gardening, reading, photography and cultivating her inner yogini also keep her busy.
Gregg Meyer is a practicing attorney in Burlington, Vermont. He is currently working as assistant city attorney in the City Attorney and General Counsel's office. Gregg is a graduate of Cornell University's school of industrial and labor relations and Vermont Law School. He has broad experience working with and providing legal, policy, and communications advice to non-profit organizations, local and state governments, and countless private sector clients over the years. Governance and rule of law, professional regulation, transportation policy, community and economic development, employment and labor law, and social and environmental justice are some of the areas of law and policy of particular interest to Gregg. In addition to chairing the Board of the Vermont Caribbean Institute, Gregg is a volunteer with with Kids On The Ball Cuba, an international tennis and sports exchange program based in Burlington, as well as with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program. He enjoys travel, food, music, sports, and nature.
Julian Portilla lives in Winooski, Vermont with his wife and three children. He directs the Master’s Program in Mediation and Applied Conflict Studies at Champlain College. In addition to his teaching and administrative responsibilities at the college, Julian has an active consulting and mediation practice.
His work involves the design and implementation of community, environmental and political consensus-building processes primarily in Latin America and the United States. He has worked extensively on issues of fishing and coastal development around the Baja Peninsula.
Julian has served the UN both as an organizational consultant and as a Democratic Dialogue practitioner, assisting the UN to design and implement national dialogue processes in member states.
In Vermont, in addition to serving on the VCI board, Julian mediates for the Environmental Mediation Center and works closely with social justice organizations such as Migrant Justice and Food for Farmers. He is a member of the Association for Conflict Resolution as well as the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation.
Stephanie Seguino is Professor of Economics at the University of Vermont. Prior to obtaining a Ph.D. from American University, she served as an economist in Haiti for several years in the pre- and post-Baby Doc era. Her current research explores the relationship between intergroup inequality by class, race, and gender, on the one hand and economic growth, and development on the other. She has also explored the economics of stratification, including the gender and race effects of contractionary monetary policy.
She has been an instructor in the African Program for Rethinking Development Economics (APORDE) in South Africa, Associate Editor of Feminist Economics and Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, and a member of the editorial board of Review of Keynesian Economics, as well as past president of International Association for Feminist Economics. More recently, she was guest editor of a special issue of Feminist Economics on the global economic crisis. She has consulted with a wide variety of international organizations, including the UNDP, UNRISD, UNCTAD, World Bank, AFL-CIO, and African Development Bank.
Dr. Fernando Funes Aguilar is a Professor and Researcher at the Agricultural Experimental Station Indio Hatuey in Matanzas, Cuba. For more than 20 years, Fernando Funes has maintained that his country’s future agricultural production lies in organic and urban farming. Prior to 1991, Cuba depended to a great extent on the Soviet Union, and since its collapse Fernando has worked hard to promote sustainable agriculture to help Cubans make a living. In 1999, he and Maria del Carmen Pérez received the Right Livelihood Award. He is the lead editor of Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba, published in 2002 by Food First. Read Dr. Funes' full CV here.
Helmo Hernandez is an art historian and internationally recognized expert on Cuban art and culture. He is the founder and president of the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba, a non-governmental organization created to protect and promote contemporary Cuban artists and culture, develop research works and new technologies applied to the artistic field, and encourage dialogue with both Cuban and international cultural communities. Helmo visited Vermont with VCI in 2010, resulting in a Ludwig Foundation/VCI partnership committed to developing programming and cultural exchange between Vermont and Cuba.
Marisha Kazeniac has more than 20 years experience as an educator and administrator in the field of international education and intercultural learning and has earned Masters degrees in Special Education and TESOL. In 2004, she founded Vermont Institute on Cuba (VIC), developing humanitarian and educational programming connecting Vermont and the people of Cuba. Several years later, Marisha extended the resources of VIC to the Dominican Republic, developing local capacity-building programs as Vermont Caribbean Institute (VCI). Marisha’s work in promoting sustainable community growth emphasizes human and institutional capacity building and leadership development, environmental stewardship, and an appreciation of place.