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.
CV: Click here
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
Luis Alexis Rodríguez-Cruz is a doctoral student in food systems at the University of Vermont. Broadly, Luis studies island food systems in the context of natural hazards; and the extent to which sociopolitical factors affects individuals' adaptive capacity. His dissertation research is looking at Puerto Rican farmers' experience with Hurricane Maria, in order to better understand up to what level can they prepare, cope, resist, and recover from natural hazards, within Puerto Rico's sociopolitical reality. Before starting his PhD in Vermont, Luis completed a MS in food science and technology at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, and a BS in biology at the University of Puerto Rico at Ponce. He has had experience in working with coastal food systems, and with nutrition education through culturally-appropriate means. He also works in science communication and outreach project with Ciencia Puerto Rico, and is a graduate fellow of the Gund Institute for the Environment. Luis joined VCI in 2018 as a research consultant to support community-based projects in Cuba.
CV in English: click here Website: click here
Martha Caswell has a background is in community development, public policy, and applied research. Over the past 20 years, Martha has worked with communities on issues ranging from international public health to housing and social programs. Most recently her focus has turned to just and sustainable agri-food systems. Martha has expertise in project design, implementation, management, and evaluation. As Research & Outreach Coordinator for the Agroecology & Livelihoods Collaborative at the University of Vermont, she is often a bridge between academic and non-academic actors, working to draw out the expertise of all participants through research and analysis. In addition to serving on the VCI board, Martha is a founding board member of Migrant Justice. She and her family split their time between city life in Burlington and the family farm in Fairfield, VT.
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.
Jessi Grillo is a Founding Partner of On-Up, a new business dedicated to helping companies and communities achieve living wages and living incomes. Prior to establishing On-Up, Jessi served for six years as Rainforest Alliance’s Senior Technical Advisor on livelihoods and social equity, where she oversaw work to advance responsible supply chains, sustainability standards, field programs, and organizational strategy toward better outcomes for workers, producers and communities. She has sat on various technical, management and advisory committees and working groups, including for the Living Income Community of Practice; Global Living Wage Coalition; ISEAL Alliance; Sustainable Food Lab; and World Banana Forum.
Before joining Rainforest Alliance in 2012, Jessi advised humanitarian organizations and government agencies on policy, programmatic, and resource prioritization decisions, particularly around livelihoods development, food security, and disaster risk reduction. She spent seven years working with Food Economy Group, an international applied research firm, with four of those years as the Livelihoods Advisor for the USAID Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET). She has worked in over twenty countries across Latin America, Africa, and Asia, including extended periods of time in rural areas learning from farmers and communities.
Jessi earned a Masters in International Development and Social Change from Clark University and a Bachelors in Anthropology from Stony Brook University.
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.
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.
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.