The Better Selves Fellowship is a week of care and support for leaders working for environmental and social change. It’s a chance to rest, replenish, network with others, take risks and go deeper. It propels you to go further with the change work that matters most to you and your communities. This fellowship is about restoring and building people power in a time when people power is essential for liberation and health.
Better Selves Fellows:
are often aware of their “long work”: work that’s bigger than a job or position or project; work that arises from one’s identity, values and purpose. There are times when that important work, or life calling, is less clear, when it needs to be nurtured and restored. The Fellowship is a gift of time, rest, and reflection. It helps you look at how and where you can do your best work in the world.
Each fellow arrives with certain goals and intentions for a self-directed experience, which they pursue working in a conference room, on walks in the woods, or over a shared meal at the long table in the barn. We do not teach and you are not asked to perform. We provide radical hospitality; healthy, natural food; experience of nature and a regenerative farm, space and quiet, and a careful facilitation of the experience. What also often emerges naturally are important peer bonds, friendships, and a sense of group experience.
Successful candidates are:
- People working on behalf of equity, sustainability and community through a variety of means.
- People who have not had this type of experience before.
- People at a point in life and career to take advantage of a fellowship.
- People with a specific project or idea that could be propelled forward by this week of, space, care and attention.
- People aware of, or on the journey toward, their long work.
Building upon a long history as a refuge in the mountains and a place of learning and transformation, Knoll Farm created the Better Selves Fellowships in 2014. To date, 150 fellowships have been awarded to leaders from 30 states. Knoll Farm has been training and sustaining leaders working for social and environmental justice for twenty years. A core value of the Better Selves fellowship is diversity in all its forms. Our staff and fellowship advisors work hard to ensure that each cohort is representative and inclusive.
All 2020 Better Selves Fellows will have their fellowship in the summer of 2021. Ultimately, we believe most of all in the social contract to keep each other safe. Vermont’s public health regulations for the summer require lengthy isolation for all travelers except those arriving by car which makes the fellowship impossible for the majority of our fellows.
Meet the 2020-2021 Better Selves Fellows
JAMES ALLEN JR.
Little Rock, AK
Alexis Alleyne-Caputo (MFA, MA, BS/MA) is an anthropologist, archivist, researcher, and award-winning commissioned interdisciplinary artist. As a university professor and lecturer, she has taught at the University of Miami (2014-2017), New World School of the Arts at Miami-Dade College (2010-2015). Beyond the academy, she has created and presented work to illustrate women’s contributions to the arts. In addition to being a Better Selves Fellow (2020-2021), she is also a CATALYST Miami 2019-2020 fellow. Her master project, Afro Diaries™ is compelling and offers a window into the landscape of miscarriages women endure. Her work reflects and refracts the critical issues of identity, cultural differences, and human rights, and draws from myriad issues and concerns that create conflict and inequality in society. Grace and Graffiti™, also an initiative in her portfolio, is a well-being and humanities landscape for interdisciplinary arts and consulting. As part of her Better Selves Fellowship, she will be developing her portfolio for Grace and Graffiti™. She has exhibited in the U.S., Caribbean, and Europe and has been funded by philanthropists, private foundations, arts, cultural organizations, and major corporations. To learn more about the artist/fellow visit www.alexiscaputo.com
Grace is a network weaver and community organizer based in Oakland, CA. Currently, as the Strategic Partnership and Operations Director with PGM ONE, Grace co-directs the largest racial affinity organization for BIPOC working towards environmental justice. PGM ONE envisions a world that centers, values, uplifts, and empowers those who are most impacted by environmental harm and climate change—and in particular black, indigenous, and people of color/of the global majority—to lead the way toward environmental justice and collective liberation. She is a lover of natural wine, cycling long distances, reading, and early bedtimes.
Caesaré Assad is a steward for the earth and has dedicated her life’s work to rebuilding a more equitable food system in the United States. Her 20+ years of food work as an artist, cook, entrepreneur, and business executive spans entity types and functions, all centered around healing connections through food and building community. During this time, she has developed innovative culinary, nutrition, and wellness initiative for community-based organizations to global corporations, with a focus on holistic health and localized economic impact. She grew up in rural Oklahoma and that experience has made her especially passionate about surfacing and supporting food and agriculture issues that impact rural, oppressed, and marginalized communities. In her role as the CEO of Food System 6, she is able to combine her professional and personal experiences with her wonderful community, and creativity – all in support of incredible entrepreneurs who are creating a better food system every day.
Javier is a proud Native New Mexican son of a public-school teacher from Albuquerque’s South Valley and a civil rights attorney from the Acequia Madre community in Santa Fe. In early 2019, Javier began organizing with Albuquerque Interfaith, an affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation, and a coalition of social justice-oriented institutions in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Prior, Javier managed several inclusive democracy campaigns and served for three years as Executive Director of the Southwest Organizing Project. Javier has worked with various elected officials, including as then-Congressman (now U.S. Senator) Martin Heinrich’s Speechwriter and Communications Liaison. Javier has two master’s degrees from the University of New Mexico (urban planning and public administration) and earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Santa Clara University, a Jesuit university in California. He has four children: Mario (12), EJ (7), Felix (4), and Eva (3).
Mandana is an Iranian-American herbalist, storyteller, and gardener. Her exploration of plant medicine began in her childhood kitchen, where she first encountered the sound of the mortar and pestle finding rhythm, the smell of rue and angelica smoke curling up from the sofreh (altar) and the stories of her ancestors carried forward by her mother. She weaves her Iranian culture and plant tradition into all facets of her work as an herbalist and is dedicated to re-centering the voices, stories, rituals, and histories of the BIPOC community, particularly around health, healing and food. Mandana is a co-founder and educator at Wild Gather: Hudson Valley School of Herbal Studies, serves as a member of the Leadership Council for both the New England Women’s Herbal Conference and the International Herb Symposium and is the author of Tick Magic.
Chanté Coleman serves as the Vice President of Equity and Justice where she leads the effort to fully operationalize equitable policies and practices and supports the organization to actively challenge systemic racism. She drives culture change by reframing how the organization thinks about power, while also encouraging others to develop their own expertise on equity and justice in their work. Coleman is an expert in large-scale ecosystem restoration and coalition-building and was previously the Director of the Choose Clean Water Coalition, a 230-member advocacy organization focused on protecting the Chesapeake Bay watershed. At the Coalition, she led regional scale strategies to evolve an intentional focus on equity and justice for the Coalition and its member organizations. Chanté is a member of the Green Leadership Trust, was named a “rising star” by Green 2.0, is a 2017 Environmental Leadership Program Fellow and a 2020 Better Selves Fellow. She frequently appears as a speaker, trainer, and facilitator at conferences across the country. Coleman is a graduate of Princeton University and California Western School of Law. She currently resides in Annapolis, Maryland, and is a firm believer in self-care, regularly practicing yoga and meditation.
Maryann is the School Gardens Coordinator at Harlem Grown, where she cultivates a variety of crops on the organization’s farm sites in Central and East Harlem. After completing two years of AmeriCorps Service as a Citizen Schools Teaching Fellow she began to focus on food sovereignty and local food systems in NYC. She has led food and farming workshops for youth of all ages. Through her role she is able to combine her passion for food and environmental advocacy with her background in education to support the Harlem community.
Tafshier is an advocate and community organizer based in Newark, NJ. Chief Operating Officer at Parent Impact, an organization created by parents for parents dedicated to empowering, advocating, and connecting families to resources that support their family’s needs for greater outcomes in urban communities. Parent Impact envisions creating opportunities where parents are partners and leaders in their communities. A proud Newarker, Mother to three young adults and three wonderful grandchildren. She has spent more than 20 years volunteering and organizing in various schools and community organizations in Newark. She strongly believes that parents active in the school community and neighborhood organizations have a positive effect on student outcomes. She also knows that having school choice is important and continues to advocate for the civil rights of Black and brown children to receive an equitable and quality education. An avid reader, lover of documentaries and lives a pescatarian lifestyle.
ANA MARIA DE LA ROSA
Geoffrey “Geo” Edwards is an educator and healing artist whose practice encompasses herbalism, community acupuncture, urban gardening, creative writing, and the visual arts. He is the Founder of Nu Healing Arts based in Maryland. In addition to his practice, Geoffrey is a Guest Lecturer, Chinese Herbs Dispensary Supervisor and Teaching Clinic Supervisor in the acupuncture program at the Maryland University of Integrative Health. While completing his studies in herbal medicine Geoffrey began the process of cultivating what he now calls the Nu Healing Arts Garden which includes a wide selection of perennial medicinal and culinary herbs. The initial focus of the garden was primarily education, preservation and conservation of plant based medicines and has now entered a new phase of collaboration with local small scale niche crop farmers. Beyond his healing arts practice, Geoffrey maintains a growing studio art practice and periodically teaches poetry & literature to teens in the DC metropolitan area as well as virtually to teens nationally and abroad. He loves to infuse the creative process into of all his work, whether on a plant walk, in the clinic, the apothecary, or classroom.
ERICA FERNANDEZ ZAMORA
Erica Fernandez Zamora was born and raised in a small, humbled town in Michoacán, Mexico and lived there until she was ten years old. She is the fifth of six children and in Mexico, worked alongside her siblings in the fields while attending school in the afternoon. After being separated from her parents and older siblings for a year, she was reunited with them in Oxnard, CA when she was ten years old. As a migrant student, she took advantage of all the opportunities offered to her, from Saturday school to summer school migrant programs. During her time in Oxnard, she constantly sought to give back to both her school and community. Her academic achievement and community involvement opened many doors. She is the recipient of numerous awards before and after graduating high school, among them the Brower Youth Award, the Gates Millennium Scholarship, and Glamour 2011 Top 10 College Women. She graduated high school and college with Honors. Erica continued to serve her community while attending college. She has spoken to thousands of people both domestically and internationally on issues she deeply cares about, such as environmental justice and education. She graduated from Stanford University and doubled major in Urban Studies with a concentration on Urban Society and Social Change and Iberian and Latin American Cultures. She also completed her Education Master’s degree in Policy, Organization and Leadership Studies at Stanford. Erica’s experience includes organizing, investigating, and advocating positions at the US Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights; the Agricultural Labor Relations Board; SEIU Local 2007; and Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. Erica most recently worked as the Director of Organizing at the Community Water Center in Visalia, CA. Currently, she is in a transition but continues to work on issues she deeply cares about.
Agnolia B. Gay has worked as a 23 year veteran educator with public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas; Pine Bluff, Arkansas; and Jacksonville, Florida. As a local individual artist, Agnolia, supports schools as a student and parent advocate. She collaborates with students and teachers; creates engaging workshops for both students and teachers, as well as showcases students. She supports nonprofit organizations through performances, creative workshops, coaching, consulting and collaborating with both youth and adults. She has created After school Programs and Summer Enrichment Programs for church groups, community groups, schools, family reunions and social organizations. Finally, Agnolia creates workshops for teachers that incorporate the “ARTS” into the curriculum ∙as she empowers both teachers and students to use the “ARTS” as a teaching and learning tool
For the past three decades Eric has worked as a researcher, analyst and policy maker on applied public policy issues ranging from economic development to early childhood education at the local, state, national and international level. He returned home to New Mexico in 1999 and as an Albuquerque City Councilman he co-sponsored and helped pass and implement an increase in the minimum wage, one of the nation’s first local public financing for elections system and the city’s most progressive planning document in its history. As a State Senator he championed progressive tax reform, green jobs and issues
affecting the state’s working children and families. For four years, before leaving to run for Congress, he also ran the largest and most active anti-poverty advocacy, research and policy non-profit organization focusing on children and families, New Mexico Voices for Children. He is currently State Director for the New Mexico Working Families Party, where he leads
policy campaigns and efforts and recruit, train, elect and hold accountable elected officials who place economic and social justice for working people at the center of their agenda. He is also a Doctoral Fellow at the UNM Center for Social Policy at the University of New Mexico’s where his research interests include the connections between economic development policy, politics and social capital.
Rev. DeVanie Jackson is Co-Founder of the Brooklyn Rescue Mission Urban Harvest Center and the Bed-Stuy Farm. She is a talented artist, writer, and inspirational preacher. Her work for the past 20 years has centered around food justice, hunger relief, and ministry to teens and young adults. Having worked with families to overcome hunger, homelessness, and poverty, she envisions her work as a starting point, empowering community residents to take ownership of their food supply, nutrition, and self-care. Devanie is a photographer who has captured community life, social justice, and food justice issues for over thirty years. With her love for color and all beautiful things, Devanie is also is a watercolor painter of flowers, landscapes, and nature. Her creative interests led her to study surface design, graphic arts, and weaving. Following this path led Devanie to an early career as a graphic artist painting flowers and creating woven designs for fabrics, clothing.
Brian has promoted respectful use and thoughtful stewardship of Maine’s coastline with the Maine Island Trail Association since 2005. As Program Director, he oversees MITA’s stewardship and education efforts on the Maine Island Trail – a recreational water trail linking over 240 islands and coastal sites along Maine’s rocky shore. With the help of devoted volunteers and strong partners, MITA encourages Leave No Trace practices, boating safety, and user-based stewardship with a focus on minimizing recreational use impacts, reducing marine debris, and preventing the spread of invasive species. At home, Brian volunteers for the Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust, where he serves as secretary of the board and co-chair of the stewardship committee. He has a Masters in Environmental Management from Yale University and a B.A. in biology and environmental studies from Bowdoin College. His passion is spending time outdoors, especially when it involves introducing his young son to the beauty and wonders of the natural world. Brian, his wife and their son live Cumberland, Maine, where they are slowly converting their lawn into an organic, edible landscape.
Maira has always been passionate about education and communities. She grew up around community meetings led by her mother to improve the quality of life of her neighborhood. Kitchen table conversations, Socratic circles, or simply engaging in meaningful conversations have always been present in her life. As a communicator (sometimes as a journalist, others as a strategist), Maira has always been passionate about building bridges so marginalized populations can have access to even dreaming of a better life. From facilitating learning and communication at the corporate level, teaching college students about how to work with marginalized communities to mobilizing community members to advocate for high quality of public education or environmental issues. Education is clearly Maira’s way of contributing to the world.
Andres Mejia is a Project Manager for NH Listens, Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire – hosting equity workshops and facilitating courageous and difficult conversations across the state of New Hampshire between community members, police, politicians, farmers, students, teachers and many other constituents. Andres has spent the past ten years working at the University of New Hampshire implementing diversity initiatives and spearheading underrepresented students support and helping leaders across campus—from student organizers to faculty and administrators—to become more culturally competent of folks marginalized within people of color and LGBTQAI+ communities and folks of various other marginalized groups. Currently, Andres serves as a staff advisor for MOS:DEF (Men of Strength, Education and Family), a support group for men of color; and the Queer Trans People of color support group. He is a Social Justice Educator, and a facilitator for the MLK Leadership Summit. He serves on the McNair Program Advisory and Study Abroad Diversity Scholarship Committee. He served on the President’s Commissions on the Status of People of Color, and the University Commission on Community, Equity & Diversity. Andres has been inducted into the 2019 UNH Alumni Diversity Hall of Fame. He received the Mover & Shakers Award in 2014, the Pink Triangle Award in 2014 for the support and advocacy of the LGBTQIA+ community, and the MUB Community Spirit Award in 2013 & 2014. Outside of his work schedule, Andres likes to travel, explore delicious restaurants, and go out dancing.
KATE MITCHELL MEHLE
New York, NY
Oneida, Turtle clan. Herbalist, soil and seed steward, scholar, student, and Earth Worker dedicated to decolonizing and liberating minds, hearts, and land- one plant, person, ecosystem, and non-human being at a time. Stephanie is the Coordinator of the Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust, grows medicines and food for her community at Sky World Apothecary & Farm; and occasionally mobilizes knowledge for Indigenous-led climate change and food sovereignty research projects.
C. Brandon Ogbunu is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University, whose research operates at the intersection between genetics, epidemiology, and computational biology. In addition, Brandon is a science writer, currently an Ideas contributor for WIRED magazine. He carries larger interests at the intersection between science, art and culture, and is involved in various initiatives focusing on science communication, diversity and inclusion, and STEM education.
Shawn is the Director of Vocational Services and Founding Director of Prospect Meadow Farm at ServiceNet. His responsibilities include overseeing Prospect Meadow Farm, which employs 70 people with developmental disabilities, autism, or brain injuries who raise chickens, sell eggs, manage a large log-grown shiitake-mushroom operation, sell wood products, and operate catering and community landscaping services. Shawn has served on the Town of Hatfield Finance Committee, recently completed two terms as president of the board of the Highland Valley Elder Services, served on the Holyoke Community College Board of Trustees and the MA Board of Higher Education. Currently Shawn serves as a Board Member for the Cooley Dickinson Healthy Community Committee, the Hatfield Council on Aging, and for Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA).
Enid Baxter Ryce is an internationally exhibited artist, filmmaker and musician specializing in large-scale collaborative participatory projects that communicate a sense of place across the disciplines of art, science and history. She has won numerous governmental and foundation awards and grants for her work as an artist and arts educator. Ryce has created multi-year large-scale community-based environmental arts projects for multiple festivals and conferences including the Philip Glass Center for Arts, Science and the Environment (2011 – present) the Bay-Delta Science Conference, (2010 – 2019), the Henry Miller Library, the Crocker Art Museum and the Armory Center for the Arts – supported by the Irvine Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her artworks have been featured at venues including the National Gallery of Art and Library of Congress, Washington, D.C; the J.P. Getty Museum, Director’s Guild of America and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Location One and Academy of Art and Sciences, New York City; Sundance, Park City UT; The Kunsthalle Vienna; The Arnolfini in London; Center for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow; CCA Andratx, Mallorca and have been written about in The New York Times, Artforum, Artreviews, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. Ryce received her BFA from The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, NY with a fellowship at Yale University and her MFA from Claremont Graduate University. Ryce is Professor of Cinematic Arts and Environmental Studies and Director of the California State University Monterey Bay Salinas Center for Arts and Culture.
New Orleans, LA
New London, NH
“I feel rooted, I feel thoughtful, I feel quiet inside, I feel rejuvenated. This land has filled me up. I met incredible people, considered the “long work” of my life, sunk my teeth into slowness, and enjoyed the natural evolution of each day.”
“I can’t believe it’s been about a year and a half since I attended the Better Selves fellowship. I still haven’t been able to fully put into words how grateful I am for such a powerful experience. But thank you, thank you for a life changing experience. I still carry the impact of those 5 days at the farm with me, and I want you to know what a positive imprint it has made on my life.”
“I left with more clarity for the next year as well as a new found interest in the intersectionality of race, environment and food”
2017 Fellow, Operations Manager at the Center for Equity and Inclusion
“I walk away with focusing on the journey and the work. Refuge is good for all people. Place matters. ”
2017 Fellow, CHI Elevate Program Manager for the Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center
“The expanse of the land, the distance between the yurt village and the barn/office, the nooks around the property and stone slabs with quotes and paintings on them…all of these contributed to a sense of spaciousness and gentle magic. I didn’t feel pressed for time once all week, which is kind of miraculous considering how I feel most of the time at home! I got to remember how it feels to have time. ”
2017 Fellow, Fellow with EDGE Funders Alliance
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