farmer and daughter with lots of brownish red chickens

Meet the Forefront Speakers

With Forefront: Ideas in Food and Farming, we're showcasing entrepreneurs who are solving problems with their passion and skills and sharing the how and the why of it all.

  • Ben Hartman, Lean Farming, 1/26/20
    Ben Hartman

    Ben Hartman is the author of The Lean Farm, winner of the prestigious Shingo Institute Research and Professional Publication Award. In 2017, Ben was named one of fifty emerging green leaders in the United States by Grist, and published a companion guide to The Lean Farm titled The Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables. Ben and his wife, Rachel Hershberger, own and operate Clay Bottom Farm in Goshen, Indiana, where they make their living growing and selling specialty crops on less than one acre. Ben has developed an online course in Lean farming.

  • Rod Ofte, Rotational Grazing: Improve Soil Health and the Farm's Bottom Line, 2/23/20
    Rod Ofte

    Rod is a fourth-generation rancher who operates Willow Creek Ranch, a rotational grazing operation on 400 acres near Coon Valley, Wisconsin. He has about 30 cow-calf pairs and grass finishes the beef that he sells direct to consumers and to the Wisconsin Grass-fed Beef Cooperative. He also raises pastured pork and range-free layers.

    He holds a Bachelor of Science from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York and an MBA from Boston University. He has more than 25 years of experience in the food industry, including time working in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. He is the president of Norse Group Consulting, and has been the general manager of the Wisconsin Grass-fed Beef Cooperative since its inception in 2008.

  • Lisa Kivirist, Soil Sisters: How Women are Changing the Food System, 10/11/20
    Lisa Kivirist

    A national advocate for women in sustainable agriculture, Lisa Kivirist is the author of Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers, and leads the annual award-winning Soil Sisters event in southern Wisconsin. The event is the largest women farmer-led tour of its kind in the country and a project of Renewing the Countryside. She founded and coordinates the “In Her Boots” women farmer training initiative for the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES). Kivirist is co-author with her husband, John Ivanko, of Homemade for Sale, the authoritative guide for launching a food business under cottage food law, and served as a plaintiff in the successful lawsuit against the state of Wisconsin that declared the ban on the sale of home-baked goods unconstitutional. Kivirist and Ivanko are also co-authors of Farmstead Chef, ECOpreneuring, and Rural Renaissance. For over twenty years, they have run Inn Serendipity Farm and bed and breakfast amidst the rolling green hills of southern Wisconsin, which is completely powered by renewable energy.

  • Dulce Morales
     Dulce Morales

    Dulce has more than 20 years of experience in foodservice, 15 of them as an operations and food safety manager. Since 2016, she has managed Cedillo's Fresh Produce (CFP) urban farm in Chicago with her husband and business co-founder, Juan Cedillo. CFP grows and sells a wide variety of locally and organically grown vegetables at community-based farmer's markets. Dulce leads CFP's marketing and outreach and is working with a coalition to establish a new farmers market in Chicago's primary Mexican neighborhood, La Villita. CFP farms at the Angelic Organics Learning Center incubator and Dulce is also on the Learning Center's staff as program manager for the market, farm safety, and food education. Passionate about food and cooking, Dulce devotes herself to provide her family and community with fresh and healthy food options.

  • FL Morris
    FL Morris

    FL Morris is president and co-founder of South Central Wisconsin Hemp Cooperative, based in Blanchardville, Wisconsin. FL is a first-generation, certified-organic vegetable and pastured livestock producer who has served Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago since 2004. FL is owner/operator of Grassroots Farm, LLC where she has been growing healthy food for wholesale, farmer's markets, CSA customers, and now certified organic CBD hemp. She has been developing a new idea with her community to turn fresh, local food into sliding scale, zero-waste, year-round meals, and serves on her Wisconsin Farmers' Union South Central Chapter Board as vice president and treasurer.

  • Beth Vercolio-Osmund
    Beth Vercolio-Osmund

    Beth Vercolio-Osmund is a co-owner/farmer at Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm, the first meat CSA in Illinois that serves the Chicago area. She and her husband Jody started Cedar Valley on family land in Ottawa, IL, in 2002. They are a second-career family that left the Chicago consulting world following the tech bubble burst in the early 2000s. They are activist farmers who speak out about policy issues and have both been involved in advocacy work. Beth is also the Director of Development at the Community Food Basket of Ottawa.

  • Erin Meyer, Whole Grain Supply Chain, 11/15/20
    photo of Erin Meyer

    The mission of Basil's Harvest is to support a sustainable and innovative community of regenerative farmers by helping to build soil health and aiding these farmers in accessing markets in which to sell their products. As a dietitian and chef with a master's degree in sustainable food systems, Erin uses her previous experience as an executive, a diabetes educator, food service entrepreneur, and educator to emphasize equitable access to regional foods into institutions, dietary shifts for community health, and environmental protection through experiential education.

  • Rachel Bernier-Green
     Rachel Bernier-green

    Rachel is the owner and head baker at ‘Laine's Bake Shop, LLC and holds bachelor's degrees in finance and accounting and a master's degree in taxation. In 2013, Rachel created ‘Laine's Bake Shop, an online bakery catering company with a social mission. ‘Laine's Bake Shop was founded to create delicious, scratch-made treats with a focus on creativity, honest ingredients, and unparalleled customer service—and to revitalize urban communities, starting with the south side of Chicago.

    ‘Laine's has supplied corporate clients including the Obama Foundation, Google, and McDonald's, and now supplies products to Whole Food Market stores as well as several local restaurants and cafes. ‘Laine's opened a retail location in the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago in the spring of 2019 and is currently building out a production facility in the Woodlawn neighborhood. Rachel is an alumni of the prestigious Good Food Business Accelerator at 1871 and previously served as Director of Resource Development for the Chicago chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants.

  • Andy Hazzard
    Andy Hazzard

    Andy is a sixth-generation farmer that grew up on a large conventional farm. In 2007, she began vegetable farming focusing on community supported agriculture (CSA), farmer's markets, and wholesale to the restaurant industry. In 2012, she started experimenting with smalls grains, and by 2013 she opened a small milling operation. After several years of running two operations at two locations, she now is focused completely on small grains and direct-to-consumer and wholesale markets. Her farm's niche is focused on heirloom varieties of corn, wheat and barley. She also grows oats and hulled grains. She is particularly interested in seed saving, improving open pollinated varieties, and developing new varieties.

  • Gabe Brown, Regenerative Agriculture: Details of a Profitable Journey, 12/13/20
    Speaker Gabe Brown

    Gabe Brown is one of the pioneers of the current soil health movement which focuses on the regeneration of our resources.

    Gabe, along with his wife Shelly, and son Paul, own and operate Brown’s Ranch, a diversified 5,000-acre farm and ranch near Bismarck, North Dakota. The ranch consists of several thousand acres of native perennial rangeland along with perennial pastureland and cropland. Their ranch focuses on farming and ranching in nature’s image. The Browns holistically integrate their grazing and no-till cropping systems, which include a wide variety of cash crops, multi-species cover crops along with all-natural grass-finished beef and lamb. They also raise pastured laying hens, broilers, and swine. This diversity and integration have regenerated the natural resources on the ranch without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides.

    The Browns are part owners of a state inspected abattoir which allows them to direct market their products. They believe that healthy soil leads to clean air, clean water, healthy plants, animals, and people. Over 2,000 people visit the Brown's Ranch annually to see this unique operation. They have had visitors from all fifty states and twenty-four foreign countries.

    Gabe and Brown's Ranch have received many forms of recognition for their work, including a Growing Green Award from the Natural Resource Defense Council, an Environmental Stewardship Award from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, and a Zero-Till Producer of the Year Award, to name a few. Gabe has also been named one of the twenty-five most influential agricultural leaders in the United States.

    Gabe recently authored the book, "Dirt to Soil, One Family's Journey Into Regenerative Agriculture."

    He is a partner, along with Ray Archuleta, Shane New, and Dr. Allen Williams, in Understanding Ag LLC. He is also an instructor for Soil Health Academy, which focuses on teaching others the power and importance of healthy functioning ecosystems.