Our Team

We have no paid staff; we are 100% volunteer-powered. Our Board members are also our work team  — they plan and implement all of our events and initiatives, alongside community volunteers. Want to roll up your sleeves and join our team? We'd love to hear from you! Please get in touch.

You can also read about our history and the team that launched the council on our About page.


Anne Massie


Anne has long had a seemingly contradictory affection for public service and personal self-reliance. Upon graduating with her B.A. from Kalamazoo College in Michigan amidst the Great Recession, she committed herself to learning the lost arts of homesteading, food preservation and bartering to make ends meet.  Her search for mentors quickly led her to several apprenticeships, beginning with her humanely-raised meat distributor, Farm Direct Meat, where she spent summers working at farmers markets all over the region.  Anne has spent the last decade volunteering for NWI local food initiatives, assisting local farmers with market sales, sourcing local food for events and connecting farmers and consumers out of pure passion.

Anne and her husband, Ben, are founders of the newly established Grounded Earth Farm in Crown Point, IN.  They raise organically grown fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, and nuts as well as selling homemade jams and jellies.  Anne and Ben enjoy including their 7-year old daughter and infant son on their journey as first generation farmers and all the ensuing experiments.  Anne believes her purpose, and ultimately her legacy, is to create a thriving local food economy where all members of our community have access to nutritional, locally grown food. 

Virginia Pleasant Headshot.jpg

Virginia Pleasant

Vice President and value-chain coordinator

Virginia is a PhD student at Purdue University and a co-founder of the heirloom seed library at the Farm at Prophetstown State Park. Her research and advocacy are policy-driven and focus on small scale alternative agriculture, local food systems, and sustainable futures.

Gabrielle Biciunas Headshot.jpg

Gabrielle Biciunas


Gabrielle Biciunas is the Long Range Planner at the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC). She holds a Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Planning. Gabrielle serves as a key staff for the planning and numerous implementation activities and projects of the award winning 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan. She works on many transportation and land use initiatives and projects that enhance livability and placemaking, as well as economic development, performance-based planning, regional corridor planning, the Marquette Plan and cultivating the local food system. She has worked on the development of the Livable Centers Initiative and manages the Creating Livable Communities Grant Program. She is a member of the American Planning Association and serves on various Committees and Boards. Gabrielle is also one of the Council's founding board members.



Arleen Peterson


Arleen is nonprofit leader and community organizer with over 20 years of experience. Arleen is a graduate of Indiana University (BA ’94) and Ball State University (MA ’97). Arleen began her organizing on Chicago’s Southside community in 1997 with the Lugenia Burns Hope Center.  In 2004 Arleen joined Voices for Illinois Children. During the time at Voices, a statewide foster care campaign in collaboration with IDCFS and over 60 private child welfare agencies was managed by Arleen. Arleen spent the majority of her career with two national organizations, spanning more than a 12 years of work from 1999 – 2011 at Communities In Schools National and the Simon Youth Foundation.  Arleen served as the Executive Director of the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana from 2013-2016 to help fight hunger and feed hope to food insecure people in Northwest Indiana.  Arleen continues to dedicate her life’s passion and commitment to philanthropic causes that support the most vulnerable in our communities. She is is also one of the Council's founding board members.

Sarah Highlen

Immediate Past-President

Sarah is an independent marketing consultant and founder of Grapevine Local Food Marketing. Her passion for both food and community service started with her father. They took part in volunteer work together, he taught her to cook, and they regularly enjoyed exploring the food in Chicago's Chinatown and the original Maxwell Street Flea Market. She spends her free time cooking, developing new recipes, working in the garden, and powerlifting. Sarah served on the Board of the American Red Cross of NWI, the Steering Committee for CoThrive TimeBank, and spent four years volunteering at Sojourner Truth House before joining the Council.  Sarah is also one of the Council's founding board members and served as the Council's first President.


Dominique Edwards

Board Member

Dominique was born and raised in Michigan City, Indiana. She holds a M.A. in Sustainable Urban Development from DePaul University. What initially inspired Dominique's journey, was a family garden built by her father, Richard Edwards, in 2009. Dominique has worked in the non-profit sector for nearly 6 years acquiring a number of different skills and interests in areas such as: implementation of sustainable food systems, urban agriculture, food deserts, community development, economic development, and brownfield redevelopment.  Some of Dominique's most notable work includes the development of various urban agriculture projects such as the Michigan City Global Gardens Project in 2012, which was a project that intended to create a community garden where the produce would be given to local homeless shelters. Dominique specializes in areas such as GIS and Urban Design. Her research focuses on revitalization efforts of post industrial cities with urban agriculture, focusing on revitalization efforts in cities such as Gary, Indiana. Dominique has presented her work at local, regional and national conferences, such as the Just Food Forum at Harvard University in 2016. Dominique was previously the Director of Development for Gary Urban Farms and is not only a Board Member for the Northwest Indiana Food Council but is also a Member of the Auxiliary Board for The Plant in Chicago, IL. Dominique is also one of the Council's founding board members.

Cynthia Henderson.jpg

Cynthia Henderson

Board Member

Cynthia is a Corporate Support Representative for Lakeshore Public Media. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Advertising and Design/Communications from The International Academy of Design & Technology in Chicago, Illinois which was obtained part time while raising teenagers. Cynthia’s career has included Design, Sales and Customer Relations. She has a passion for the environment, locally grown food and nutrition.  Although she is new to the not-for-profit industry she has emerged herself into many organizations and committees as a member and volunteer. She holds the office of Club Secretary for Merrillville Rotary and has been involved with planning committee for Merrillville Rotary’s Clothing Our Children event which raised $35,000 for Lake County Schools; Lakeshore Public Media Professional Women’s Conference; NWI Food Council Farm Hop and Food Expo & Discussion. She is a member of Business Women United Network, and several chambers where she also volunteers for special fund-raising events

headshot 1.2.jpg

Andrew Raridon

Board Member

Andrew Raridon is an Assistant Professor in the Sociology & Criminology department at Valparaiso University. He received his PhD from Purdue University, and his research examines inequality and activism in food systems. Andrew interested in how to best support young people as they launch their new careers and lifestyles as sustainable farmers, and how we can wed the ideals of food justice with the realities of the marketplace. In his spare time, he likes to dig in the garden with his wife and two little girls, and plot how they can start our own diversified farm one day.

S Hansen Profile.png

Shane Hansen

Board Member

Originally from Michigan City Shane spent 18 years in Chicago working at community gardens and farmers' markets. While gaining an appreciation for food and farming he moved back to NWI to start an organic farm in New Carlisle. His farm, Rainfield Farm, grows produce and herbs for local grocery stores, farmers' markets, and restaurants. Upon his return to the region he's managed the Michigan City Farmer's Market and has been involved with the Michigan City Mainstreet Association. Shane has a background in special event production and experiential marketing. Unable to get rid of the marketing itch he occasionally consults for marketing agencies in his free time.


Lyndsay Ploehn

Board Member

Lyndsay is a country-raised girl from Indiana, that loves God, loves her family, and loves flowers! She fell in love with the country life and horticulture at a very young age and received her degree in Horticulture from Purdue University and spent many years with Purdue Extension Porter County as the Agriculture Educator. Lyndsay now works with her family’s landscape business, operates her own flower business focused on locally-grown flowers, and homeschools her two boys with an undying love for adventure, travel and good food.


Veronica Jalamo

Board Member

Veronica is the Community Wellness Coordinator for the East Chicago Community with Purdue Extension Lake County. She is deeply passionate about serving the community and spent many years founding and nurturing the Grow Local network of community gardens in Lafayette, Indiana, which has seen incredible success.