Staff & Board

Staff

Gretchen Groenke

Core Leadership Coordinator

(gretchen@rockymountainseeds.org)

Read Gretchen's Bio

Gretchen Groenke (she/hers) is a mother, a poet, a birthworker, and a student of the plants and the Earth. She was raised in the vast industrial agricultural landscape of Washington State where she learned to love rich soil, fresh food, plants, people and language. It was also in this place that she came to know injustice and exploitation of land and people as inherent to a corporate globalized food system. These formative experiences set her life’s course to tend to the seeds of healing and justice wherever she has reach. Gretchen has spent her life working with plants, agriculture, and community. In addition to her role as Core Leadership Coordinator with Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, she facilitates and supports community based education and organizing specific to food and racial justice, with an emphasis on building strength, dignity, and justice from the land up. She is the Founder of White on White education and racial justice organizing for white identifying folks, former Co-Director of Mancos FoodShare, a Co-Founder of the Four Corners Food Coalition, Co-Founder of 4 Corners Collaborative, former Raise Colorado Steering Committee member, and cares for seeds, food, medicine, community and land at 4th World Farm. You can find her writing, poetry, and latest adventures at @flamesinherveins

Renée Fourie

Education & Outreach Coordinator

(renee@rockymountainseeds.org)

Read Renee's Bio

Renée has always believed in the healing power of food. Her academic education focused on anthropology, geology, and adult education, but upon learning about the magic of seeds, her passion for seed saving was ignited. She calls home the Arizona southwest, lands nurtured by the Hohokam, Tohono O’odham, and Salt River Pima peoples. A burgeoning seed saver, she has always been a plant lover and loves to explore the great outdoors. When not tending to her small but growing garden, she is most likely opting outside and hiking somewhere in the desert.

Jennifer Muskrat-Velarde

Grants and Fiscal Coordinator

(Jennifer@rockymountainseeds.org)

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Jennifer Muskrat-Velarde, is Tsalagi (Cherokee) from Oklahoma (and prior to the Trail of Tears, the Carolinas) on her father’s side (Muskrat) and belongs to the Dzíł’gháán (“Mountain People,” commonly referred to as the Ollero Clan) of the Dáá’hósh’dáá’yíín (“Those who first collectively emerged,”) known today as the Jicarilla Apaches from New Mexico, Northern Mexico, Colorado, Texas, and Oklahoma, on her mother’s side (Velarde). As both Indigenous tribes are traditionally known to be matrilineal and matrilocal, Jennifer grew up primarily with her mother’s people in northern New Mexico, and is an enrolled member of the Jicarilla Apache Nation, who lives on the southern end of the Reservation, alongside her family and husband. With extensive experience in grants, accounting, International Indigenous economic development centered on increasing the overall economic well being of Native and rural communities including health, education and sustainable development, equity of access, environmental justice, land and water stewardship, sustainable ranching/farming, human rights, food security, indigenous community planning, language and cultural arts preservation, rematriation, traditional medicines and seed saving practices, Jennifer looks forward to learning and growing as the Grants and Fiscal Coordinator with the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, and all the communities served and impacted.

Sunflower

Marissa Joe

Health and Justice Organizer

(marissa@rockymountainseeds.org)

Read Marissa's Bio

Marissa Joe is Hopi and Diné from the Village of Sipaulovi in Second Mesa, Arizona. She is Honwungwa (Bear Clan) on her Hopi side and on her Navajo side she is born for Kiyaa’áanii(Towering House Clan), her maternal grandfather is Naakai dine’é(Mexican Clan) and her paternal grandfather is Tótsohnii(Big Water Clan). Marissa is a mother of 2 beautiful daughters and as her people are matrilineal nations she grew up raised primarily by her mother and maternal grandmother. It is with the invaluable time spent with her maternal grandmother that sparked a deeply rooted love for planting and growing food. She was reminded daily of the importance of carrying on her cultures teachings through the preparation and eating of traditional foods.

Marissa has a Bachelor of Science from Northern Arizona University where she focused on plant biology and a Master of Community & Regional Planning from the University of New Mexico where she focused on Indigenous Community Planning as well as Historic Preservation & Regionalism.

Following her academic pursuits, Marissa devoted her professional life to working in community and cultivating a strong relationship with community elders who helped her develop a stronger understanding of social & environmental justice based issues that affected her community. Marissa maintains a strong dedication to addressing such issues in her work and hopes to cultivate systemic change with other like-minded individuals.

Marissa is overjoyed to have been chosen to be a part of the RMSA Staff Team and looks forward to cultivating a strong organization that lifts up the needs of the communities we serve.

Frances Craik

Program Coordinator

(frances@rockymountainseeds.org)

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Frances Craik is the Program Coordinator at Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance. She is a farmer and seed saver in SE Michigan. While studying Sustainable Food Systems at ASU she was mentored by female farmers and advocates of justice. These experiences have inspired her to commit her life’s work to developing and supporting vibrant, diverse, and equitable food and seed systems.

Board of Directors

Joseluis Ortiz y Muñiz

Co-Chair/President

Read Joseluis' Bio

Hi, My name is Joseluis Ortiz. I am an indigenous Genizaro, land based, native New Mexican from the Genizaro land grant (La Merced de Santo Tomas el Apostol de Rio de Las Trampas) village of Rodarte and currently live in my maternal village of San Antonio Del Rio Embudo or modern day “Dixon” in the high desert of Northern New Mexico. With roots in traditional agriculture that was passed on inter-generationally through my family I maintain a traditional land and acequia based way of life on land my family has stewarded since time immemorial. I was born and raised in, and grew up farming the High Llanos of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains and the low valleys of El Rio Embudo. My family and I grow corn, beans, squash, chile, legumes, fruit trees, wheat, sheep, horses and pasture and practice a traditional Regenerative and Biodynamic Agriculture that has been sustained and maintained through generations of lived and practiced relationship with the land, water and the natural environment where we have thrived in community. I come from; people struggling with chronic poverty as a result of historical land and culture loss, oppression, lack of quality education, disability and lack of meaningful opportunities in our home communities; people whose rich, deep, and rooted culture and history lives on through our cultural and land based practice and is deeply rooted in the health and wellness of our water shed, our acequias, our seeds, and our relationship with the land. Acequia culture is a regenerative life way rooted in the distribution of water to irrigable lands and has sustained us for centuries in an arid region that would not under natural circumstances sustain life. Both my maternal and paternal granfathers served over 50 years combined as acequia mayordomos and water rights advocates. Acequias are considered one of human kinds great accomplishments and is a wonder of the world, I’m proud to know my ancestors played a direct role in accomplishing such a wonder.. For 10 years I lived in the Atlixco land grant community in the “South Valley” of Albuquerque working with the grassroots community based organization called Los Jardines Institute, building and developing land based socially sustainable systems, training farmers, facilitating anti-racism and decolonization training, developing leaders, learning, and investing time in creating healthy realities where we Live, work, play, pray, and learn. I am skilled in Environmental and Economic Justice, Restorative Justice, and Land Based Justice and have worked as a program director at a non-profit organization working with youth to transform their lives through cultural practices that connects them to their core identity and culture. We farmed year-round and engaged in community service learning projects as a way of giving back to our community. My work in community is the result of an 8 year process of self-transformation and self-discovery in my journey to overcome the impacts of violence, trauma, and addiction which is what people of color in my community face as my community lies within the region known as the “heroin capital” of the world. A place where multigenerational impact of drugs, violence, trauma, and addiction is a daily lived reality for my people. I am a proud father and partner to an incredible daughter and powerful, beautiful and creative woman, an active community member and the Community Liaison for the Greenroots Institute at the Northern New Mexico College, the coordinator of the NM Land Based Justice Collective, and a board member of the BioDynamic Association(BDA).

John “JC” Caccia

Co-Chair/Vice President

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John is a Seed Steward, a garlic aficionado, an experienced gardener, musician, beekeeper, tree planter, former river guide, and father of two fine sons. He graduated from Idaho State University with a Secondary Education degree and a master’s degree in Athletic Administration. John is privileged to live within the ancestral homelands of the Shoshone, Bannock and Paiute First Nation’s People and does “his work” on a friend’s 40 acre farm located along the Snake River near Banbury Hot Springs in south-central Idaho. He is a co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, has served the past 7 years in a variety of roles and is currently helping form RMSA’s Advisory Council. John is also the co-founder of the Ketchum Arts Festival, Wood River Seed Library and has a long history of environmental and anti-nuclear activism

Emily Arasim

Co-Chair/Secretary

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Emily Arasim was born and raised in Tesuque, NM and now resides in Alcalde in the Española Valley. She is dedicated to working alongside community to protect traditional seed, farming and water stewardship practices – and to participating in movements for environmental, economic and social justice for land-based peoples of New Mexico. For the past seven seasons, she has been farming and caring for seeds under the mentorship of elders and friends on their projects around Northern NM. Emily holds staff roles with the New Mexico Acequia Association (NMAA) and the Northern Youth Project (NYP); helped launch the Española Healing Foods Seed Library; is an elected commissioner for the acequia she was raised along; and organizes with a collective of NM ‘next generation’ young farmers. She is a graduate of the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance Seed Teacher Training program, and has presented and participated in other RMSA events over the years. She spends her free time jamming to old school hip hop and learning how to be a better friend and partner, a yummy cook, and a herbal medicine maker.

Shannon Francis (Hopi/Dineh)

Co-Chair

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Shannon Francis, is a Hopi and Dineh from the Southwest homelands of Arizona and New Mexico. She is Towering House clan born for Red Running into the Water clan. Her Hopi clans are Massau’, Bear Sand, and Snake Clan. Shannon comes from twelve generations of earth caretakers, ethnobotanists, and seed keepers. A certified Permaculture Design Instructor, Shannon weaves TEK Traditional Ecological Knowledge with innovative science. She loves to educate on caretaking of land, water, and soil resources; preserving Native heirloom GMO-free seeds, zero-waste philosophy, and how to live more harmoniously with nature. 

Shannon is the Executive Director for Spirit of the Sun, Inc. in Denver. Spirit of the Sun received the 2020 Human Rights Award from Youth Celebrate Diversity. Shannon co-created and led an Indigenous Permaculture Community Garden Project with the Four Winds American Indian Council. Shannon has received the Justin B. Willie humanitarian award (2014) on the Navajo Nation as well as the Cesar E. Chavez female leadership award (2015) for her work with Indigenous gardening, food justice, and community building projects. 

Shannon co-created the Indigenous agricultural project at Woodbine Ecology Center in Sedalia, CO. She taught Indigenous gardening workshops Native communities at the Denver Indian Center. She has presented at the Front Range Bioneers, the Star School, Indigenous Farming Conference White Earth, MN, The Denver Green Festivals, Dartmouth College, Haskell Indian Nations College, Fort Lewis College AISES Conference, and the Teaching Outside the Box Environmental Education Conference. 

Shannon has six wonderful children and three amazing grandchildren that are her inspiration to make this a better world for all future generations to come.

Val Valdez

Co-Chair

Read More About Val

Born, grazed, and now based in El Valle de San Luis, Colorado, Valentina Valdez (Val) is a 5th generation farmer eager to merge her passions for the environment, human-centered business, and agriculture. She is primarily an activist for equitable and sustainable agriculture and self-identifies as a radical chicanx ecofeminist.

In 2020 she graduated from the University of Southern California with a BS in Business Administration where her emphasis of study was Social Entrepreneurship. Her education brought her to where she is currently “studying economics as if humans mattered” by learning about cooperative and collective enterprises, the power of mutual aid, and how we can steer this neoliberal ship consciously in a different, sustainable direction.

Some questions that guide her day-to-day are:

How do we engage youth so they can experience spiritual ecology and healing for themselves? How do we mitigate colonization 2.0 (gentrification) in our communities? How do we create economic opportunities and pathways for those same youth so they might have land based, agricultural professions that are dignified and pay fairly?

Her day job is as a Co-Program Director of the Rio Grande Farm Park in Alamosa, CO and she moonlights as owner and operator of Buena Vibra Foods, a small food distribution business serving the Northern New Mexico area with high vibrational foods from the farms in her community. She is excited to now serve on the RMSA board as she believes that seeds and the knowledge they carry are an immense tool that must be leveraged to establish true food sovereignty, develop cultural consciousness and inspire the next generation.

When she has free time, you can find her either welding in her workshop, looking for hot springs in the mountains, or pretending to know how to play the drums.

Kelley Weston

Co-Chair/Treasurer

Read Kelley's Bio

Kelley Weston is founder, partner and owner of Native Landscapes in Ketchum, Idaho established in 1988. Native Landscapes is a full service landscape contracting business specializing in the use of native plants. Weston has been a Landscape Architect since 2007. He was the founder of the Montana State Prison Vocational Horticulture Program and was a founding member of the Sawtooth Botanical Garden and Idaho’s Bounty. He has been a board member of the Western Watersheds Project since 1999. He is a sustainability educator, has a black belt in Aikido, and has been a Zen practitioner for over 20 years.

Previous Staff and Board of Directors

B. McDorman

Co-Founder, Executive Director, IT, Seed Teacher

Read Bill's Bio

Bill McDorman is a co-founder of RMSA, holding many hats as former Executive Director, IT Support, and Lead Teacher. He is a seed saver, writer, and educator based in Cornville, Arizona. In his nearly 30 years of seed experience, he has co-founded a number of nonprofit projects and seed companies including the Down Home Project, Garden City Seeds, Seeds Trust, High Altitude Gardens, the Sawtooth Botanical Gardens, Seed School, and the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance. He is author of the book Basic Seed Saving. Bill and his wife Belle Starr were formerly directors of Native Seeds/SEARCH, a seed conservation organization serving the Greater Southwest. Bill and Belle will always be connected to seeds; find them at Cornville Seeds.

Lee-Ann Hill

Executive Director, Special Projects, Program Coordinator

Read Lee-Ann's Bio

Lee-Ann is a former Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance. She holds a MA in Cultural Ecology from Prescott College where she studied traditional land management with an eye on food systems. After conducting research in New Mexico and working on organic farms in Costa Rica, Lee-Ann currently resides in southwest Colorado where she runs a CSA (community supported agriculture) program at Laughing Wolf farm integrating seed adaptation, water conservation, and landscape regeneration. Lee-Ann is also a graduate of RMSA’s Seed School Teacher Training and Grain School programs. She produced the Mountain West Seed Summit, oversaw the Seed Stewards and Heritage Grain Trials programs, and conducted research for RMSA.

Don Tipping

Board Member

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Don has been offering hands-on, practical workshops at Seven Seeds Farm since 1997. It is a small, organic family farm in the Siskiyou Mountains of SW Oregon situated at 2,000 feet elevation on a 7,000 tall-forested mountain with rushing spring-fed creeks flowing through the land and nestled among old-growth forests. Siskiyou Seeds is dedicated to providing growers of all scales with certified organic, open-pollinated seeds of exceptional vigor, quality, and integrity. Their operation is unique in the seed world; they actually grow most of the seed sold at the family farm.

Belle Starr

Co-Founder, Deputy Director, Public Relations

Read Belle's Bio

Belle Starr is co-founder of Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance and lead the growth and operations for over five years. Belle is the former Deputy Director of Native Seeds/SEARCH and has an extensive background in publicity, media relations, grant writing, and community organizing. She was a professional broadcaster for almost 30 years. She dedicates her time to SeedSave.org which she co-founded with her husband, Bill McDorman. Together, they developed the ground-breaking seed saving program, Seed School, which has graduated nearly 1000 people from around the world.

Stephen Thomas

Copywriter, Researcher

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Stephen Thomas is a writer, community organizer, and environmentalist. He offered his talents to Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance for several years, conducting research, writing articles, and organizing events all while learning about saving seeds. His ultimate objective would tie his passions together and promote greater connectedness and well-being among people and the planet we share. Stephen is now a clinical social worker, supporting individuals along their path to growth and healing.

Casey O’Leary

Board Member

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Casey managed the Earthly Delights Farm, an urban farm in Boise that has specialized in vegetable and seed production and urban farm education for the past 18 years. Casey is also the co-founder of Snake River Seed Cooperative and is proud of the official transition to a worker- and producer-owned cooperative in 2021. This has allowed her to follow her passion for educating the next generation of seed stewards at the College of Western Idaho Horticulture program as a full-time faculty member.