Speaker Bio’s

About Amanda Benson
My name is Amanda Benson and I am the 4-H Agriculture Educator for Columbia and Green Counties. I grew up in Saratoga County on a beef cattle and crop farm while also frequently working on my aunt and uncle’s dairy farm. I was a member of the Saratoga County 4-H program for 10 years where I participated in a horse project, teen council, teen ambassadors, teen exchange and many other projects. After graduating high school and aging out of 4-H, I went on to college to acquire my Bachelor of Science degree at SUNY Cobleskill where I studied agricultural business with a focus in agricultural education. I then continued to be a part of the 4-H program when I joined the Rensselaer County 4-H program as a summer assistant.

I am now very excited to be a part of the Columbia/Greene 4-H program. 4-H was such a huge part of my life and continues to be. 4-H provided me with life skills and experiences that I will forever hold with me and I hope to continue to pass on the 4-H tradition and values to youth of all ages.

About Maggie Browne
Maggie Browne has been keeping bees in Craryville, NY and Hancock MA for 5 years.  Honey Pot Apiary evolved in 2013 out of a passion for honey bees and environmental health.  Only surplus honey is harvested along with wax and propolis.  Our family supports bees by selling humanely harvested raw honey (when available), hand cream, lip balm, soap, and hive set ups for both eight and ten frame equipment.

About Marissa Codey
The Columbia Land Conservancy’s (CLC) Marissa Codey has been selected to participate in Farmland Advisors, a new training program on farm transfer and farmland access options designed for professionals working with farmers and landowners.  Read more…

About Serge Madikians

Chef-Owner Serge Madikians
Serevan Restaurant, Amenia, NY

Upon graduating from the French Culinary Institute (FCI) in 1998, Serge cooked alongside the most celebrated chefs working today, including Jean-Georges Vongerichten at Jean Georges and David Bouley at Bouley Bakery and Danube.  In procuring ingredients for the restaurants while cooking professionally in New York City, Chef Serge’s lone and limited connection to farms and farmers was at the Union Square Farmers’ Market.

In the spring of 2002, this restricted connection to farms and farmers changed when Chef Serge discovered the pleasures of cooking fine food in spectacular country surroundings as Executive Chef at Main Street Bovina in the Catskills region of New York. There, he earned high praise for his innovative use of fresh, local ingredients. By May 5, 2005, when he opened the doors of Serevan, his highly acclaimed restaurant in Amenia, New York, he had forged a deeply connected relationships with several of the farmers in and around the Hudson Valley, most notably Montgomery Place Orchards and Migliorelli Farms.

Over the last 12 years of cooking in the Hudson Valley, Chef Serge has further expanded his relationship and interactions with many more local farms, dairies and artisans, consequently, establishing a fine dining restaurant at Serevan which exemplifies the use of fresh and local products, whenever possible.

Chef Serge’s creativity and use of local products has won him numerous praises. He was twice voted people’s choice of Best Chef in the Hudson Valley by Hudson Valley Magazine, and was twice a Semi-Finalist for a James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Northeast. The notable Michael Pollan has voted him the most underrated Chef in the world.

Chef Serge also shares his passion for cooking and farming with students by holding workshops at both Millbrook School, in Millbrook, NY and Indian Mountain School in Salisbury, NY. To further broaden his passion and interests, he hosts a radio show on Robin Hood Radio in Sharon, CT called “Flavor Matters”, in which he interviews chefs, farmer, writers and artisans, discussing all matters surrounding food and farming in the Tri-State Area.

About Bill Martin
Bill Martin is a Business Consultant with Farm Credit East. Bill was raised on a dairy farm in St Lawrence  County, NY  obtained his Bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and has worked full time with farmers and the farm community since 1975. He joined Farm Credit in 1980 and has worked out of the New Hampshire and New York offices. During his career he has been certified in appraisal and tax preparation as well as filled roles of Senior loan officer and branch manager before be certified as a Business Consultant. His post graduate studies include courses in appraisal, farm taxation, leadership, management, estate planning, and consulting.  

As well as being a Business Consultant, Bill coordinates the Generation Next programs for Farm Credit East is a member of the American Society of Agricultural Consultants and a deacon in the Reformed Church.

About Jim Oldham
Jim Oldham directs Equity Trust, a small national non-profit that promotes alternative forms of land ownership—for farms, housing, and other critical resources—that balance the needs of individuals with the needs of their communities and the environment. The organization also manages a revolving loan fund. For close to two decades, Equity Trust has worked for the preservation of affordable working farms using ground leases based on the community land trust model as well as affirmative agricultural easements. The recently launched Equity Trust Hudson Valley Farm Affordability Program builds on this experience to address critical challenges farmers face in acquiring farmland. Funded by the NoVo Foundation as part of their effort to promote “local living economies” in partnership the with Local Economies Project of the New World Foundation, the program is building partnerships with farmers, land trusts, and others to preserve affordable working farms in fifteen Hudson Valley counties. Prior to joining Equity Trust, Jim founded and directed Las Lianas Resource Center, a US/Ecuadorian non-profit that partners with indigenous peoples for environmental protection, collective rights, and sustainable development.

About Emili Ponte
Emil Ponte grew up in Rhode Island where she participated in local 4H programs and worked with her father on his commercial fishing boat. She moved to New York to attend SUNY Cobleskill, where she achieved a Bachelor of Technology in Agricultural Business degree in 2006.   After graduating, she worked in Marketing and Sales for the Rhode Island Dairy Cooperative, marketing their fresh milk products, Rhody Fresh.  She moved on to operating a commercial sheep herd in her current hometown of Greenville, NY, where she marketed the sheep for auction.  Emili’s current role is with Farm Credit East, where she started as a Credit Representative in June of 2008. She serves all industries, including dairy, crops, equine, orchard fruit, etc. This job involves working with local agricultural businesses, providing assistance with financing, financial analysis, budgeting, business planning and profitability analysis.  


About Nancy Thomas
Co-founder + Proprietor – Mezze Restaurant Group

Nancy Thomas, local food advocate and restauranteur, grew up in Oklahoma City with a Moroccan mother and Oklahoman father who truly valued hospitality. Her family inspiration led her to a life in the restaurant industry beginning in 1984. She has explored the world of food from the far off Mediterranean Sea and the panhandle of Texas to a variety of cities on the East Coast until she landed in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.

Thomas’ vision led her to founding Mezze Bistro + Bar in its first location on Water Street in Wiliamstown in 1996. The success of Mezze Bistro + Bar led to the birth of Mezze Catering + Events in 1999, which continues to allow the restaurant group to bring the original Mezze dining experience to guests throughout the region. In 2001, Thomas opened Eleven at MASS MoCA, her second restaurant, housed at the nation’s largest contemporary arts center. Reincarnated as Café Latino at MASS MoCA several years later, the restaurant served patrons for eight years at its museum location. In 2007, Allium Restaurant + Bar was opened in Great Barrington and has been well received with accolades and great reviews.

Thomas is dedicated to creating extraordinary dining experiences reminiscent of her childhood memories. She is an advocate for shaping a community of sustainable agriculture and, with her restaurants and catering company, has created a means by which consumers can lay down values with their dollars and support the local economy. Committed to the local food movement, Thomas maintains that cooking should be based on the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients that are produced locally and sustainably.

Thomas is the co-author of The Great Tiki Drink Book and contributor to Caribbean Cocktails with Jennifer Trainer Thompson (both published by Ten Speed Press.) She is a board member of Berkshire Grown the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, Berkshire Creative and 1Berkshire.

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