Leslie Ackerman

Since 2002, Leslie Ackerman has taught and coached hundreds of small business owners at all stages and across every conceivable industry. Formerly director of a small business training and resource center at a community development financial institution, Leslie then became a "Freelance Business Goddess" for four years. Her ‘Leslie’s Laws of Business’ have been immortalized on keychains and even laser-engraved onto tortillas. Leslie’s various past lives and alter egos include rock and ice climber, personal chef, agroforestry advisor in West Africa, fruit smoothie entrepreneur, and wolf caretaker.  Earlier this year, she took her enterprise vision and community finance savvy in a new professional direction, taking a position with a not-for-profit organization in the affordable housing world.

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Liz Coakley

Liz Coakley is Groundswell Center’s Incubator Farm Program Manager which includes site management, recruitment, ​coordinating mentorship and trainings, and meeting with farmer​s. Liz is interested in the intersection of organic food grown on financially viable farms, and the accessibility of this high quality produce. She also is the Coordinator of the Grow Your Farm Business Course.

Amanda David

Amanda David is an expert on herbal medicine and a true entrepreneur. Rootwork Herbals has provided handcrafted remedies and herbal medicine education to the Ithaca community since 2007. Amanda co-founded the Peoples Garden Project, the Fingerlakes Herbal Network and the Herbal Hoedown. Recently she founded Bramble- a community herb shop- and the People’s Medicine School, an immersive herbalism course - check it out! Bramble is Ithaca’s ‘one-stop-shop’ for all things herbal. This retail space not only provides bulk herbs and medicine making supplies but is also home to an herbal clinic that runs by a sustainable medicine model in order to support the well-being of the community and local farmers.

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Alexas Esposito

Alexas develops and coordinates workshop offerings and promotes Groundswell Center's farm and food justice events. Alexas moved to Ithaca in 2008 to pursue a Bachelors Degree in Music Composition at Ithaca College. After graduating, she was quickly absorbed into the community, and embarked on a path of exploration that led her back to the land. For the last few years she has cultivated a deeper relationship with seeds and the land through her traditional indigenous culture. She believes that through a harmonic relationship with nature, we can begin to restore equilibrium, as individuals, and as a human collective. She is also a doula, an herbalism apprentice, and a strong advocate for traditional indigenous culture with her family, who hold workshops and practice traditional indigenous healing modalities through nature, on Connecticut Hill, Newfield, NY.

Steve Gabriel

Steve Gabriel is an agroforestry extension specialist who works with the Cornell Small Farms Program. He and his wife run Wellspring Forest Farm in Mecklenburg, New York. Wellspring Forest Farm products are all a part of a forest-based enterprise that supports healthy land and ecosystem restoration. In 2014, Steve co-authored the book Farming the Woods: An Integrated Permaculture Approach to Growing Food and Medicine in Temperate Forests and in 2018 authored Silvopasture: A Guide to Managing Grazing Animals, Trees, and Forages.


Natalie Hughes

Natalie works to diversify Groundswell's funding streams through donor management, fundraising events, grant writing, communications, marketing, and exploring new development strategies. Natalie comes to Ithaca from Binghamton, NY where she gained 5 years experience in local food systems development at VINES, managing the city’s network of 10 community gardens, coordinating a teen employment program on an urban farm, and facilitating a gardening workshop series. She graduated from Binghamton University with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science. She is a member of Tompkins County SURJ and Tompkins County Food Policy Council.

Matt LeRoux

Matt LeRoux is an agriculture marketing specialist who works on the SCNY (South Central New York) Regional Agricultural Team, a part of Cornell Cooperative Extension. The SCNY team works with farm businesses to support business development and profitability and sustainable farming practices through educational workshops, facilitation of farmer-to-farmer communication, and research publications.


Amina Omari

Amina Omari is the director of the Food Business Incubation Program (FoodBIP), which helps Finger Lakes food processors to start and scale up. Before leading FoodBIP, Amina was the COO of Gimme! Coffee, leading the business to success in both regional and national markets and developing hands-on experience in marketing, sales, HR, training, finance, food safety, product development, and strategic planning. Learn more at FoodBIP.org.

Heather Sandford

Heather Sandford is a Butcher, Farmer, and Co-Founder of The Piggery located in Ithaca, New York. The Piggery’s mission is to provide farm to table sustainable meat to the community through their retail butcher shop, CSA-box program in New York City and their federal USDA cut license which now allows them to do wholesale processing. The Piggery is a pastured operation where all their animals eat local grain, natural building materials are used, and sustainable growing techniques are practiced. The Piggery is also food justice certified. Heather led the way in their national marketing techniques as they now sell their products around the country and have launched an online store. Heather recently launched a small food consulting business, Empire Food Consulting, that focuses on helping small farms and processors with everything from facility design, food safety plans, processing/product development, operations, marketing and branding.


Mary Kate Wheeler

Mary Kate is the Farm Business Management Specialist on the South Central NY Dairy & Field Crops Team. She enjoys working with farmers to develop business goals and strategies, and analyze financial performance. She holds a BA in Environmental Studies from Bowdoin College and a MS in Applied Economics and Management from Cornell University. As an educator with the South Central NY Dairy and Field Crops Team, she supports dairy producers to improve record keeping, business planning, risk management and human resources. Mary Kate also operates Alchemy Farm, a small beef and honey farm in Newfield, NY.