2019 Speakers


August 11-13, 2019 | Texas State University | San Marcos, Texas


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MARK SHEPARD heads Forest Agriculture Enterprises, is founder of Restoration Agriculture Development, and is the award-winning author of the book Restoration Agriculture: Real-World Permaculture for Farmers. The book represents Mark’s belief in the ability of sustainably grown perennial food crops to feed us into “our resource-compromised future.”

Mark is most widely known as the founder of New Forest Farm in Wisconsin, a 106-acre commercial-scale perennial agricultural operation that was converted from a row-crop grain farm. It is considered by many to be one of the most ambitious sustainable agriculture projects in the United States.

The farm was developed using oak savanna, successional brushland, and eastern woodlands as the ecological models. Trees, shrubs, vines, canes, perennial plants, and fungi are planted in association with one another to produce food (for humans and grazing livestock), fuel, medicines, and beauty. Hazelnuts, chestnuts, walnuts, and various fruits are the primary woody crops.

Mark is a certified permaculture designer and teaches agroforestry and permaculture worldwide.


DEBORAH CLARK and EMRY BIRDWELL run a stocker operation of 5,000-7,000 head of cattle on the 14,000-acre Birdwell & Clark Ranch in Clay County, northwest of Ft. Worth. While a portion of the livestock is kept on leased land, about 5,000 head remain at the ranch they purchased in 2004, fed using a high-density grazing management plan, resulting in consistently improved range conditions, soil health, and cattle productivity.

Emry’s proudest accomplishments are the changes he sees at the ranch in terms of decreasing bare ground, improving diversity of grasses and forbs, soil health, and the ability to add more gain per acre. As a Holistic Management Certified Educator, Deborah works to help others learn to manage their resources in a way that keeps the business, land, family, and community healthy.

In 2018, the couple earned one of six regional Environmental Stewardship Awards, presented by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. in recognition of outstanding land stewardship. Deborah also serves on the board of directors of the Texas Wildlife Assn.

Their grazing system utilizes 340 paddocks to rotate the cattle three-six times a day. In addition, a pipeline and mobile watering trough system allows them to fence the cattle out of riparian areas and stock tanks, ensuring protection of local water and allowing grazing distribution over broad areas of pasture.

After 13 years of intensive land management, Emry and Deborah doubled their stocking rates and significantly improved wildlife habitat, primarily for deer, quail, and dove.




JAMES BROWN spent a 30+ year career in church music after earning a bachelor’s in organ and a master’s in choral conducting. His recent retirement has taken him in an entirely new direction, but not without some early background in the field. James also has a culinary degree from the Art Institute of Houston and worked at the Houston Country Club and as chef de cuisine at the Hotel Sofitel in Houston.

That love of culinary arts led him to baking bread as a hobby, but he soon discovered there were no viable local options for freshly milled, locally adapted heritage grains. After gauging the interest of local chefs, James decided to start his own mill. He found farmers willing to grow organic heritage grains and found sources for seed, opening Barton Springs Mill in January 2017. Today the mill provides artisan flours, cornmeal, and grits to wholesale and retail clients throughout Austin/Hill Country, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio.

NORA CHOVANEC is director of marketing and agriculture for Texas Farmers’ Market, organizer of the Austin Fermentation Festival, and design director for Travis Audubon. Nora’s experience encompasses communications direction, marketing strategy, brand development, and non-profit management, with a focus on food systems, species advocacy, environmental justice, and urban and rural development.

Nora is passionate about helping communities build sustainable practices that support and conserve the natural environment. Prior to moving to Texas, she was a designer and researcher for architect Maya Lin’s science-based art memorial “What Is Missing?” She also developed a catalog of documentary photography and videos produced across the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Cuba, and Uganda. She and her husband, Arabic and Turkish scholar Matthew Chovanec, live in Austin with a cat, four free-ranging chickens, and a plethora of pollinators in their home garden patch.

DOUG CONSTANCE is Professor of Sociology at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. His degrees are in Forest Management (BS), Community Development (MS), and Rural Sociology (PhD), all from the University of Missouri at Columbia. His research area is the impact of globalization of the conventional agrifood system, and alternative agrifood systems.

He has numerous journal articles, book chapters, and books on these topics. His most recent edited book is Contested Sustainability Discourses in the Agrifood System (2018) by Routledge/Earthscan Press. He is past president of the Southern Rural Sociological Association (2003) and the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society (2008). Dr. Constance currently serves as the Quality of Life Representative and Chair of the Administrative Council of the USDA/Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research Education Program.


DENNIS GRAY runs Cactus Village Birds and Bees which produces primarily honey and quail products. President of the Coastal Bend Beekeepers Association, he’s an advocate for small- and medium-size beekeeping operations in Texas. From the world-famous Guajillo honey of the caliche (brush) country to 100 percent natural comb sections for high-end customers, his bee and honey operation provides quality products to the Texas Gulf Coast. His bee colonies also provide pollination to much of that same region.

A retired U.S. Merchant Marine Officer, Dennis now focuses his work on sustainable, high quality, local food for boutique markets.


JESSE GRIFFITHS owns and operates Dai Due Butcher Shop and Supper Club in Austin, which was voted one of the top 10 new restaurants in the U.S. by Bon Appetit magazine in 2015. He is also owner of Dai Due Taqueria and head instructor of the New School of Traditional Cookery. A native of Denton, Jesse was a self-taught cook and began his restaurant career at the age of 16. Dai Due focuses on traditional, local, and sustainable food, working with and serving only locally sourced produce, meat, and dairy.

As a hunter and a butcher, Jesse is a big believer in knowing and caring about how animals have been grown and harvested. He is the author of the book Afield: A Chef’s Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game and Fish, published by Welcome Books, and the soon-to-be-released The Hog Book: a Chef’s Guide to Hunting, Preparing and Cooking Wild Pigs.

HILDA GUTIERREZ is the food access director at the Sustainable Food Center in Austin where she oversees SFC’s Double Dollars Project (soon to be Double Up Food Bucks). This program offers a dollar-for-dollar match to market goers who use their federal nutrition benefits at local farmers’ markets. Hilda also directs engagement efforts focused on low-income communities.

Hilda is a native of the Rio Grande Valley and the daughter of Mexican immigrants. For generations, members of her family have worked as farm laborers. With a master’s in Latin American Studies and a B.A. in feminist studies, Hilda has extensive experience in the movements to end gender-based violence and to protect immigrant rights.



KATHY HARRIS is program director and professional certified educator for Holistic Management International, where she works with a global community of educators to help farmers and ranchers regenerate our lands, revitalize the economic integrity of their businesses and communities, and improve their personal well-being. She embraced Holistic Management principles in the late 1990s to transition her young family from suburban life to a more self-sufficient lifestyle on a small family farm. Her passion for health, nutrient dense food, and biodiversity led to raising dairy cows and goats; grass-fed and finished beef and lamb; pastured poultry for eggs and meat; honeybees; and nuts, fruits, and vegetables.

The study of Holistic Management opened Kathy’s eyes to the connections and relationships in nature and led to field experimentation with composting, compost extracts, effective microbes, paramagnetic rock/dust, and kitchen experimentation with making soft and hard cheeses, sourdoughs, lacto-ferments, and probiotic brews.

ERIC HERM is an organic farmer, author, poet, and musician from Ackerly, Texas. He is the author of Son of a Farmer, Child of the Earth, as well as Surviving Ourselves, and I am the Tumbleweed. He has transformed all 1,200 acres of his family’s farm into organic production, growing cotton, wheat, barley, oats and rye.

He and his wife Jennie have begun an environmentally friendly textile business, Allred Farms, creating denim goods from their own cotton. Visit allredfarm.com or sonofafarmer.com for more info.



BILLY KNIFFEN is a water resource associate in the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, where he has worked for 30 years. For the past 20 years, Billy’s focus has been on rainwater harvesting and watershed stewardship, earning numerous awards for his work. He is a past vice president and education coordinator for the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Assn. and has conducted educational workshops and installed demonstration rainwater collection systems across Texas and the U.S., in addition to providing educational support internationally.

Billy co-authored the “Rainwater Harvesting: System Planning” manual used to train rainwater professionals. He and his wife, Mary, own a small sustainable farm in Menard, growing fruit, vegetables, and pecans and caring for free-range chickens, honeybees and Aberdeen Angus cattle. Their home is solely dependent on rainwater.

TRAVIS KRAUSE is the co-founder of Parker Creek Ranch and Ranch Marketing Solutions. He is a full-time rancher and consultant alongside his wife Mandy and their two sons, Jack and Max. Travis was born and raised on his family’s ranch in South Texas. He earned a B.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences at Texas A&M University and worked several years abroad in India, Ecuador, and other developing countries.

Travis realized the practical limitations of his work and felt called back to his family ranch where he studied and experimented with sustainable agriculture techniques and production methods, business management, and a variety of agricultural subjects. He was profoundly influenced by the writing and teaching of Joel Salatin, Allan Savory, and others, and now Travis, Mandy, and their sons are successful leaders in the Texas regenerative agriculture movement.

DANIEL LESKOVAR is a professor in vegetable physiology and director of the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Center, Uvalde. He has a BS from the Univ. del Comahue, Argentina; master’s from UC Davis, California; and Ph.D. from the University of Florida. His work centers on understanding plant adaptation mechanisms to stress and in developing sustainable cropping systems for high value vegetables.

Dr. Leskovar’s research has appeared in more than 200 journal papers, book chapters, and abstracts, and he was associate editor of two horticultural journals. Recently he was selected chair of the International Society for Horticultural Science Division of Vegetables, Roots and Tubers. His current research focus is on seed-transplant physiology; soil and plant growth regulators and amendments; grafted tomato-high tunnel; hydroponics; root/shoot trait responses to drought and heat; and genotype/variety selection for stress tolerance, yield, quality, and water use efficiency.

ALAN LEWIS navigates government affairs and food and agriculture policy for Natural Grocers, a Colorado-based health food chain founded in 1955, now with over 150 stores in 19 states. At the federal, state and local level, Alan engages on food, agriculture, nutrition, rural economic development, blockchain, trade, and health issues. Alan is active in several trade and advocacy organizations and has been a speaker and panelist at many events, including a talk at TEDx Boulder in 2014.

Long a student of political activism, his focus is on communicating with stakeholders using frameworks that are non-confrontational and inclusive. Alan has lived oversees for extended periods, which lends to his understanding of agriculture in varying social and political contexts. He also oversees organic certification and compliance for Natural Grocers while advising dozens of food, natural product, and ag-tech start-ups across the country. Current commitments include the Non-GMO Project board, Organic and Natural Health Association board, Real Organic Project standards board, Retail Advisory Committee of the American Grassfed Association, Farm Policy Committee of the Organic Farmers Association, and various committees of the Council for Responsible Nutrition.

SAM LILLIE is the co-founder/CEO of Vinder, an online marketing app for small producers and farmers’ markets to sell direct-to-consumer and wholesale. Sam originally launched Vinder on foot and bicycle as he went door-to-door in his hometown of Port Townsend, Wash., asking homeowners if they had a home garden and if so, if they might consider selling their excess produce. Within 3 months, Vinder connected 30 home growers with 15 families and distributed over 300 lbs. of homegrown produce.

Sam served on the food policy board in Jefferson County, Wash., and was awarded the 2018 Entrepreneur of the Year. Sam earned his bachelor’s in international business from San Jose State University, is a local food advocate, long distance hiker, and lover of burritos.


ALEXANDER MACE is the food access manager at Sustainable Food Center in Austin, where he leads the implementation of the Double Dollars project (soon to be Double Up) at SFC Farmers’ Markets and expansion sites. Alex has studied and worked in food systems at home and abroad, building community gardens in rural West Virginia, teaching youth about orchard care in Dakar, Senegal, and studying food system resilience in Italy.

While pursuing a master’s in public health at Tulane University, he worked with multiple food systems organizations in New Orleans, engaging with community members in garden and nutrition education while developing his own growing skills.



ROBERT MAGGIANI: Sustainable Agriculture Specialist Robert Maggiani is a familiar face in the Texas produce industry and widely recognized as an expert on specialty crop production and marketing. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Texas in Austin. He was a commercial vegetable farmer in South Texas and North Mexico during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1985 he joined the marketing staff of the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) as a direct marketing specialist with statewide responsibilities. He was the first marketing specialist assigned to TDA’s efforts to establish an organic certification program in 1987.

After six years in Austin, he transferred to the newly created office of the South Central Region in San Antonio to become the chief of marketing. He served in that position for the next 20 years and developed extensive contacts in Texas with producers, retailers, wholesalers, restaurants, and trade associations. Robert currently works with the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT).


JARRED MAXWELL leads Foodshed Investors’ venture relations, guiding business owners through the fundraising process, providing business analysis, and assisting them to prepare to present to potential investors. He has been the local leader for Slow Money Austin since 2011 and is dedicated to healthy food, local economic vitality, support of small-scale businesses, re-invigoration of small towns, and small family farms and ranches.

Jarred is an active angel investor in more than a dozen local socially responsible companies. In 2010, he founded The Happy Land Company, specializing in acquisition, restoration, and preservation of rural land. A lifelong Texan, Jarred is also a rancher, managing 400-plus acres of family ranch outside Lampasas.

STEPHANIE McCLENNY is the owner of Confituras, a small jam company she launched in 2010 after several years of preserving the local bounty from Austin farmers’ markets. It did not take long for the local food loving community in Austin to recognize and appreciate Stephanie’s commitment to quality, seasonality, and really good jam.

Since 2011, Confituras has been awarded five Local Hero Awards, four National Good Food Awards, and a Southern Living Food Award. The Austin Food & Wine Alliance awarded Confituras a culinary grant in 2013 for its “Preserving Austin” project, an emerging program that preserves not only the local, seasonal bounty but also local canning history and heritage. Confituras recently opened a brick & mortar community kitchen and jam & biscuit shop in South Austin, Confituras Little Kitchen, which churns out seasonal jams and biscuits made with locally milled, heritage grains and offers an incubator mentorship program for women starting out in the food business.


JUDITH McGEARY, the founder and Executive Director of FARFA and the Council for Healthy Food Systems, is an attorney, activist, and sustainable farmer. After earning her Bachelors of Science from Stanford University and her law degree with high honors from the University of Texas at Austin, she clerked for a Federal Appeals Court and went on to private law practice. During that time, she became a passionate advocate of sustainable agriculture, and she and her husband established their own livestock farm. After seeing how government regulations benefit industrial agriculture at the expense of family farms, she founded the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance to promote common-sense policies for local, diversified agricultural systems.

Judith has been profiled in the Texas Observer and Edible Austin, appears in the documentary “Farmageddon,” and has been interviewed on numerous radio shows across the country. Judith previously served as the Vice Chair of the U.S. Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Animal Health and remains active with Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the Weston A. Price Foundation, and the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.

GLEN MIRACLE is the owner of Laughing Frog Farm in Hempstead, Texas, a small permaculture farm near Houston. Laughing Frog sells vegetables, fruit, chicken eggs and meat, and lamb meat and wool. Glen seeks to work with nature to make farming as little work as possible by using plants, domestic animals, and wildlife to build the soil biology.

After growing up in a rural farming community in Kentucky, Glen ended up in Houston painting theatrical sets and murals. He started a small garden then eventually purchased the land that would become Laughing Frog Farm, building his own house, becoming a certified permaculture designer, and continuously expanding and improving the farm.


COLIN MITCHELL currently works as a sustainable agriculture specialist for the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). Colin has a bachelor’s in government and a minor in geography and the environment from the University of Texas in Austin. He is a former project management intern for the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia and a PRI certified permaculture designer.

Colin spent the years after his internship working on and managing sustainable agriculture and development projects across central Texas and the U.S. For NCAT he currently works on projects related to soil health and carbon sequestration, ecosystem services, adaptive multi-paddock grazing, cover crops, local food, and other regenerative agriculture systems.



KIM OLSON is a farmer, combat veteran, and advocate for public education. She currently is running for Congress to represent Texas’ 24th District, a suburban area wedged north of and between Dallas and Ft. Worth. In 2018, Kim ran statewide for Agriculture Commissioner, earning more votes than any Democratic woman in Texas history.

Kim entered the Air Force in 1979, later serving as one of the first female pilots. She retired as a full Colonel in 2005 after serving in Iraq, then continued her military service in the Texas State Guard. A fourth-generation farmer, Kim and her husband raise fresh fruits and vegetables and keep beehives for pollination and honey. She is also CEO of the non-profit Grace After Fire, helping female veterans make the transition back to civilian life.

PEDRO SCHAMBON is the founder and president of My Father’ Farm in Seguin, Texas, and developer of ProFarmer software solutions, which helps manage day-to-day farm operations. He’s been a certified organic producer since 2008, managing 10 acres and 60,000 sq. ft. of greenhouses. In addition to organic certification, Pedro is certified as an organic inspector and for Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), and has extensive knowledge in meeting Food Safety Modernization Act regulations.

Pedro holds degrees in accounting and organic agricultural practices. He has traveled extensively; his experience ranges from consulting for Texas A&M in Guatemala, and founding an orphanage and sustainable farm in Columbia, to working closely with Comal ISD and Guadalupe County correctional facilities on agricultural initiatives.

DR. LANE SEBRING is the founding physician of the Sebring Clinic and the developer of Paleo Non-Pharmacy, located in Wimberley, Texas. Dr. Sebring earned a bachelor’s in biology at the University of Texas in Austin and obtained his M.D. from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. He completed his family medicine residency at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Tyler, Texas.

Wishing to work as an independent physician, Dr. Sebring opened his private practice, the Sebring Clinic, in 1996. His practice centers on reducing the amount of prescription drugs patients take, instructing them on natural treatment methods and teaching about the nature of disease and how to avoid it through lifestyle changes.

PEGGY SECHRIST, a practitioner and certified educator in Holistic Management, lives in Texas Hill Country with her husband, Richard, where they were the first Texas ranchers to create a certified organic, grass-fed beef operation in 1995, adding pastured poultry three years later. She has advocated for sustainable agriculture in collaboration with agricultural and wildlife agencies such as Texas A&M University, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Texas Wildlife Association, Texas Dept. of Agriculture, and NRCS, plus served on the SSAWG Board of Directors and the USDA/SARE Administrative Council.

Peggy continues to provide training and coaching in Holistic Management throughout Texas. Currently she is the Hill Country Advisor for the Soil for Water Initiative, a project of the National Center for Appropriate Technology focused on educating landowners on increasing the water holding capacity of their soils.


RICHARD SECHRIST has been a real estate broker for 35 years, specializing in farm and ranch properties in Central Texas. In 1995, he and his wife, Peggy, created the first Certified Organic Ranch in Texas. At that same time, they started Homestead Healthy Foods, a company that marketed certified organic, grass-fed beef throughout the country until 2006.

Richard was introduced to Holistic Management in 1993 and has been practicing that management system on the ranch since that time. He also managed a CSA in the Texas Hill Country and is presently the manager of farm operations for OrganicShopping.com.



BUTCH TINDELL has more than 35 years’ experience gardening, farming, and ranching. He has taught sustainable farming and ranching to hundreds of beginning and experienced farmers and gardeners as well as developed numerous courses and curricula, also serving as an instructor with The Ploughshare Institute for Sustainable Culture. In addition, he has worked on farm and ranch projects and project design ranging in size and scale from small backyard gardens and farms of less than one acre to ranches of over 10,000 acres in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Idaho.

Butch holds a Permaculture Design Certificate from Oregon State University and has studied with leaders in regenerative agriculture such as John Jeavons, Dr. John Navazio, Darren Doherty, and Allan Nation. Butch, his wife Diane, and their children and grandchildren raise cattle, sheep, and pecans at Aquilla Valley Farm in central Texas.

TIM TRAISTER is a relationship manager with Capital Farm Credit, the largest rural lender in Texas, where he specializes in land financing, small producers, and niche farming loans. Before joining Capital Farm Credit in 2014, Tim worked in the commercial banking and real estate sectors, where he was involved in more than $1 billion in real estate transactions across the U.S.

Tim grew up in Austin and earned a bachelor’s in accounting and master’s in land economics/real estate finance at Texas A&M. He is also a graduate of the Southwestern Graduate School of Banking at SMU. He resides in Austin with his wife and two children.


BERTHA T. VENEGAS is the state outreach coordinator for the United States Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service in Texas. In her position, she serves as NRCS liaison, coordinating outreach efforts with organizations that work closely with minority farmers and ranchers. Bertha’s role includes providing program information for the planning and application of conservation work. She also manages the state outreach operations, including overseeing grant opportunities for conservation work in the state’s urban and rural areas.

Bertha was born and raised in Eagle Pass. She attended Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University) in San Marcos and received a bachelor of science in agriculture.


SEAN WALL is a professional forager and habitat engineer. He studied environmental science and wildlife biology at Texas A&M University and has worked in habitat management on several private properties. He teaches classes on botanical identification and uses, as well as species propagation and habitat remediation.

Previously he’s provided native ingredients to restaurants and developed unique recipes and culinary uses for native and wild plants. He’s also designed environmental education programs for school children and adults. Currently, Sean works with small farmers and landowners, developing sustainable food systems and alternative land management strategies. He’s also a professional artist, specializing in handcrafted paintings made with pigments and paints derived from native plant and mineral sources, and is the author of the book, The Cycle of Foraging.