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Update on USDA Partnership for Climate-Smart Commodities Grant Projects Speakers

Nicole Rakobitsch | Director of Sustainability at Organic Valley

Nicole Rakobitsch, Director of Sustainability for CROPP Cooperative/Organic Valley. Nicole is a leader in the climate-smart agriculture community and has spearheaded significant sustainability projects at Organic Valley and with its farmer members.  Nicole joined the Organic Valley team in 2012 as a sustainability coordinator after working with farmers for almost a decade on soil and water conservation planning and design in her home state of New York. Early on Nicole led a project that resulted in Organic Valley’s facilities being powered with 100 percent renewable electricity by 2019. Her team in 2021 partnered with a credit union to launch the Powering the Good Loan Fund to provide the best loan terms for Organic Valley farmers wanting to cut their reliance on fossil fuels with renewable energy. Her team most recently applied for a USDA Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities Grant and was awarded $25 million. This grant will allow the co-op to invest in 1,200 new climate-smart practices on more than 500 member-farms over the next 5 years.  


Andrew Smith | COO at Rodale

Dr. Andrew Smith oversees the research and farm operations at Rodale Institute and is passionate about growing the organic movement by providing science-based solutions to farmers and facilitating opportunities to expand the number of organic farmers and farmland across the globe. He has over twenty years of experience working in the organic industry as an agronomist, researcher, and farmer. While trained as an entomologist, his motive for entering the organic industry was to reduce the use of chemicals for food production that end up in our environment, food, and bodies. He now has the opportunity to support an amazing group of dedicated people working diligently on many projects to transform the food system and the way we farm to improve the lives and health of all people and the planet. He also continues to live and work on his own organic family farm.


Ashley Swaffar | Director of Compliance at Handsome Brook

Ashley Swaffar is the Director of Compliance for Handsome Brook Farms, a pioneer in organic pasture raised egg. She owns and operates a acre certified organic mixed vegetable farm located in Farmington, AR.  Swaffar has worked as an independent animal welfare inspector focusing on laying hen farms and inspecting organic crop and livestock farms. Swaffar served as Farmer / Grower representative on the National Organic Standards Board from 2015 to 2020. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Poultry Science from the University of Arkansas




Rebekah Weber | Policy Director at CCOF (Discussion Leader)

Rebekah Weber has worked on the intersection of environmental and agricultural policy for nearly a decade. As the policy director at CCOF, she advocates for organic agriculture as part of the solution to protecting public health, restoring the environment, and growing the economy. Prior to joining CCOF, Weber served as an environmental advocate focused on cleaning up Lake Champlain, engaged in farmer outreach as a Fulbright Fellow in Nepal, and worked on agricultural policy for United States Senator Patrick Leahy. She holds a master’s degree in environmental law and policy from Vermont Law School.




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