Director, Urban Food Systems Initiative
Kansas State University
Postdoctoral Researcher, Postharvest Physiology Lab
Kansas State University
Pandora Thomas is a passionate global citizen who works as a caregiver, teacher, farmer, designer and speaker. Her work emphasizes the benefits of applying ecological principles to social design and reconnecting humans to our non-human kin.
As a presenter both domestically and internationally, she has given keynotes and lectures on topics ranging from designing mutually beneficial diversity strategies, collaborative design for community-driven planning, social justice, youth and women's leadership, social entrepreneurship, permaculture and sustainability. She has designed curriculum for and taught groups all over the world as diverse as Iraqi and Indonesian youth to men serving in San Quentin and men and women returning home from incarceration.
For the last 10 years her earth service has included being a carepartner for her mother who was diagnosed with Alzheimers; co-founding the Black Permaculture Network; working for 6 years with Toyota to design and serve as a coalition member of the Toyota Green Initiative, which supported African Americans in understanding the benefits of adopting sustainable lifestyles; co-designing, teaching with and directing Pathways to Resilience-a permaculture and social entrepreneur training program that worked with men and women returning home after incarceration; working with the Urban Permaculture Institute in Marin City supporting a People’s Planning Process, which supports community members to assess and design strategies for their own resilience; and working as an advisor, co-designer and facilitator with Women’s Earth Alliance’s Grassroots Accelerator Program. Her lifelong commitment to honoring ancestral legacies of earth stewardship and centering the contributions of people of African Ancestry in reclaiming our shared earth care journeys is culminating in her most recent gift to the planet, founding EARTHseed Permaculture Center and Farm, the first Afro Indigenous permaculture farm in Sonoma County. EARTHseed’s farming and centers programming will elevate the earth stewarding contributions and legacy of peoples of African ancestry throughout the Diaspora.
She is also currently a co-owner of the collectively run permaculture design firm The Urban Permaculture Institute and a Senior Climate Innovation Fellow with the Movement Strategy Centers Climate Innovation Team.
Thomas has studied four languages and lived and worked in over twelve countries and her other achievements include being featured in the films The Future of Energy and Inhabit, presenting at Tedx Denver and SF, and being awarded internships and fellowships to the Center for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University, Green For All, the Bronx Zoo and the Applied Research Center.
Her writing includes a children’s book, various curricula and a manual entitled "Shades of Green" for individuals wanting to teach green building to youth. Pandora studied at Columbia and Tufts University and with several permaculture and ecological design programs.
When she is not working you can find her spending time with her at EARTHseed with her beloved mother, dogs, pigs and cats, thrifting, watching her favorite movies, learning how to transform orchards into food forests or in the redwoods frolicking!
Dr. Anu Rangarajan has been on the faculty of Horticulture at Cornell University since 1996. As a Fresh Market Vegetable Specialist, she conducts a grant-funded research and extension program focused on reduced tillage systems to improve soil health while maintaining crop quality and yields. Anu also directs the Cornell Small Farms Program (www.smallfarms.cornell.edu), which has a mission to help any farmer get expert assistance to facilitate all phases of small farm development, from startup to growth to maturity. Through collaborations with Extension as well as other nonprofit agriculture organizations, the Program provides online and face-to-face training targeting small-scale producers. Topics fall under broad categories of beginning farmer development (including Veteran and LatinX /Spanish programs), scale-appropriate production (crop, livestock, mushrooms, agroforestry) and marketing strategies, business management, farmer learning circles, and farm social sustainability and farmer well-being. She applied the lens of commercial small-scale farming to understand conditions that allow commercial urban small farms to thrive. These research findings are published in “The Promise of Urban Agriculture.” The findings are now being transformed into curricula for experienced growers seeking to farm in urban spaces as well as planners and policy makers interested in supporting urban agriculture development. She is also part of a team creating workforce development trainings for controlled environment agriculture. In her role as an Assistant Director of Cornell Cooperative Extension, she is working to strengthen engagement of and services to BIPOC farmers around NY and the Northeast.
Camryn Smith is a proud resident of Old East Durham and a community activist & organizer. She has been serving in place-based development work for over 23 years both stateside and abroad. Camryn is one of the founding members of Communities In Partnership (CIP), a community-rooted organizing and education group based in Old East Durham and serves as the Founding Executive Director. CIP focuses on addressing policy and systemic inequity for BIPOC and materially poor people within Durham focusing on social determinants of health, economic development, gentrification, and housing. Camryn is a RWJF Culture of Health Leader (Cohort 3), and an Aspen Institute Healthy Communities Fellow (current cohort/2022). She also serves locally as co-chair of Organizing Against Racism-Durham as well as serving as a member of the Racial Equity Taskforce for the City of Durham and the Built2Last/Durham Compact Board of Advisors. She also serves on the Executive and Steering Committees for the Equitable Food Oriented Development (EFOD) which is a national collaborative of food systems organizations run by black and brown communities to reshape the narrative surrounding food, community and economic development centered in black and brown liberation. She also co-authored a peer-reviewed article with another CIP co-founder (Aliyah Abdur-Rahman) and 2 academic partners (Dr. Danielle Spurlock UNC-CH City and Regional Planning and Dr. Kay Jowers J.D. Duke’s Nicholas Institute of the Environment) on the ideology of how CIP was founded and operates from a developmental model versus the common charity based model. CIP has also been recently chosen to participate in the Kresge Foundation’s Fostering Urban Equitable Leadership (FUEL), which is an initiative to support the talent and leadership development needs of Kresge Grantees with a specific focus on racial equity and developing the leadership in emerging BIPOC leaders nationally. Camryn and her husband Ernest, a Civil Right's Attorney practicing at the Durham County District Attorney’s Office as an Assistant District Attorney, love, live and work in their community in Northeast Central Durham. They are the proud parents of five adult children (3 girls, 1 son and 1 son in law), four of whom currently live in the community, and their Shepherd mix Charli and their Corgi grand-dog, Oswald.
Dr. Samina Raja is a Professor of Urban and Regional Planning and the Associate Dean for Research and Inclusive Excellence at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York. Her research focuses on the potential of food systems as a lever for social transformation, and the ways in which community-led planning and policy mediates this potential.
She is the founder and Director of the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab and Co-Directs the Community for Global Health Equity. With community and academic partners, she currently leads an action-research initiative, Growing Food Policy from the Ground Up,to build the capacity of growers of color to shape urban agriculture policy (in Buffalo, NY and Minneapolis, MN). A larger, national-scale project Growing Food Connections focuses on the use of local government planning to strengthen community food systems. Her work outside of the US highlights the ways in which smallholder urban farmers in the Global South influence food sovereignty, particularly in cities experiencing protracted crises (Srinagar, Kashmir). Most recently, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published her (and co-authors’) work on the role of local government planning in strengthening food systems in low- and middle-income countries.
A widely published scholar, Dr. Raja is the recipient of numerous awards including for her mentorship (2020 Distinguished Post Doc Mentor), community-engaged work (2016 Excellence in Community-University Engagement), and scholarship (2014 Dale Scholar).