Meet Our 2014 Vocational and Higher Education Grant Recipients

The Future Organic Farmer Grant winners were judged to have the strongest combination of commitment to leading a lifelong career in organic agriculture, investment and participation in the organic community, and dedication to growing the organic movement. Each grant recipient will receive $2,500 to apply toward their studies in organic agriculture. 

Find out how to apply for your own Future Organic Farmer Grant.

Learn more about supporting the Future Organic Farmer Grant Fund through a donation.

Stephanie Ayoub
Michigan State University, Organic Farmer Training Program
Stephanie’s interest in agriculture was piqued at age nine, when she moved with her parents and two siblings to a hobby farm in central Michigan. Surrounded by farms, she fell in love with cows and became heavily involved in raising cattle for 4-H. Stephanie was determined to own a farm in the future, so she pursued a double major in Animal Science and Agriculture Business at College of the Ozarks. After graduating, she worked on some major dairy farms as a herdsman, took a summer to cycle across the country, spent time wrangling horses in New Mexico, and completed an eight month internship on a sustainable grass farm, Forks Farm, in Pennsylvania. After her internship at Forks Farm, Stephanie decided to enroll in the Michigan State Organic Farmer Training Program to learn the vegetable side of organic farming. Within the next three years, Stephanie plans on returning to either Missouri or Pennsylvania to start a small farm focusing on select, high-value crops, and eventually beef cattle and sheep. In her free time, Stephanie enjoys hiking with her dog, cycling, spending time with friends, volunteering at the Humane Society, camping, and baking.

Emily Barber
Washington State University, Organic Agricultural Systems
Emily Barber was born and raised in Spokane, Washington. After high school, she followed her lifelong passion for food to Johnson & Wales University, where she earned a degree in Baking and Pastry Arts. While at culinary school, her interests expanded to food production and agriculture. She began working and volunteering at farms and community gardens, and her eyes were opened to the beauty and necessity of organic food production. This newfound passion is now leading her to Washington State University where she will pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Organic Agriculture with the hope of, someday soon, becoming an organic farmer herself.

Carlos Cervantes
California State University, Fresno, Plant Science
Carlos Cervantes was born in the small town of Paracho in the state of Michoacan in Mexico. Throughout his life, Carlos has been surrounded by agriculture. At the age of 15, Carlos moved to the United States with his family, where he learned English and graduated high school from Soledad High School. Carlos went on to obtain an Associate’s degree in psychology from Hartnell College, a community college in Salinas, California. Thanks to his involvement in various agricultural jobs in the Salinas Valley, Carlos developed an interest in agriculture and is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Plant Science at California State University, Fresno. After completing his Bachelor’s degree at CSU Fresno, Carlos intends to continue his education by pursuing a Master’s degree. Carlos intends to work in organic agriculture to utilize all his knowledge and combine it with job experience in order to make a difference in agriculture. He also plans on being involved in organizations that help students like himself achieve their dreams.

Octavio Garcia
California State University, Fresno, Plant Science
Octavio Garcia was born in Mexico, until at the age of 14 his family decided to move to the United States seeking a better lifestyle. Once he arrived in California, Octavio started working in the fields and spent one year picking strawberries. It was then that he decided he had to learn English in order to have the better life his family was seeking, and Octavio enrolled in high school after his first year in the United States to learn the language. While in high school, he took a farming class offered by the Agriculture and Land Based Training Association (ALBA). After eight months, Octavio leased half an acre and started farming at the age of 18. Following high school graduation, Octavio enrolled at California State University, Fresno to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Plant Science. He also now farms about 6.5 acres of organic strawberries and mixed vegetables.

Kristofor Ludvigson
Washington State University, Organic Agricultural Systems
Kristofor Ludvigson is a former history and political science secondary school teacher who became increasingly involved in environmental issues over the first few years of his career. During his third year of teaching, he decided to challenge himself by joining the United States Peace Corps as an Education/Environment volunteer in the Sub-Saharan African country of Malawi (2009-2012). In his service as a Peace Corps Volunteer, Kristofor taught alternative/sustainable agriculture programs at the secondary level and worked as an agroforestry/organic/permaculture extension agent throughout his placement area. Upon returning to the United States, Kristofor moved to the state of Washington in order to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture and Food Systems at Washington State University, with an emphasis on Organic Agricultural Production Systems. Kristofor intends to use this degree to continue working in organic extension throughout the state of Washington, as well as in the developing world.

Anna Mays
University of Vermont, Farmer Training Program
Anna Mays is a student in the University of Vermont’s Farmer Training Program in Sustainable Agriculture. An anthropologist, Anna has been working in international development, most recently with Save the Children UK on famine prevention, food security, and reducing the vulnerability of producer communities to climactic and market shocks. Her research has also assessed how the commercialization of natural resources, particularly agricultural products sold as niche commodities on the world market, impacts local economies, livelihoods, and the environment. Anna is interested in small-scale organic agriculture as a promising and personally-fulfilling solution to creating healthy, sustainable communities at a local level and is excited to explore the potential for the organic practices of intercropping, elimination of synthetic inputs, and the integration of crops and livestock to benefit developing world producers. Anna has a B.A. in International Relations from Brown University and an M.A. in the Anthropology of Food from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Anna is excited to be receiving hands-on training in sustainable agriculture at the University of Vermont.

Fernando Mendez
Columbia Basin College, Crop and Soil Sciences
Fernando Mendez moved to Washington from Mexico in 2009, and learned English and graduated from high school in 2012. Fernando has worked in the fields from a very young age harvesting vegetables with his family, but his aspiration is to become an organic farmer and produce healthy food that protects our land and planet. He is currently a student at Columbia Basin College in Pasco, Washington pursuing an Associate’s transfer degree in Crop and Soil Science. Fernando intends to enroll at Oregon State University (OSU) after completing his Associate’s degree, where he plans to obtain OSU’s Sustainable Double-Degree. Fernando’s aspiration is to produce healthy food that protects our land and planet. Outside of his academic pursuits, Fernando is a member of the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano Latino Americanos (MECLA) club, which frequently helps with the community food bank to translate for people who don’t speak English and to carry their goods to their cars, and helps the fire station make and distribute Christmas baskets to the needy.

Eliza Milio
University of California, Santa Cruz, Center for Agroecology and Sustainable
Food Systems Farm & Garden Apprenticeship

Eliza Milio has lived in and loved the town of Santa Cruz, California since 2008, when she moved from Los Angeles to pursue a degree in Environmental Studies and Agroecology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. It was in Santa Cruz that she discovered a deep passion for working with the land, growing food and flowers, and participating in a movement for safe and accessible local and global food systems. In the summer of 2012, Eliza started to work at Everett Family Farms, a local, production-scale, CSA farm growing vegetables and flowers, where she spent two seasons. Last season, Eliza worked simultaneously for a small farm to table restaurant, Soif, which purchases produce from Everett Family Farms. This year, she is enrolled in a six-month, live-in apprenticeship at the Center for Agriculture and Sustainable Food Systems at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Working with 40 other apprentices from around the country and world, and learning everything from soil science to marketing, this program is providing a social and practical platform from which Eliza will launch into her next organic farming endeavors.

Sarah Spearfalse
Montana State University, Sustainable Food and Bioenergy Systems – Agroecology
Sarah comes from the “Big Sky” state of Montana, and is very passionate about sustainable and organic agriculture. She comes from an agricultural background and views agriculture as a major part of herself. She recently graduated with an Associate of Science in Agroecology from Northwest Community College in Powell, Wyoming. Currently, Sarah is attending Montana State University where she is pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Food and Bioenergy – Agroecology. After completing her studies at Montana State University she plans to contribute to the agricultural field by owning and/or managing an organic farm.  

Madeline Valentine
Michigan State University, Horticulture
Madeline Valentine’s interest in horticulture started later in life when she took time off from school to volunteer at an eco-community in Nicaragua. It was there that she fell in love with fruit and vegetable production and began to learn about ecological methods of cultivation. Madeline’s interest was piqued, and she returned home and transferred to Michigan State University (MSU) to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture with a focus in organic and sustainable production. Paramount to her studies at MSU has been her experience working at MSU's Student Organic Farm where she has learned hands-on organic farming skills. It has been working within the organic farming community that has inspired her to start her own organic farm with a CSA business model following graduation.


Today, less than 1% of America’s farmland is organic, and farmers who want to transition their land face a long and costly process. Hear from CCOF's CEO Kelly Damewood about what we're doing to address this challenge:

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