Meet the small but MIGHTY staff of Illinois Stewardship Alliance.

Liz Moran Stelk: Executive Director
Farmer-at-heart, organizer extraordinaire

Liz is a veteran organizer bringing experience in sustainable agriculture policy and building powerful organizations to the Alliance. Liz previously served as a Regional Organizer with the Western Organization of Resource Councils in Montana where she worked with farmers and ranchers in seven states on local, state and federal food and agricultural policy. She formerly organized health care workers with SEIU Healthcare Illinois and has led field work for a variety of grassroots and electoral campaigns.

Molly Pickering: Deputy Director
Vegetable enthusiast, Aspiring Homesteader

molly circle

Molly joined the Illinois Stewardship Alliance team in January 2014. As Deputy Director, Molly oversees the Alliance’s internal programs and processes and outgoing messaging.  Molly also plays a large role in the Alliance’s advocacy efforts, working with members to build relationships with policymakers, state agencies, and partner organizations; draft and negotiate bills; and build campaigns. 

Molly was raised on a third generation family farm in Elkhart, Illinois, and has always felt a strong connection to agriculture and the land, and also to travel and art. Growing up she was part of her local 4-H and FFA chapters. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish Education from Illinois State University, and a Master’s Degree in Communications from Purdue. In her spare time, you can find her in the kitchen testing out new recipes, dabbling with watercolors, and playing with her five backyard chickens.

Angie Mizeur: Chief Financial Officer
Farm Mom, Poison-Ivy Warrior, Tomato Sauce Entrepreneur

Angie, our Office Coordinator, joined the team in August of 2017. She has 15 years combined experience in banking, office management, and fundraising. Angie is a Springfield native and her family has been involved in a variety of restaurants in the area since the 1940s, including Club Belvedere, The Supper Club and currently the Track Shack. Her great-grandfather even used to sell produce from a horse and buggy.  She has also worked with her family to grow a home tomato canning venture into a small profitable business, Onofrio’s Classic Sauces, which sells in a variety of small and large grocery stores from St. Louis to Chicago.  She is an advocate for local food and sustainable living, currently using goats to manage honeysuckle overgrowth and raising chickens for family eggs.  Living in the country has helped her understand and appreciate the hard work of Illinois farmers.

Liz Rupel: Lead Organizer
Master of the Environment, Lover of Local, Handles-Everything-With-a-Smile

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Liz started working for the Alliance as an Old Capitol Farmer’s Market staff member in 2016 and  in 2018 accepted the position as Policy Organizer. As the Policy Organizer, Liz engages with members to create change in our local food and farm systems. Liz will recruit and equip potential leaders from among our current membership and engage in strategies to recruit new members to the organization.

Liz has been a Springfield resident for most of her adult life and attributes her connection to local food and farm systems to her work on local farms and at local farm-to-table restaurants. She is an advocate for local and sustainable food and is looking forward to helping Illinois build the same passion. She graduated from the University of Illinois Springfield with a Bachelors and Masters Degree in Environmental Studies with a focus of policy and sustainable development. In her spare time, Liz loves to be outdoors, garden, travel, and experiment in the kitchen.

Kathleen Mueller: Senior Organizer
Avid Rock Climber, Kitchen Experimenter, Native Plant Enthusiast

Kathleen is joining the Alliance after spending several years working with the urban food community in Chicago. She contributed to the early stages of development for The Urban Canopy, which launched a passion for food systems and the environment.

While completing her degree in Urban Planning at UIC, Kathleen became involved in freshwater related issues and began to see the intimate connections between freshwater and agriculture in the Great Lakes Region. Since graduating, Kathleen had a vision to work at the intersection of agriculture, natural resources and people.

Her role as the Northern IL Policy Organizer at ISA will allow her to fulfill that vision by working with local producers to champion legislation that will support farmers, the environment and communities across Illinois.

Melissa Frueh: Development Director
Master Composter, Birdwatcher, Botanical Illustrator

Melissa joins the Alliance team after spending nearly a decade in Denver, CO where she completed her Bachelor’s in Communications from the University of Colorado, obtained a certificate in Permaculture Design, championed healthy food for all, and made friends with goats. She has volunteered for various food and urban agriculture based organizations, including food rescues, community gardens, and healthy food access hubs. Melissa also built community in the education sector, working as a development specialist for a K-8 school.

In her spare time, you can find Melissa exploring new trails (binoculars in hand), rescuing houseplants, and creating veggie-inspired artwork. She is eager to be back home in Chicago, where she intends to try every farm-to-table restaurant she can find, and build connections between rural and urban food growers and appreciators.

Nathan Ryder: Communications Coordinator
Market Gardener, Goat Wrestler, Farm Muscle

Nathan has taken a long and twisty country road to get to the Illinois Stewardship Alliance but knows he’s finally found “his fellow farm people.” Born and raised in Arizona, Nathan studied journalism at Arizona State University and launched his decade-long career as a TV news reporter and anchor. Nathan and his wife knew they wanted to be self-sufficient and that would require a move across the country where land was cheaper and rain regularly fell from the sky.

They landed first in Indiana where they grew their homesteading dreams from their tiny but productive urban backyard and worked to win over the local homeowner’s association while sharing loads of fresh vegetables and chicken eggs with their neighbors.

Those homesteading dreams led Nathan and his newly growing family to southern Illinois where they spent three seasons learning the operations of large-scale agronomy farms, cattle rearing, orcharding, and high-tunnels. They finally found their forever farm, landing on 10-acres nestled between the rolling hills of the Shawnee National Forest and the banks of the Ohio River in Pope County.

Nathan recently led a non-profit Beginning Farmer program inside Vienna Correctional Center where he taught incarcerated men how to grow small-scale market gardens and specialty fruits, vegetables, and flowers in the hopes of providing them a means to be self-sufficient as a farmer/entrepreneur after their release from the prison system.

Launching his own farm alongside his wife, Nathan understands the importance of local food growers and consumers first-hand. He hopes to share their stories and help to build an equitable, just food-system that is resilient and continues to grow throughout the Land of Lincoln into the future.

In Loving Memory

Woody Woodruff: Conservation Hero

Bob-cat photographer, pond swimming expert, small grain farmer, beloved friend and colleague

In April of 2020, Woody, beloved friend and colleague, passed away after a long battle with cancer. Although it was not an unexpected passing, our hearts were broken. He was taken far too soon.

Woody worked in conservation for more than two decades, and has done everything from train agricultural workers in Africa about crop rotation to running the Woodruff Family Farm in Modesto Illinois. Woody’s farm consists of 100 acres of cropland with 50 acres in a corn, soybean & wheat rotation, utilizing cover crops in that rotation. The remaining cropland has been restored into a prairie/savanna restoration which is protecting four acres of wetlands. Woody has inter-planted fruit and nut trees into his six acres of pasture. The remaining 50 acres of the land is maintained in timber.

In addition to working the land, Woody worked in the conservation field since the late 1980s. During his time as a Peace Corps volunteer Woody taught farmers in West Africa about crop rotations, new irrigation techniques and other conservation practices. He’s also worked at Sangamon County Soil & Water District, testing different best management practices, improving the water quality through conservation techniques and promoting conservation programs.

In April of 2020, Woody, beloved friend and colleague, passed away after a long battle with cancer. Although it was not an unexpected passing, our hearts were broken. He was taken far too soon.

To read the Alliance’s full tribute please click here.