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Southeastern Indiana Farmer Training Initiative

SIFTI Steering Team

Nate Brownlee

Nate Brownlee and his wife, Liz, run Nightfall Farm on family land outside of Crothersville. They rotationally graze animals on pasture, including pigs, sheep, chickens and turkeys. They manage their own CSA (community supported agriculture), sell at three area farmers' markets and supply one kitchen and fantastic chef. Nate gained experience farming up in New England, working on a variety of farms. He co-coordinated educational programming for a non-profit demonstration farm in Maine, where the mentorship of a dedicated farmer led to Nate's subsequent immersion in the work of farming. Nate spent three seasons in Vermont and New York managing livestock one year, working on a crew cultivating 15 acres of vegetables, and helping to get a state-inspected poultry processing facility off the ground. Nate believes that no one has to leave Indiana in order to learn how to farm, and he thinks that SIFTI is a great step forward towards convincing Hoosiers of that fact. He is excited to help make this program a reality and strengthen the agricultural capacity of his home state.

Kathy Cooley, RD, CDE, MBA

Kathy currently works at Margaret Mary Health as the community dietitian. That job entails doing individual and group nutrition education and coordinating a school garden program for 8 schools in southeastern Indiana. Kathy is also a founding member of the Food and Growers Association and still active in that group and she is the president of the SIFTI steering team. Kathy and her husband own and operate Alpine Berry Farm – a small u-pick blueberry farm in Batesville.

Diane Dierckman

Diane and her husband, Ed, have a conventional farm right near Batesville. They attended FGA focus group meetings in 2014 and one of their comments during the meetings, was partially responsible for inspiring SIFTI. They said, we want to diversify our farm, but don’t know what crops are needed. “Tell us what to grow, and we will grow it.” Diane also works as a consultant for start-ups and brings great business and farm experience to our committee.

Adam Israel, Chef

Adam is the Chef/owner of the Big Four Café and Izzy’s catering. Adam has been interested in sourcing local food since returning from his culinary training on the East Coast 7 years ago. He goes to the farmers market throughout the summer, purchases local meat and eggs from local growers. He has high standards for consistent products and is known around the area as a progressive, creative chef.

Matt John

Matt John is the Program Chair of the Agricultural program at Ivy Tech Community College in Columbus, IN, where he started the Agricultural program at that campus. In addition, Matt also consults on several projects with farms and other organizations including Heifer International, ATTRA and various agricultural organizations and education institutions. Matt has written for numerous publications including Hobby Farms and Backyard Poultry. Matt and his family are the current owners of Hidden Creek Farm in Newbern, IN.

Cheryl Carter Jones

Cheryl is in the process of establishing a 10+ acre sustainable farm in Columbus, Indiana on property her family has owned since 1820 when James Monroe signed the deeds. She is an eighth generation farmer. The particular site of her farm was once her great-grandfather’s tomato field. Cheryl hopes to keep her farm off the grid, and is incorporating permaculture practices, which she hopes to teach in the near future. She is specializing in berries with over 40 varieties, but also raises vegetables. Once her new home is completed, she will add animals and facilities for old farm trades, such as blacksmithing, weaving, pottery, butchering and meat smoking. She also has over 15 years of experience as a business consultant with expertise in executive team cohesiveness, corporate long- and short-term strategic planning/execution, culture initiatives, executive development/coaching, training/facilitation, event planning and communications. While she has worked with numerous Fortune 100 and 500 companies in the past, she is now limiting her focus to smaller entrepreneurial ventures, where she feels she can make a significant impact on the entire company.

Cheryl serves as president of the Local Growers Guild and is on the Indiana Grown Commission


Nikki King

Nikki is working on her masters in Health Administration and is an administration fellow at Margaret Mary Health in Batesville. She has a very strong interest in public health, especially how it relates to economic vitality of communities.  


Dallas Martin

Dallas currently works at Margaret Mary Health as an Administrative Fellow. He is also a licensed attorney in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and is in the process of getting a license to practice law in Indiana as well. His studies on 501(c) organizations are initially what led him to Batesville, IN and he is also committed to Population Health and improving the lives of the community. His first ever job was on a cattle farm in his hometown of Union, KY.

Rhonda Savage, MPH

Rhonda's connection to the local food movement began when she moved back to the area and found employment and kindred spirits at Michaela Farm, Oldenburg. She worked on the farm for two seasons and supplemented employment at Garden’s Alive’s retail store in Lawrenceburg. Her work history includes Peace Corps Nepal, Habitat for Humanity International, International Medical Corps, stay at home mom, Centerstone, East Indiana Area Health Education Center, and Thrive Market. Rhonda has worked with attorneys to start two non-profits along her path. She has served on advisory and governing boards. Her experiences have taught her that, in order to improve communities, it is good to learn the culture, identify strengths, and build collectively from there.  

Katie Sparks

PR/Marketing Coordinator at The Friendship State Bank

Side note: The Friendship State Bank was founded by a group of Ripley County farmers in 1912. (I just thought that was a fun fact.)

Interest in Agriculture: I grew up in southeast rural Decatur County where I lived in between both sets of grandparents. While we weren’t a farming family, we were avid gardeners. I learned the hard work required in growing and preserving food even on a small scale and how much better fresh food tastes. Today, I love opportunities to buy locally sourced food and support local farmers. I believe it is better for our environment, our health and our local economy. I’m looking forward to being a part of an organization creating opportunities for local farmers as well as local businesses and community members.

Rita Wilder

Rita is a 1987 graduate of DePauw University in Greencastle, IN where she received a Bachelor’s degree in Economics. Rita was certified as a CPA in 1990. Rita worked for Coopers & Lybrand in Lexington, Kentucky until 1998 when  her husband Mark’s job took them back to Batesville; Mark and Rita have five daughters, ages 12 – 24. Rita now works as the Audit & Assurance Director for Agresta, Storms & O’Leary, PC. She spends the majority of her work hours in Columbus, IN. Her client base ranges from small- to medium- sized organizations in various industries, including not-for-profit, manufacturing and distribution businesses. Rita is sister to Kathy Cooley and has had the wonderful fortune over the years to learn from Kathy about the importance of organic farming and farm-to-table eating; she and her family have come to love and appreciate all the healthy foods that Kathy and Ted grow and share.

In addition to picking blueberries on a sunny summer day, digging for sweet potatoes in the fall and  harvesting kale be almost year round, Rita enjoys walking, yoga, cooking and spending time with her family.   

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