PCO’s founding Executive Director wears many hats: Farmer, lawyer and community volunteer. She owns and operates Common Ground Organic Farm, raising organic vegetables, seedlings, sheep and dairy heifers. Her volunteer work includes fostering homeless dogs, managing a farmers market and serving on advisory boards for organic research projects and a non-profit educational farm. She has been on board at PCO from its humble beginning when she was the only employee. 15 years later, PCO now has 20 employees. When Leslie isn’t busy doing all those other things, she enjoys hiking in the mountains, weaving, knitting and attending farm auctions.
Director of Education and Outreach
Lee Rinehart is a graduate of Texas A&M University and a former ATTRA agricultural specialist. Lee has worked as a cattle ranch manager, an Extension educator, a sailor, and a boat mechanic for the Alaska fishing fleet. He lives in Dallas, Pennsylvania, where he enjoys running, hiking, sailboats, and reading.
Kyla Smith has worked with PCO since 2003 in many roles including Organic Inspector (for all scopes), Certification Specialist, Policy Director, and now as Program Director. She is a member of the Accredited Certifiers Association Board. Kyla received her Masters degree in Transformative Leadership and Social Change from the Maryland University of Integrative Health (formerly Tai Sophia Institute) in Laurel, Maryland. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, fishing, gardening, boating and most importantly spending time with her husband Ben and their beautiful little girl, Stella Rae!!
Director of Operations
Diana joined the PCO team as Director of Operations in Fall of 2012. Prior to relocating to Boalsburg, PA, she lived in Raleigh, NC where she obtained her Business Management – Finance degree from North Carolina State University and began her career. Diana spent the first eight years of her employment in a small business environment, with six years as Operations Manager. She looks forward to contributing to the continued growth and success of the PCO team. In her spare time she enjoys reading, eating local and organic food, cooking, and enjoying the outdoors.
Johanna Mirenda is the Policy Director at PCO and also oversees PCO’s material review program. Johanna has a degree in Horticultural Science from the Pennsylvania State University and several years of research experience in plant nutrition. She has also spent time studying agriculture and ecology in Peru and New Zealand. Johanna works remotely for PCO from New Hampshire, where she lives with her husband and dog.
Compliance Manager and Certification Specialist
Marissa Pyle joined the PCO team in June of 2009, as a Certification Specialist and eventually took on the position of Compliance Manger as well. Born and raised in Karns City, PA some of Marissa’s earliest memories are making trips to the barn to visit her family’s small herd of Hereford cattle. Although she didn’t do much more than sit on the wheel well of the tractor beside her dad while he was baling hay, she found agriculture to be exciting and ended up finding her way to Penn State, where she graduated in 2009 with a degree in Agroecology and a minor in Agronomy… Although these days Marissa and her husband Zach along with their feisty black Labradors Scarlett and India live in town close to the PCO office, she loves getting back to the farm whenever possible.
Membership and Development Specialist
Nicole Lawrence McNeil joined the PCO team in January 2015 as a Membership and Development Specialist. After obtaining an undergraduate degree from Ithaca College and a Master of Arts from Penn State University, Nicole worked with non-profits across the country, specializing in marketing, communications, and brand development. She is passionate about organic products and food and is excited to (finally) align her love of all things organic with her day-job! When not helping PCO spread the word about its amazing programs, Nicole enjoys cross-country skiing, being near the ocean, discovering new foods, and most especially, spending time with her husband, Casey, and puppy, Oephilia.
Penny has been with PCO since 2001 where she has played many different roles including Certification Director, Administrative Director and Managing Assistant. Her excitement and passion to work directly with clients and experience with the food industry has now landed her a position as a Certification Specialist for PCO-certified Processors and Handlers. She always looks forward to reviewing new products and marketing ideas shared by her clients. Penny is certified as an Organic Inspector through the International Organic Inspectors Association for crops, livestock, and processing and has attended advanced inspector trainings and international organic certification training. She is also assisting in PCO’s partnership with Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) by performing gluten-free on-site audits and testing. Penny enjoys throwing hay bales on the pick-up truck, participating in roller derby (aka “Flower POW’her”), hiking, eating organic & local food, laughing with good friends, traveling, stargazing, and spending time with her children, Jewels, Lia & Gabe (whenever they allow it!)
Adam Seitz joined the PCO Certification Team in early 2011. As a Certification Specialist, he works primarily with certified organic dairy operators, mushroom producers, and feed processors. He graduated from the Pennsylvania State University in 2010 with a BS in Agricultural Science, honors in Food Science, and a minor in Agronomy. Adam grew up working in his father’s bakeshop in York, and has more recently worked with ConAgra Foods, the PA Department of Agriculture, and several PSU agricultural research programs. Adam currently resides in Spring Mills with his wife, Faith. He enjoys hiking, all things related to food/agriculture, and playing the banjo (or at least trying to).
Stephen, who is from Kutztown, PA, joined the Certification Team in January 2015. He studied Labor Studies and Employment Relations at the Pennsylvania State University. Following the completion of his undergraduate degree Stephen worked for Jade Family Farm and Quiet Creek CSA, both Certified Organic vegetable farms in Pennsylvania. In addition to his vegetable experience he also managed a flock of layer chickens and helped raise goat kids. Stephen enjoys various physical and homesteading activities including biking, rock climbing, soccer, baking bread, carpentry, and food preservation. Beluga is his small, grey cat.
Heather joined PCO as the Certification Staff Assistant in 2007, and in early 2012 took on her position as Assistant Certification Specialist. She primarily works with producers interested in learning more about certification, and those going through the application process. Heather is originally from a New Jersey suburb and came to central Pennsylvania to attend Susquehanna University, graduating with a bachelors degree in Business Administration. She worked for Sweet Meriam’s Farm CSA in Snyder County for three years as an intern and then co-manager before coming to PCO. Heather enjoys the countrylife in Mifflinburg, PA where she lives on a sheep farm with her dog, cat, dozen laying hens and 2 horses.
Formerly PCO’s Office Manager since January of 2010, Sandie began her new role as Program Assistant in April 2014, and is excited to gain experience and take on new responsibilities in other departments of PCO. Originally born in Wiesbaden, Germany into a military family, Sandie has traveled extensively but finally put down roots in the Bellefonte, PA area. In her free time, Sandie enjoys kayaking & tubing, hiking, restoring & repurposing old things, and especially spending time at her favorite beach with her family and golden doodle, Jasmine.
Reva Baylets originally began working at PCO assisting with a temporary data entry project in October 2013. She is pleased to have formally joined the team as Program Assistant in December 2014. Reva looks forward to contributing to the nonprofit’s continued growth and is passionate about organic sustainability. She holds a Master of Arts in Comparative Literature from the Pennsylvania State University. Raised in rural Happy Valley, she developed a deep connection with the natural world, and in her youth, subsequently spent considerable time learning how to grow, cook, and preserve food with her family. Reva enjoys fragrant herbal teas, the purring of a happy cat, and the scent of earth right after it rains.
Sabine walked into the PCO office 12 years ago planning to help Leslie get caught up with some paperwork. She has worked for PCO part-time ever since, first as a Certification Specialist, and now as Materials Specialist, as well as performing Crop and Dairy Inspections since 2002. Sabine graduated from Penn State after studying International Development, and worked for the Entomology Department performing pesticide resistance research. This inspired her to follow her path towards organic farming, starting with an internship at the Rodale Institute focusing on covercrops. Sabine is also Technical Service Provider certified by NRCS to write Transition to Organic Conservation Plans. Sabine operates a certified organic cut flower and produce operation, and raises pastured poultry, pigs and grass-fed beef along with her husband Tom. She spends every spare minute with their 8-year old daughter, camera always in hand.
Liz Amos has been working with PCO as a Staff Inspector since April of 2012. Although she has spent 15 years in the dairy industry, earned a degree in philosophy as well as a graduate dairy certificate, her best education comes from conversations with farmers. Liz is passionate about the organic industry, her dogs, and her music. She shares her home with four dogs of the retriever-ish variety. She enjoys camping, hiking and swimming in their company and competes with them in obedience and hunt test trials. Liz plays the fiddle in the old-time Missouri-style. If you want to host a square dance in your house or your barn, she’ll lend a hand!
Amanda Birk has been working with PCO as a Staff Inspector since April of 2012. She lives with her husband, Chris Lent, just outside the small river town of Shickshinny. For 7 years she worked with her husband to raise vegetables, certified organic by PCO, for a 50-member CSA, in addition to grass-fed beef and pastured-poultry. In her spare time, Amanda enjoys building community with family and friends, and working on her solar-powered straw bale house.
Originally from St. Marys, PA (Elk County) Joshua attended St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA with a major in Business Computer Systems Analysis. After a decade working in Pittsburgh for both WTAE-TV and Equitable Resources, he headed west to Boulder, Colorado for six years to climb and ski, as well as working first for Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) and then as a fulltime farmhand at Ollin Farms. Upon returning to Pennsylvania in 2009, he worked as an intern for PCO then as an assistant at Howard’s End Farm and CSA in Howard, PA. He started his current position as Technology Coordinator in October 2010. He and his wife Jenn and two children live in State College and are working to start their own hop yard and barley production back in their hometown of St. Marys.
Administrative Staff Assistant
Vasilia Sandoval, also known as Lia, has been involved with PCO since she was just 9 years-old, from helping stuff envelopes and pasting stickers for mailings to cleaning up roadsides during PCO’s Adopt-A-Highway. After graduating from State College Area High School she went on to complete a semester at Penn State and then moved to the DMV (Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia) area where she obtained all her qualifications to be an esthetician. She is pursuing a career in the organic skin care/ health and beauty field. Lia has fulfilled 4 terms as a PCO Intern over the past 2 years. She has been with PCO as the Administrative Staff Assistant for a little over a year. Vasilia enjoys camping, shooting, shopping, and movie watching in her free time.
Public Relations Coordinator
April grew up in the small town of Emmaus, Pennsylvania. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh with an Environmental Studies degree in 2002, April spent the next few years apprenticing on diversified family farms in Vermont, Virginia, and Massachusetts, coming to love many facets of farming from maple sugaring and making herbal preparations to weeding long rows of veggies and collecting eggs. April, her husband Rob, and their 2 daughters, Tessa and Althea, now live in Lehigh County where they own and operate Ledamete Grass Farm (pronounced let ‘em eat!) where they raise pasture and forest raised pork and pastured poultry. When April isn’t busy working for PCO or on the farm, you may find her country-road bike riding, reading, or planting flowers!
Elizabeth became the staff accountant in April 2014. Recently becoming a licensed certified public accountant, Elizabeth is excited about starting a career in the organic industry and leaving the public accounting sector. Originally from Clearfield, PA, Elizabeth ventured to the State College area where she attended the Pennsylvania State University and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting. She currently resides in Spring Mills with her husband Matt, and their dog Mayson. In her free time, Elizabeth adores spending time with family and friends, traveling, and enjoying the outdoors.
Debra Deis, PCO Board Vice President
Seedway Vegetable Seeds, PCO-Certified Seeds, Elizabethtown, PA
Debra served as a PCO Board Member from January 2010 until present and holds the following positions: Vice-President, Education and Outreach Committee Chair and Executive Committee Member. Debra Deis began her agricultural career working in the test kitchen of Rodale Press where she wrote recipes for Organic Gardening magazine and developed culinary uses for “new” crops like amaranth. From there, Debra made the jump to variety trials and marketing at Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine and Sakata, a Japanese seed company in California. While in California, Debra became interested in wine grape production. She served as vice president in charge of promotion at Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association and worked in sales and marketing for an organic winery. She brought her grape growing expertise back to Pennsylvania where she helped promote the farming side of the wine business and became the first Executive Director of the PA Wine Association. For the past 9 years Debra has worked for PCO-certified Seedway Vegetable Seeds on their trial farm in Hershey and also helps with catalogs, advertising and is an Associate Product Manager. Debra lives near Mount Joy, PA, with four lucky border collies that have their own small flock of hair sheep.
DCNR, Bureau of Forestry, Wellsboro, PA
Chris lives in Potter County with her husband and teenage son. Chris works in natural resource management as a botanist. Her husband is self employed as an artisan blacksmith and gunsmith. Promoting and buying from local artisans, producers and growers is important to the Firestones. “Growing our own food in a sustainable and healthy way is key in how we manage our property. Our next big step is to get some ducks and chickens.” In addition to growing food, the Firestones use the resources, such as wild leeks and maple syrup, in their woodland to add to what they grow. Chris believes that the role PCO serves to certify organic producers is important so that consumers know the source and growing methods for the food they eat. As a consumer she realizes that buying organic food is best for the environment, soil and our bodies.
Clifford Hawbaker, PCO Board Standards Committee Co-Chair
Hamilton Heights Dairy Farm & Emerald Valley Farm, PCO-Certified Crops and Livestock, Chambersburg, PA
Cliff and Maggie Hawbaker own and operate Hamilton Heights Dairy Farm and Emerald Valley Farm in South Central Pennsylvania. The certified organic dairies consist of 689 acres of pasture and hay crop with an additional 140 acres rented land. There are 300 dairy cows and 150 head of replacement heifers. The dairy herd is pastured throughout the year on grass. For several years Cliff has focused on intensive grazing management and other dairy related issues including once-a-day milking. Milk from the dairies is marketed through Trickling Springs Creamery in Chambersburg, PA.
Cliff has served on numerous farm-related boards and committees. He is chairman of Pennsylvania Grazing/Forage Lands Conservation Coalition and past chairman of DPAC (Dairy Policy Action Coalition). His activities have included past president of Franklin County Farm Bureau, Franklin County Farmland Preservation and Franklin County Soil Conservation and AgChoice Farm Credit Board. He is also active in his local church, Chambersburg Mennonite and The Gideons International.
Cliff and Maggie have 3 grown daughters; Juanita Garber and Emily Helman are married to dairy farmers and on farms of their own, Dawn graduated from college and lives in Pittsburgh. They enjoy their granddaughter and 7 grandsons.
Julie Hurst, PCO Board Secretary
Blue Rooster Farm, PCO Certified Livestock, East Waterford, PA
Julie served as a PCO Board Member from January 2010 until present, and participates on the Education and Outreach Committee. Julie is the co-owner/operator of Blue Rooster Farm, a grass-based livestock farm in East Waterford, PA, where she manages sales and marketing of pasture-raised, grass-fed beef and lamb, and free-range pork through several CSA’s and buyer’s clubs in the Central Pennsylvania region. Blue Rooster Farm partners closely with PCO-certified Village Acres Farm and FoodShed where Julie coordinates FoodShed events and plans and prepares menus utilizing products from both farms. Julie has been involved in sustainable agriculture for nearly 20 years. She served as South Central Regional Coordinator for PASA for four years and an active member for 14 years. Prior to purchasing Blue Rooster Farm with her husband, Roy D. Brubaker, she taught secondary history and social studies in the Juniata County School District. She has her B.A. in education and history from Eastern Mennonite University and an M.A. in American Studies from Penn State University. Julie is also mother of twin girls and enjoys raising, growing, preparing, and discussing food and the politics of it…but is particularly fond of eating it, especially when surrounded by her energetic daughters, family, and good friends.
Provident Farms, PCO-Certified Crops and Livestock Liberty, PA
Dave Johnson and family operate an organic livestock and crop farm known as Provident Farms in the mountains of the northern tier near Liberty, PA. Production forms have morphed from direct market poultry, beef and pork to a seasonal grazing dairy and most recently to organic grains. Dave has a passion for stewarding livestock and land in their natural patterns, bringing culture back to agriculture, and restoring abandoned farmland. Farming came after his first career in education, but he has had the opportunity to share his experiences and lessons with others as a NE-SARE farmer educator. Dave has been involved in the NOP’s pasture standards, and helped with PCO’s pasture rule training workshops and record keeping forms for farmers. He has served on the board of NODPA and PASA, and has enjoyed seeing his children pursuing careers in farming and food systems.
Bryan Luce, PCO Managing Board Chair
Reliance Capital Partners, Sandy Creek, NY
Bryan Luce is a senior business executive with 23 years of experience in general management, finance, strategic planning, sales, and marketing. Bryan has held officer-level positions in start-up companies, mid-market as well as market-leading Fortune 200 organizations. Bryan is the Founder and Managing Director for Reliance Capital Partners and the President of Reliance Funding Group. Bryan attended Paul Smith’s College, Cornell University and Villanova University, for Business management and accounting. Bryan currently sits on the board for the New York Agri-development Corporation (www.nyadc.com), is a council member with Manufacturers Association (www.macny.org), and a Board Director for the Chamber of Commerce for the Northern New York / Tug-Hill region. Bryan spent more than 10 years as a volunteer Paramedic, firefighter, EMS and CPR Instructor as well as a volunteer mentor for the HOSTS (Helping One Student to Succeed) Program. This married outdoorsman has been a lifelong farmer, enjoys golf, skiing, hiking, fishing and just being a Dad to his two young children.
Independent Organic Inspector, Enola, PA
Brian Magaro began farming / gardening at the age of 12 while working on his uncle’s farm earning $.25/hour. From the 1970’s into the 1990s his passion for working with the land was extended as he grew organic vegetables with his father in Enola, PA. For the last 20 years, Brian has worked as a consumer advocate in the organic food industry conducting inspections for numerous certification agencies. He served on the original Board of Directors for PCO for the first three years of its existence and he served on the International Organic Inspectors Association Board of Directors for 6 years; three of those years as chair. Brian works with PCO as one of its contract inspectors / auditors and as a member of the Standards Committee. Prior to becoming an inspector, Brian had extensive background in business management through owning several retail food establishments and as a Licensed Pennsylvania Auctioneer. His is passionate about farming and loves tending to his gardens and greenhouses. He also enjoys building, cabinet-making and fly-fishing.
Tony Marzolino, PCO Board Treasurer
Marz Farm, Berkshire, NY
Tony has served as a PCO Board Treasurer and Chair of the Finance Committee from February 2011 until present. Tony is the Senior Finance Officer at CenterState CEO (formerly the Syracuse Chamber of Commerce), which covers a 12-county region in upstate NY. He has broad experience in all aspects of accounting and financial management with more than 20 years experience in the non-profit finance field. Tony and his wife, Sue, own and operate Marz Farm, an organic farm in Berkshire, NY. Marz Farm produces NOFA-NY-certified organic hay, grown on 1,000+ acres of hay fields, sold as feed hay in 20 different states and through their Organic Hay Co. for the small animal market. In addition, they raise organic vegetables, pastured pork, grass-fed beef, and free-range eggs. Tony is a board member and membership chair on the Tioga County New York Farm Bureau.
AgChoice Farm Credit, Williamsport, PA
Mat grew up on a horse farm in Dauphin county and his family remains heavily involved in the draft horse and mule community in Pennsylvania. Mat’s desire to further Pennsylvania agriculture led him to serve on the PCO Board. “PCO is in a unique position to help the farming community continue to transition to sustainable farming methods, and I’m eager to use my skills to help with that effort.” Mat earned a B.A. in 2003 from Lycoming College where he majored in history and business. He has many years of lending experience in rural and agricultural areas. He worked in branch banking for M&T Bank in York County prior to moving to Williamsport. Mat and his wife, Emily, reside in Williamsport. In his free time, Mat enjoys woodworking, traveling and mountain biking.
Writing Resources/Farm News Service, New Kingston, PA
Melissa Piper Nelson grew up on a crop and livestock farm in North Central Pennsylvania, where in the early 1960’s her farming parents were already producing pastured pork. Melissa was active in 4-H studying veterinary science and livestock. For most of her career Melissa has worked in agricultural educational outreach, economic development, marketing and journalism. She writes a monthly newspaper column on ag marketing for Lee Publications and is contributing writer for The Country Editor and the Wine and Grape Grower. She has been a featured speaker at the Kentucky Women in Agriculture Seminar and the Long Island Agricultural Forum. With a lifelong interest and vocation related to agriculture, and with recent specific work as an organic transitionist, Melissa is happy to share her skills to contribute to the organic community and PCO.
Ewe Win Farm, Lewistown, PA
Cadie and her husband, Mike, own and operate a farm in Mifflin County where they raise grass-fed lambs, free-range chickens, and at present, livestock guard dogs. They have been at their current location for just over 10 years, and this past year were able to purchase an additional 50 acres of cropland. While their farm is not a certified organic farm, they believe in living and farming as environmentally sustainably as they can. Cadie and Mike employ practices such as prescribed fire to renovate their pastures, allowing their chickens free reign of the whole farm to cut down on pests, and using livestock guard dogs to keep their sheep and chickens safe. Cadie likes to say that “farming is a full-time job, but I also work 40 hours a week off the farm.” She is currently employed by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. In that capacity she works with organic and non-organic farmers to try to help them minimize negative impacts to our natural resources such as soil, water, air, animals, and yes, humans too. Cadie and fellow NRCS conservationists are constantly working with farmers to help them accomplish their goals, while ensuring that the practices of farming are not harming the lands in ways that harm us all.
Organic Unlimited, Atglen, PA
Ken has served as a PCO Board Member from February 2011 until present. Ken is one of the owner/operators of Organic Unlimited, a PCO-certified custom feed mill in Chester County, PA, that supplies bulk and bagged feed to farmers and mills in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states. Organic Unlimited has grown nearly every year since its inception almost 15 years ago and employs nine people. For 14+ years, Ken and his partners at Organic Unlimited have met their goal of providing a high quality, nutritionally sound, 100% organic feed to their customers that enhances the performance and health of their animals. They believe in most cases, as with humans, good nutrition is the key to good animal health. Ken and Organic Unlimited are committed to organic as an agricultural system that strives for a balance with nature. They are proud sponsors of PASA’s Farming for the Future Conference. Prior to his work with Organic Unlimited, Ken farmed hogs commercially for eleven years. Ken resides on a 26-acre property in Lebanon, PA, with his wife, Vicki.
Penn State University, University Park, PA
Charlie has served as a PCO Board Member from February 2011 until present. Charlie is a sustainable agriculture extension associate with Penn State Cooperative Extension. He has served in this position since it was first created in May 2009. Charlie coordinates educational programming for farmers and agricultural professionals in the areas of organic farming, cover crops, and soil health. He is also the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program’s Pennsylvania State Coordinator, and in this role handles on-the-ground outreach activities for Northeast grants programs, manages a professional development program in sustainable agriculture, and serves on the regional Northeast SARE Professional Development Program committee. Prior to Charlie’s current positions with Penn State and Northeast SARE, he obtained a Master’s Degree in Soil Science from the University of Maryland where his research focused on forage radish cover crops and soil health. Since 2000, Charlie has also been employed on organic vegetable farms in New Hampshire and Virginia and a community development organization in southeastern Ohio.
Advisory board members serve a 3-year term, with a limit of 2 consecutive terms.
Our policies require that no more than half the board members can be PCO-certified (or related in a way that violates the conflict of interest provision in the NOP regulations). That allows us to have a maximum of 7 certified producers on the board, plus a minimum of 8 others who are independent.
For the non-certified seats, we can invite organic producers who are certified by another agency, someone from Penn State Ag Extension or NRCS, another non-profit ag organization, consumer or environmental group, a college, ag supply company, consumer, veterinarian, inspector, etc.
Nominations can also be made by PCO members and PCO advisory board members. PCO will accept nominations via mail, email and phone.
Board members are selected by the membership at the Annual Meeting in February.
Generally, members should live in PCO’s certification region: Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Ohio, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, District of Columbia.
Advisory board members should be good communicators and be willing to contribute to the organization, chair committees, help at events, etc.
Advisory board nominees must submit an advisory board application by December 1st prior to the next election.
The next advisory board term begins on the first board meeting following the election.
The advisory board meets quarterly. Typically, 3 meetings take place at the PCO office in Spring Mills, PA and one is held in the Lancaster County, PA area. Members may attend by phone or web connection. (Travel expenses are reimbursed upon request.)
PCO typically holds a strategic planning event in the spring which is attended by the advisory board and staff members.
PCO participates in training events, field days, trade shows, and other events. PCO expects advisory board members to participate in events when possible.