Anna Hammond, Executive Director

Anna has been the architect of many successful educational programs for children and young adults, in both academic and community environments. She came to The Sylvia Center in 2009 with a mission to transform the way children eat by creating and implementing farm-to-table programs with a focus on the table – what happens to vegetables after we grow and harvest them. She is particularly interested in issues of access regarding food – who gets to eat what; good food as a choice, not a privilege; putting basic cooking skills back into children’s lives so that they can choose to eat well.

Most recently, Anna worked as a political speechwriter and community organizer in New York City and Rockland County. Prior positions include deputy director for education, programs, and public affairs at the Yale University Art Gallery (2003-2008), and director of writing services for the Museum of Modern Art (1997-2002). She has published numerous articles and essays, directed over a dozen public art projects, and co-written a non-fiction children’s book about a community project intended to integrate children with diverse backgrounds in a neighborhood in the South Bronx.

Ms. Hammond graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor with a degree in classics and archaeology. She is A.B.D from University of Chicago, in South Asian Languages and Civilizations, and in 1995 earned an M.F.A. in painting from Hunter College, New York. She is currently studying for a certificate in biodynamic agriculture from the Pfeiffer Center.

Julie Cerny, Farm Education Director and Garden Manager

While working to create a more simple and sustainable lifestyle for herself, Julie finally discovered real food in 2007. She never felt better, and never looked back. Since then, she has been spending each year growing her own food, cooking whole foods with the seasons, living simply and healthfully, and working to create welcoming spaces where others can learn to do the same. With a B.S. from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and after several years of experience in the fields of outdoor education and farming, Julie joined The Sylvia Center in February 2011 as the Education Director and Garden Manager at Katchkie Farm.

“This is my dream job.” Julie loves teaching, learning, growing (and eating!) with The Sylvia Center.

Joyce Huang, Finance Director and Business Manager

Joyce joined The Sylvia Center in November 2012 and brings over 12 years of financial experience along with 5 years of culinary training. She was a Vice President at Citigroup where she worked in the credit card, internet, business risk and consumer businesses. Joyce then traveled extensively soaking in the people, food and culture, and returned to NYC to attend culinary school. After working at the Food Network and ABC Kitchen, she joined The Sylvia Center. She is thrilled to combine her business expertise and her passion for good food for all at an organization with a mission close to her heart. Joyce is a graduate of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and The French Culinary Institute.

Erika Lesser, Development Director

Erika comes to The Sylvia Center with over fifteen years of experience working in food and nonprofits, including a decade working for the international nonprofit Slow Food, where she started as a founding staffer of Slow Food USA in 2000. During a sabbatical year in Bra, Italy, the hometown and headquarters of Slow Food International, she helped open the University of Gastronomic Sciences. Erika returned to Slow Food USA in 2004 as Executive Director, developing national programs to defend biological and cultural food diversity; promote food education; and strengthen connections between farmers and consumers. More recently, she created and taught a food culture course for nutrition majors at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. She has also served on the boards of the Community Food Security Coalition and Slow Food International.

Alongside her work with The Sylvia Center, Erika also consults with Urbane Development, a community development venture that cultivates innovative solutions to build dynamic neighborhoods and positively impact underserved communities, where she focuses on food ventures and local food economies.

A native of Boston, Erika earned a MA in Food Studies from New York University and a BA in Italian Studies and Art History from Brown University. Raised by classical musician parents for whom mealtime conversation meant talking about what to cook for the next meal, Erika spends most of her free time cooking with her wine importer husband and trying to keep up with their two young daughters’ appetites.

Whitney Reuling, Program Manager

Whitney Reuling was the first Garden to Café’s Program Coordinator at SchoolFood starting in 2010 where she worked with 50 plus schools to help connect the school gardens to school meals. Previous to this, Whitney worked as a chef instructor and nutrition intern with CityHarvest. Whitney was raised on a small farm in Northern California and has long enjoyed preparing meals fresh from the garden. Whitney studied at the Cordon Bleu in Paris and holds a Masters in Food Studies from New York University.

Jenn So, Executive Assistant

Jenn started working at her parents’ restaurant at the age of 10 and has never known a time when food was not at the center of her life. Her earliest memories are of emulating her mother’s technique at a cold wok with dried beans and sharing scratch-made meals around the dinner table nightly. Since her gastronomic curiosity sparked so early on in life, she constantly strives to inspire others to create adventurous taste buds.

Jenn joined The Sylvia Center in May of 2012 as the Culinary Program Intern at Katchkie Farm. There, she spent the growing season teaching children, teens and adults how to cook simple and healthy meals with the vegetables they would harvest directly from the garden. When her internship ended she continued working with The Sylvia Center in New York City.

Jenn is a graduate of Wesleyan University, where she received her BA in Film Studies in 2010. She is currently pursuing her MA in Food Studies from NYU.

Nina Simmons, Senior Chef Instructor

A cordon-bleu graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education, Nina Simmons began at The Sylvia Center as a Chef Instructor in 2008. Former Education Director, she worked with Anna Hammond to develop the culinary course for The Sylvia Center’s programs in New York City and at Katchkie Farm.

Natasha Decena, Chef Instructor

Natasha currently attends the New York City College of Technology for her baccalaureate’s degree in Hospitality Management. She previously graduated from C-CAP (Careers through Culinary Arts Program) where she acquired her Culinary and Pastry Arts training. Subsequently, she has continued her training by working in various establishments ranging from corporate dining, to fine dining and catering; she also volunteers for city events including Harvest in the Square. She also has a strong interest in nutrition and plans to continue her education in nutrition science.

Frances Hodges, Chef Instructor

Frances graduated from the Institute of Culinary Education in 2010. After being laid off from the corporate world she decided to stay in the culinary field, where she was more passionate. She first met with Nina Simmons, and began working as a volunteer which led to chef assistant. Frances loved the concept of giving back and “Inspiring children to eat healthy”. Frances has also worked in the catering field. She would love to develop a food program for seniors.

Theresa Morelli, Chef Instructor

Theresa Morelli is a natural foods chef with a specialty in seasonal, health supportive cooking. After completing the Chef’s Training Program at the Natural Gourmet Institute in 2006, she began work as a personal chef, improving a number of families’ wellness and quality of life with fresh, homemade meals. With an extensive background in education and childcare, and a desire to encourage a new generation of passionate cooks and wholesome eaters, she began teaching with the Sylvia Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring children to eat well. She savors life in Brooklyn as a Chef Instructor, part time personal chef and caterer, and a full time gluten-free food lover.

Derrika Cruickshank, Chef Assistant

Derrika is a graduate of the Americorps Green City Force Program. She joined the Green City Force Urban Farm Team corp in the winter of 2013. She helped build the first farm on NYCHA property in Red Hook Brooklyn where she was immersed in a six month agricultural and culinary education. She learned how to plant, harvest, and cook a variety of fresh vegetables; she also instructed young children in farming as well as healthy eating. Derrika was an obese child and teenager and is now happily learning discipline in healthy eating through her work with The Sylvia Center.

Kelly Faust, Chef Assistant

Kelly is into all things food and people, from writing menus and recipes for a meal delivery service business to teaching cooking classes. She likes getting her hands into ingredients of all flavors, colors, textures and believes cooking together brings a richness to life like no other.

Justina Petway, Chef Assistant

Justina graduated from the State University of New York at Cobleskill with B.B.A in Culinary Arts and Technology Management. Justina has worked in corporate as well as institutional dining, but finds great joy in working with adolescents as young as early childhood into the young adult years. In addition to working with The Sylvia Center as a chef assistant, Justina also currently works in a juvenile detention facility where she educates and provides adolescents with healthy meals daily.