Meet The
Think Tank

Growing Gardens 
knows through experience that it takes diverse ideas, perspectives, and backgrounds to yield truly impactful results. We are proud to present the Think Tank members who so beautifully represent the people of Oregon and serve as trusted advisors for our work.  

Simbiat Yusuff-Mueller


Simbiat joins the Think Tank from Forth where she holds the title of Events Manager. In addition to managing the webinar program and workshops, Simbiat also assists with annual the Roadmap Conference. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Strategic Communications with a focus in Public Relations from Washington State University.

joemil santos


Joemil r. Santos is the Food Equity Program Supervisor at New Seasons Market. He is committed to both being of service to our community and leading with racial equity. Whether he is cooking for friends and family or bridging the gaps between organizations and people, Joemil joins communities through both food and action. 


Rick Kwan



Rick (he/him) is a retirement actuary at WTW. Having learned from the example set by his grandmother, he is committed to fostering a sense of community through shared food, culture, and dialogue. In his free time, he can be found enjoying the great outdoors with his canine hiking companion, Beckett.


Ben Coleman-Fire



Ben grew up in a farming town in Idaho where he raised sheep and helped out with his grandparent’s orchard and sprawling garden. He is an attorney specializing in bankruptcy law. He has worked in both government and private practice and currently works as a law clerk at the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Oregon. When not working, Ben enjoys gardening, testing out new methods of home food preservation, fly fishing, and exploring the woods with his wife and toddler. 


Eca- Etabo Wasongolo



Wasongolo likes to spend his time in discussion with community members, listening to people’s stories, building trust among people to work for positive change in the community, doing outreach to bring solutions to unmet needs, and acting as a bridge and cultural mediator. Wasongolo’s dream is to always fight social inequality and poverty, to build community food security, and to work concretely for peace and human development. Wasongolo brings more than 15 years of experience in nonprofit organizations and community evaluation projects.


Yoli Flores



Yoli Flores supports the Equity and Cultural Engagement department at Lines for Life and is a long-time Growing Gardens supporter. She is an advocate for food justice, health education, environmental justice, and the general advancement of the Spanish-speaking community. Yoli is the daughter of Carlos and Maria Flores from Zamora, Michoacán, and Tampico, Tamaulipas.


Shireen Duke



Shireen is a 5th generation Oregonian who loves to get outside to grow collard greens and fresh tomatoes. She is also an accomplished dancer (Line Dancing and Chicago Steppin). Shireen has been involved with Growing Gardens since 2013. She started as a Home Gardens Program participant, then a Garden Mentor, and now serves on the Board of Directors.


Darren Golden



Darren is proud to call Portland his home. He began gardening as a child with his grandfather and has never forgotten the impact and values instilled through hard work and patience. He chose to join Growing Gardens to further his ability to engage and help cultivate progress and strong relationships with the community.


Thuy Pham



Her fondest memories from her early childhood are in her backyard when she would pick all the ripe vegetables from the garden beds.She grew cucumbers, sugar snap peas, tomatoes, herbs and so much more.


Kelso Brasunas



Kelso is currently a graduate student studying domestic policy, with a focus on inclusive urban policy. Before that, she worked for FoodCorps for 8 years, both on the Finance team and as an AmeriCorps service member in Arkansas, connecting kids to food in schools. She is also the Finance Chair for the Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Network. She is happiest in the PNW mountains, swimming in alpine lakes and hiking along ridgelines.


Nell Tessman



Nell works as the Program Officer for Gray Family Foundation, where she has the privilege of connecting organizations, educators, and youth to resources that support their efforts to be strong stewards of the environment, their health, and each other. Nell has worked in public health and education throughout her career, including working as a Growing Gardens Youth Grow Educator nearly ten years ago. Nell lives in Northeast Portland and loves to play basketball, bake bread, and get messy in the garden with her family.


Justin Rossman



Justin is the Community Engagement Program Supervisor at New Seasons Market. He’s a N.E. Portland native and a Benson Tech Alumni, holding a passion for service to the city. His career and personal path constantly have him on a pursuit of food justice for all, dreaming of the day that all are welcome a seat at the table. He loves spending free time with his son Malachi as they paddle-board, roller coaster, eat, and travel through this world together. 


Jane Hashimawari



Jane Hashimawari works as a chef in Portland and has worked and led in many kitchens throughout the city for well over a decade. She is currently the youth cooking instructor at Luscher Farm and runs her own pop-up called Ippai PDX which focuses on Japanese comfort food while highlighting the seasonal bounties of the Pacific Northwest. Jane is passionate about food justice and providing food security through mutual aid and culinary education. She currently lives in Woodstock and spends her free time chasing squirrels out of her garden beds.


Maria Paz Herrera



Born in Colombia and then living in Mexico, Maria (she/her) discovered her passion for sustainability when she studied architecture in college in Mexico City. Her green thumb and environmental interests motivated her to move to Portland to pursue a master’s degree in Leadership for Sustainability Education, which she now holds. For the last 6 years Maria Paz has been working at Latino Network. Currently, she is the SUN site manager at Rigler Elementary, where she coordinates all after school activities, food programs and connects families to wrap around services. When she isn’t doing amazing things for her community, Maria likes to hike and spend time with friends. 

*Hablo Español*
(I speak Spanish)


Morgan Rider



Morgan Rider (she/her) grew up a free-range kid in Colorado. She knew from a young age that she’d dedicate her life and career to environmental conservation and protection. After receiving a B.S. in Environmental Engineering from Cornell University, she spent her career working with national and international organizations on regulatory compliance and sustainability initiatives. For the past 15 years, she has closely collaborated with government agencies on policy development, as well as nonprofit organizations dedicated to environmental conservation and justice, to effectively communicate their narratives and maximize their impact within the communities they serve. As the co-founder of Thriving Design, an innovative garden supply manufacturing company, Morgan combines her love for nature and her expertise to create sustainable and eco-friendly products. When she’s not working, Morgan is doing yardwork (not gardening), skiing, hiking, and hosting dinner parties.

In Memoriam


Missy was a tremendous Think Tank member who was always ready to be out with the Home Garden team, building gardens and getting her hands dirty. She was our Think Tank Secretary for nearly 4 years and brought so much magic to our organization. We will continue to honor and remember her in our daily work. 


Join The Think Tank

We're always on the lookout for passionate, motivated, and hard-working community leaders to join our Think Tank. Visit our contact page to get in touch!


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