Meet the Team: Chicago

Amina Bahloul
Garden Educator, Chicago

Amina hails from Michigan, where she grew up cheering on the Spartans, Go Green! Prior to Big Green, Amina worked as the Head Kitchen Teacher at Edible Schoolyard NYC’s Harlem Campus. Earlier in her career, Amina served as a FoodCorps member in the Bronx, a Nutrition and Garden Educator through the Michigan Fitness Foundation, and also served as Healthy Lifestyles Project Coordinator with the Capital Area Health Alliance. Amina brings to her work a degree in Nutrition, a love of trying new things, and a passion for connecting kids to real food.

Katherine Jernigan
Garden Educator, Chicago

Katherine, a South Carolina native, holds a BA in Environmental Studies from Lewis & Clark College. Her fascination with farming communities led her to the Australian outback where she spent time wrangling sheep, getting to know local farmers, and researching the political economy of the wool industry. She also travelled across India where she enjoyed adventures like exploring sustainable agriculture in remote communities in the Himalayas, tutoring at an orphanage, and eating tons of local cuisine. Prior to Big Green, she worked as an educator on an urban farm in Portland, Oregon where she loved teaching about plants, nutrition, and chickens. Passionate about increasing access to green spaces and fresh, healthy food, Katherine is excited to bring her knowledge of organic gardening and healthy cooking to communities in Chicago. Outside of Big Green, she enjoys making pottery, traveling, and attempting new outdoor activities.

Sam Koentopp
Program Manager, Chicago

Sam Koentopp is a gardener, and teacher from Chicago.

Sam Koentopp is the Chicago Program Manager. He has been with Big Green since 2013 and has helped build most of the organization's Learning Gardens currently installed in Chicago schools. Sam is a father of 2 girls and outside of his work with Big Green he enjoys being with his family, cooking, eating, and playing music. Sam is proud to be a part of the Chicago urban agriculture community and believes deeply that we can accomplish the most when we work in cooperation and collaboration with our communities.

Ilana Marder-Eppstein
Garden Educator, Chicago

Ilana is a graduate from the University of British Columbia (UBC) where she studied Sustainable Food Systems and Food Justice. She believes in the power of urban agriculture and garden education to make meaningful and lasting change. Prior to Big Green, Ilana worked for the UBC Center for Sustainable Food Systems on the field team maintaining perennial crops. She also worked as a program evaluator for the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security and the Prairie Organic Grain Initiative, two national organizations that support the ecological seed sector and organic farmers in Canada. When she’s not growing food or eating it, you can find her on the dance floor, reading a book, or drinking a hot cup of tea.

Laura Mueller
Development Manager, Chicago

A Chicago native, Laura Mueller comes to Big Green after a decade fundraising in the Chicago Public School system and for other local non-profit organizations in the food space, including Purple Asparagus and Common Pantry. Laura holds two MS degrees from Northwestern University, in Integrated Marketing Communication and Journalism and a BS University of Colorado at Boulder. Prior to her nonprofit career, she was the Corporate Marketing Director of a national hospitality company. As a life-long vegetarian and passionate home cook, Laura is thrilled to work at Big Green to engage young children in the joy of growing and eating real food, especially their vegetables. Outside the office, Laura enjoys hitting the farmers' markets with her Australian Shepherd, Ingo, skiing, hiking, yoga, and cooking creatively with her family.