Meet the Team: Chicago

Daniel Gibbs
Garden Educator, Chicago

Dan is originally from the Western Suburbs of Chicago and spent several years as a CSA grower serving the Chicago suburbs. Dan's passion is teaching people how to grow their own food using sustainable and organic methods. Dan has a BA from John Carroll University and an MBA from DePaul University, is active in his local Chicago urban agriculture community, and in his free time he teaches gardening workshops and spends as much time as he can outdoors with his family.

Marla Guggenheimer
Garden Educator, Chicago

Marla believes strongly in the power of cultivating community through gardening. She graduated from Miami University of Ohio with a Bachelor of Arts in Individualized Studies, combining her passions for environmental science, early childhood education, and social justice. During her time at Miami, she helped found the Institute for Food and interned at Heartbeat Learning Gardens in Yellow Springs, Ohio. After graduation, she moved to Great Falls, Montana to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate with Growing Gardens from Garbage. Before coming to Chicago to begin working with Big Green, Marla served as the FoodCorps AmeriCorps Service Member at Killip Elementary in Flagstaff, Arizona. Marla loves to travel, read, laugh, and learn. She also really loves worms and is happiest when her hands are in the soil.

Maggie Hughes
Regional Director, Chicago

Maggie is a Chicagoland native. Having raised a large family, she is passionate about growing vegetables to create home cooked nutritious meals and healthy family time. Prior to Big Green she has spent the last 15 years in corporate sales management  roles. She is affiliated with the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and has a BA in Communications/Journalism from Northern Illinois University. In her spare time she enjoys golfing, swimming and biking.

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.

Sean Ruane
Garden Educator, Chicago

A native Chicagoan, Sean is committed to educating communities about the power of real food. He holds a Bachelors in History & Secondary Education, a Masters in Social Justice Education, and is a graduate of the Windy City Harvest Sustainable Urban Agriculture Apprenticeship. Prior to Big Green, Sean spent five years as a high school and college educator. In his free time, he co-runs a small, not-for-profit farm on the south side of Chicago, competes in marathons/triathlons, and loves cooking, reading, and spending time with family and friends.