Start the Countdown for the Sunshine State!


We are days away from Eco-Stewards Gainesville,  Food & Faith: Uniting Together in Southern Foodshed. Our program will take us to Swallowtail Farm, Forage Farm, the Gainesville Catholic Worker, and down the Ichetucknee River, among a collection of other local places. These places, as well as the local people, will be our teachers during our time in Gainesville.  As we finish filling in the last minute details, we wanted to take take the opportunity to introduce this year’s 2014 Eco-Stewards and program leaders. Please keep this talented group in your prayers during the week of May 18-24. And stay tuned to the blog that week for updates from the field!

2014 Eco-Stewards:

Audrey Holt, 23, is a PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer currently based in Boston, where she works on food justice issues. Her work with a PC(USA) and United Church of Christ (UCC) congregation and a nonprofit community day shelter for women deals with issues surrounding food systems, access and waste. “Just as my family, food, and home were a gift, so is this giant planet. I am thankful for what it provides and therefore I feel the need to preserve it.” With roots in Kansas and the Baptist tradition, Audrey enjoys writing and reflecting with others as well as pie baking and homemade noodle making.


Colleen Earp, 28, is currently in New Orleans serving as a PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer. She acts as Wetlands Advocate, which involves education, raising awareness, and actively practicing conservation through planting and monitoring vegetation. She recently attended PEC’s national gathering at Ferncliff.  “The world is too beautiful and perfect to have happened by accident. It’s very easy for me to see God in a big old tree, in billions of grains of sand on a beach, in a stunning sunrise or a dreary weather pattern.” Colleen holds a B.A. and M.S. in Geography, focused on the physical environment and human-environment interactions. She worked for many years at a Presbyterian camp, enabling youth and adults to interact with creation physically and spiritually.


Chelsea Guenther Benhem, 25, is currently a student at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, where she coordinates the campus’s community garden. Chelsea is interested in the spiritual aspects of gardening. “I think that gardening is an opportunity to help the church develop embodied learning that connects God, self, and creation. Gardening cultivates joy, care and attention.” She also serves as an intern at Crescent Hill Presbyterian (USA) Church in Louisville.


Jake Lawlor, 21, is a student at the University of Texas, studying Environmental Science with a focus in Biology. He spent a summer studying sustainability in Northern Tanzania and works as a program director at Camp Fire after school programs. This summer Jake will be founding the Environmental Stewardship Program at John Knox Ranch, a Presbyterian Church (USA) summer camp in Central Texas. “I find the best places to worship are outside in God’s creation.” He also enjoys volunteering with Austin Parks Foundation, Pease Park Conservancy, and Texas Adopt-A-Creek


Anna Mullen, 24, is a student at Harvard Divinity School, where she is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity degree with a personal focus on environmental ethics and eco-theologies. Anna, who is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, is also the manager of the Harvard Divinity School Garden and a Field Education Intern at Peace Lutheran Church. “I am particularly excited about the prospect of participating in this program because of its focus on the interconnectedness of food, water, faith communities, and environmental, as well as economic, justice.” Anna also spent a year as a full-time residential volunteer at the Heifer International Learning Center at Overlook Farm in Rutland, MA.


Jess Rigel, 30, is a PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer in New Orleans where she works as a community gardener. She first became passionate about eco-stewardship while serving as a YAV in Cascabel, Arizona. “Through my love of food and community gardening, I’ve realized that it’s impossible to respond to Jesus’ call to feed his sheep without making sure the land on which we grow our food is first provided for.”



Rev. Rob Mark serves as pastor of Church of the Covenant (PCUSA and UCC) in Boston, MA. He also serves as co-coordinator of the Eco-Stewards Program ( Rob grew up in the Boston area, the youngest of four children, with a Baptist father and a Presbyterian mother. In 1993, while living and working in a poor community in South Africa, he first felt a call toward ministry, a yearning to pursue peace and justice in the light of faith. He chose a Christian college (Wheaton in Illinois) and pursued the study of geology and international development, spending his summers leading youth trips to the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. After graduation, he worked as a youth minister, coordinated a sister church partnership in Uganda, and then became a project administrator for a biodiversity and sustainable forestry firm. But the call to fulltime ordained ministry finally sent him to seminary, completing his Master of Divinity degree at Boston University in 2005. He was ordained to the Presbyterian Ministry of Word and Sacrament in 2006 to serve Camp Wilmot in NH. In 2011 he was called by the Congregation of Church of the Covenant to be their pastor. From 2007-2011, he was the designated co-pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Waltham, and since 2008 the assistant chaplain and McDonald Fellow at The Memorial Church at Harvard University. From 2005-2008, he was Executive Director of the Waltham Community Day Center for the homeless and low-income community.

Rev. Liz Leavitt serves as the Interim Minister at Westminster Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) an earth care congregation in Eugene, Oregon. She loves being a Northwesterner where a beautiful natural environment and serious and sustained efforts at environmental stewardship are joined to create a great place to live. Liz loves growing, preserving and enjoying foods of all kinds and lives on a small suburban plot where a veggie garden, chickens and bees keep her busy and well-fed. She also loves cycling, craft roasted coffee and her other life companions: husband Jason, dog Roxy and two cats.



From South Florida, Vickie Machado is the Florida Organizer for Food & Water Watch, where she works on keeping fracking out of Florida and the campaign to label genetically engineered foods. In May 2013, she received her Masters of Arts in Religion and Nature from the University of Florida focusing her studies on sustainability, bioregionalism, the Catholic Worker Movement, and the confluence of environmentalism, social justice, and faith. From 2011-2013, Vickie lived and worked at the Gainesville Catholic Worker, learning to further cultivate her understanding of what it means to live locally and simply. She participated in the 2011, 2012, and 2013 Eco-Steward trips.

Daniel Loya of Winter Haven, Florida is the Ministries Coordinator of the Gainesville Catholic Worker House, an intentional, live-in community of students, formerly homeless men and women, and others. He has been involved with the Gainesville Catholic Worker since 2010. Daniel was also a participant in the 2013 Eco-Stewards program in Portland. His passions outside of work include sustainable soccer, permaculture, and the Emergent Church Movement.


PC(USA) Representative:

Rebecca Barnes, has been the Associate for Environmental Ministries for the Presbyterian Church (USA) since December 2011. Particularly she oversees the national PC(USA) certification program for Earth Care Congregations, coordinates the volunteer local leadership network called the Environmental Ministries Action Network, and works to help Presbyterians connect their Christian discipleship to ecological, economic and global justice concerns. Rebecca is a graduate of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary where she earned a Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Art in Religion in 2011, with a thesis titled: “A Fuller Experience of God’s Grace: How the Sacraments Invite Us to Relationship with, and Care for, the Earth.” While in seminary, she authored “50 Ways to Help Save the Earth: How You and Your Church Can Help Make a Difference.” In her local community, Rebecca also organizes the Eco-Justice Worship Collective, an initiative to create dynamic, ecumenical, inclusive worship spaces to engage in eco-justice concerns. She likes reading, writing, yoga, art, dancing, and playing imaginary games with her two children.


Communications Coordinator:

Becky W. Evans lives in Boston, Mass. with her husband, Rob Mark, and newborn son. She is an environmental journalist and educator who teaches writing and communication courses to international graduate students at Boston University and undergraduate students at Lasell College. She recently earned a master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language and teaches ESOL classes for adult immigrants. She helps edit the Eco-Stewards Program blog and annual multimedia slideshows.

3 thoughts on “Start the Countdown for the Sunshine State!

  1. Dave Grace

    This will be an amazing Eco-Stewards year, I can tell. Looking forward to more updates and staying in the loop.
    -Dave, Montana ’11

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s