Our Team

Cortney Renton (she/her)
Executive Director

Cortney joined CitySeed in April 2020, bringing a decade of multidisciplinary leadership within nonprofits, think tanks, and startups to the role. Previously, she led national programs and built strategic relationships with donors at Feeding America, and as President of Slow Food Chicago she led the organization's strategy to promote good, clean, fair food for all. Cortney has also held research, fundraising, and sustainability roles with The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, The Greater Chicago Food Depository, and Sir Kensington's. Earlier, she apprenticed on a family farm and trained in organic farming practices from seed to harvest. Cortney received her B.A. in Peace and Conflict Studies from Colgate University, focused on international social justice. She earned her Master of Environmental Management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies where she co-founded the Regenerative Agriculture Initiative and was involved in entrepreneurship and innovation initiatives.

Cortney is a member of the Food Solutions New England Network Team, the Connecticut Food Systems Alliance Steering Committee, the CARE Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) Steering Committee, and the Working Lands Alliance CT Farmland Access Working Group. 

Ashley Kremser (she/her)
Managing Director

Ashley Kremser has been on the CitySeed staff since 2011. She served as a member of the New Haven Food Policy Council till 2018, and has been instrumental in the creation and promotion of a state-wide initiative led by CitySeed and in partnership with UConn Extension. This campaign has documented over 2 million dollars in procurement of CT Grown products and has secured over 1000 individuals and 231 businesses as partners or pledges to the campaign. Ashley has over 11 years experience in the non-profit sector with 8 years experience working with organizations that work to improve the Connecticut’s agricultural economy and landscape. She also has vast experience in both coordination and supervision of events from concept to execution. Prior to working with CitySeed she oversaw an accreditation program at Connecticut Northeast Organic Farming Association (CT NOFA) and coordinated numerous events and conferences that saw anywhere from 50 – 300 people.

Frankie Douglass (she/they)
Community Outreach Manager

Frankie is a New Haven native who is passionate about the New Haven community. After graduating from Johnson & Wales University with a B.S. in Culinary Nutrition, Frankie returned to New Haven to pursue a career in food justice and public health. Frankie has experience delivering cooking and nutrition education through CitySeed and Gather New Haven. Frankie sits on the New Haven Food Policy Council representing CitySeed and the state-wide Connecticut Department of Agriculture DEI Working Group. Frankie is also a Certified Lactation Counselor who has worked as a breastfeeding focused Community Health Worker at the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (CARE). In her free time, she looks to gardening, art, improv comedy, and cooking to keep her occupied.

Alyssa Gant (they/them)
Farmers Market Manager

Alyssa Gant is the Farmers’ Market Manager for CitySeed, they work with CT farmers and local communities to help with access to fresh local produce in New Haven. Alyssa strongly believes that access to food is a human right and therefore knows that bridging the partnership between communities and farms is essential. Alyssa has managed CitySeed’s Farmers’ Markets since 2017 assisting in the distribution of over 100k in SNAP, WIC, SFMNP, and doubling. Alyssa holds a BA in geography with a concentration in food systems from Southern Connecticut State University.

Carol Byer-Alcorace (she/her)
Sanctuary Kitchen Culinary Manager

Carol has enjoyed a long career as both an arts professional and a creative culinarian. Her cooking roots developed during childhood, cooking with her immigrant grandparents. This later grew into a professional interest in ethnic food preparations in customs, as well as authenticity in working with food as an art form. Carol began her career as a Professional Illustrator represented by Bookmaker’s in Westport, CT. For twenty years, Carol experienced the dual pleasure of being a children’s illustrator for major publishing companies while simultaneously keeping her hands busy as a working chef. Carol shifted into full-time culinary work in 2005, and served as the Executive Chef de Cuisine at Mattatuck Museum Cafe, providing sophisticated healthy dining for arts patrons while also providing economical food services for local organizations hosting events there. Next, Carol assumed the roles both as the Food Service Manager and Executive Chef for catering at New Morning Market. Carol joined CitySeed as the Culinary Coordinator for Sanctuary Kitchen in 2018 to aid in the development of professional guidelines for our chefs, assist in building strong culinary programs and grow Sanctuary Kitchen Catering into a flourishing business.

Hossna Samadi (she/her)
Sanctuary Kitchen Program Associate

Born in Kabul, Afghanistan and resettled in New Haven with her husband and two young sons in 2016, she has passionately devoted the past 5 years to advocating for and serving refugees and immigrants in New Haven in many different capacities. Having experienced the challenges of being a refugee herself first hand, she is passionate about supporting, assisting and amplifying their voices, particularly Afghan women.
Hossna is the cofounder of the Collective for Refugee and Immigrant
Women’s Wellbeing, whose grant-sponsored pilot project partners with Yale University’s Program on Recovery and Health in the Community and Elena’s Light. In her work with IRIS (Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services) she serves as a volunteer member of the Cultural Companion Ally Team and as an IRIS Ambassador, speaking to a wide range of audiences. Hossna is fluent in Pashto and Dari, and has used her language skills to serve as a translator and interpreter for Sanctuary Kitchen and other organizations. Graduating in spring 2022 with an Associate of Science degree in Accounting from Gateway Community College, Hossna has plans to continue on with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2024.

Naseema Gilson (she/her)
Sanctuary Kitchen Program Director

Naseema is a long-time resident of New Haven, and has many years of management experience in both the non-profit and corporate world.  Growing up in Indiana, Naseema was aware of the importance of equitable food access, as well as support for farmers, at a young age.  As the daughter of an immigrant from Afghanistan, Naseema has always championed refugee rights, and supported organizations that prioritize DEI work.  Most recently, she was a co-founder of the Anti-Racism Committee at Girl Scouts of Connecticut. In her spare time, she loves to cook meals with her husband, listen to records, bike around New Haven, and relax with her dog and cat.

Azhar Ahmed (she/her)
Sanctuary Kitchen Assistant Operations Manager

Azhar came to America from the Sudan after emigrating first to Egypt to finish her education. In Egypt, she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Law, took courses to teach Arabic, first aid, religion, and sociology, and worked as a Nubian Community Organizer to help design summer courses for children.

Inspired by a dream of her late father, Azhar created her first business venture Kumi’s Dream, a delivered hot food service to the homeless in the cold winter months. After graduating from CitySeed’s Food Incubator Program, Azhar opened her own pop-up Sudanese cuisine called Kandaka, New Haven’s first Sudanese food business.  Azhar has been a continuous spokesperson for refugee groups coming to New Haven having previously worked with IRIS (Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services) to welcome new refugees and immigrants.

At Sanctuary Kitchen, Azhar will be a lead trainer for the next culinary cohort.

Aminah Alsaleh (she/her)
Sanctuary Kitchen Assistant Kitchen Manager

Originally from Homs, Syria, Aminah has a passion for cooking and has been cooking since she was 10 years old. Aminah is a storyteller and has acted as a spokesperson for new refugees and has attended many Sanctuary Kitchen programs and functions over the last four years. She recently was promoted to Assistant Kitchen Manager and is a peer advisor to the SK culinary team.

Aminah became a U.S. citizen, and she hopes to start a restaurant or catering business.

Cara Santino (she/they)
Food Entrepreneurship Program Manager

Cara came to CitySeed in 2021 after receiving a M.S. in Food Studies at Syracuse University, where they focused on intersectional and participatory community-based food systems planning. Cara has 14 years of experience working in the food industry with a strong background in cooking, kitchen management, and teaching. They received their B.S. in Culinary Arts and Food Service Management from Johnson & Wales University.

In 2020, Cara co-founded the Restorative Food Justice Project at EMERGE CT to address food security of returning citizens in New Haven, CT. Cara is also member of the CARE Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) Steering Committee and Farm to Institution New England’s (FINE) Network Advisory Council. In their spare time, they enjoy cooking, reading non-fiction books, and listening to records.

Lauren Ruotolo (she/her)
Development Associate

Lauren is excited to have joined the CitySeed team in early 2022 after recently moving back "home" to New Haven county. With over eight years of experience in the nonprofit sector focused on agriculture education and food access, she brings a passion for sustainable and vibrant food systems. She graduated from Flagler College where in addition to receiving a B.A. in Sociology and Environmental Studies, she helped build the on-campus recycling program and school garden. Lauren discovered the development sector by chance while she was Program Manager for the Hawaii Institute of Pacific Agriculture where she began to write grants to support initiatives in need. With great success, she later became Director of Development and helped to increase organizational capacity through fundraising that more than doubled the organization's operating budget. She would describe her life as being steered by a strong ethical integrity to promote ecological well being through activism and non-profit roles. Lauren has worked and volunteered in many sectors outside of development including natural resource management focused on aquaculture, environmental and agriculture education, and sustainable garden design. Lauren finds inspiration in tending to gardens, reading poetry, picking up marine debris, wild foraging and exploring with her dog Fern.

Our Board

Lisa Bassani
Associate Director of Development,
Yale School of the Environment
CitySeed Board Governance Chair

Lisa Bassani joined the CitySeed Board in 2017 and currently serves as the Governance Committee Chair and as a member of the Finance Committee. She is passionate about the importance of local agriculture and is so inspired by CitySeed’s work to build community through food. She is Associate Director of Development at the Yale School of the Environment (YSE), where she focuses primarily on corporate and foundation fundraising to support the School’s educational mission and programmatic work. Prior to her work at YSE, she served as Project Director for the Working Lands Alliance (a project of American Farmland Trust), where she directed all aspects of WLA’s efforts to protect Connecticut’s productive farmland and promote agricultural viability. She serves as President of the Board of Directors of Connecticut Farmland Trust, a statewide organization dedicated to the protection of farmland in Connecticut. She also represents New Haven’s 18th Ward on the New Haven Democratic Town Committee and has been involved in local and state democratic politics for over a decade. Her husband, two daughters and she all share the same love of food and are happiest when their small but mighty garden is in full swing.

Henry Elliman
Yale School of Management
 Board Fellow

Henry is an MBA Candidate at Yale SOM ‘22 and joins CitySeed as a non-profit board fellow for 15 months. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from Haverford College and a Diplome de Cuisine from Le Cordon Bleu – Paris. Over the past six years, He worked as an Operations and Logistics Manager in South Sudan with Doctors Without Borders, a Public Health Consultant in Hanoi, Viet Nam, and a Chef of the first pop-up restaurant in Kolkata, India. Here in New Haven, you can find him scouring the farmers markets and cooking for friends. He shares CitySeed’s passion for food and its role in creating inclusive, sustainable, and healthy communities.

Alexandra Daum
Deputy Commissioner,
Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development

Alexandra is the Deputy Commissioner at the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development. She oversees DECD’s investments in place-based economic development efforts across the state. Alexandra is a self-described “power-user” of CitySeed’s markets and credits the markets with helping her to fall in love with New Haven so quickly after moving here. Alexandra lives in downtown New Haven with her husband, two children and two rescue dogs. She is an 11-year vegetarian and local-food enthusiast!

Chris Heitmann
Urban Planner and Community Development Practitioner
CitySeed Board Vice President

Chris is an urban planner and community development practitioner focused on co-creating thriving, equitable and resilient neighborhoods. He joined CitySeed’s Board back in 2011 and continues to be moved and inspired by their dynamic work creating a more equitable and sustainable local food system. Chris is the former director of the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance (WVRA), a CT Main Street program in New Haven’s Westville neighborhood and a long-time partner of CitySeed at the Edgewood Park Farmers Market. There, he centered district revitalization efforts around small business support, arts-based placemaking, traffic-calming, and programs to clean and green “the Village” and the West River. Prior to that, Chris worked with the non-profit planning firm Project for Public Spaces managing a $3-million training and technical assistance initiative for innovative public markets and farmers markets in low-income communities for the Ford and W.K. Kellogg Foundations; researching the impacts of markets on social integration and upward mobility, and in building local food systems; managing placemaking projects around the country, including markets, parks, civic squares, and commercial corridors; and coordinating public market trainings and conferences. He currently resides in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, two daughters and a few furry beasts.

Veena Kapadia
Business Development Associate,
Fair Haven Community Health Care and
Co-Founder of Flore Foundation
CitySeed Board Treasurer

Veena is the Business Development Associate at Fair Haven Community Health Care, and the co-founder of Flore Foundation, a not-for-profit that empowers refugees through grants to social enterprises. She was first introduced to CitySeed’s Sanctuary Kitchen program in 2018 and has since closely followed the organization. Flore Foundation promotes ventures like Sanctuary Kitchen that give economic opportunities to refugees while benefitting the community.  A majority of Veena’s career was spent as a management consultant and business advisor for global clients in government and the private sector. Today she acts as an independent consultant focusing on improving business operations. In 2017 Veena joined the Board of Directors for The Guilford Fund for Education, a non-profit organization that supports innovation in education for youth. In her spare time, she enjoys tending to her garden with her husband and cooking with her two children.

Christine Kim
Food and Social Justice Activist
CitySeed Board Chair

Christine has been on CitySeed’s Board since 2012 and currently serves as the Board Co-Chair, focusing on community outreach, development, governance, and food business incubation. Inspired by CitySeed’s vision of a just local food system, she volunteered with CitySeed at its first market in 2004, and later helped with chef cooking demonstrations, selling bread and market coins, and dressing up as vegetables at market openings. Christine works as a food and social justice activist focused on community-based solutions, with a prior career in data-driven international environmental policy. She is the Founder of aapiNHV, a new organization combating discrimination and hate by connecting, supporting, and amplifying the Asian American Pacific Islander voices and actions with an anti-racist foundation in New Haven, CT, and beyond. Christine has also been active with the New Haven Food Policy Council and its Food Justice Accountability working group and Breastfeeding Task Force. She also serves on the Boards of the New Haven Urban Resources Institute, Community Fund for Women & Girls at the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, Connecticut Collective for Women and Girls, and Calvin Hill Day Care Center. Christine lives in New Haven with her husband and two young children.

Emma Kravet
Yale Health and
Yale New Haven Hospital

Emma serves as Co-Chair of the Board and is thrilled to be a part of the CitySeed team. She works as an RN at Yale Health and Yale New Haven Hospital and is currently studying to be a Nurse Practitioner. Prior to her career in nursing, she worked in farm-based education, youth development and forestry. She previously worked at Connecticut Forest & Park Association and the Sustaining Family Forests Initiative at the Yale School of the Environment. She is passionate about the intersections of food systems and healthy communities, and a proud mother hen to five backyard chickens.

Adam Millman
Senior Director of Residential Dining,
Yale Hospitality

Adam Millman, Senior Director of Residential Dining for Yale Hospitality, has over 20 years of operational experience in a diverse range of fields, including corporate, academic and nonprofit organizations.  At Yale, where Dining serves over 15,000 meals a day across 31 food service locations, he is responsible for providing his innovative leadership, concept development, and vision to achieve Hospitality’s daily commitment to excellence, continually thinking outside of the box to create memorable experiences for the Yale community.

Prior to joining Yale Hospitality, Adam was Director of East Coast Operations for Cini-Little International, a premier hospitality design and business consulting firm, as well as holding leadership positions with the Wildlife Conservation Society, Club Quarters Hotels, and Restaurant Associates.

Polly LaBarre
Author, Co-Founder,  Management Lab

Polly LaBarre is a bestselling author, speaker, and community builder who has worked  for over 20 years to make every kind of organization fundamentally more resilient,  innovative and inspiring—and to embolden and equip leaders at every level to make a  meaningful impact. 

As cofounder of the Management Lab, Polly spent the last decade working to develop  a methodology, platform and practical tools for building organizational capability and  accelerating change. Polly and her colleagues deployed that pioneering approach to  collaborative innovation in a range of large-scale experiments in “hacking  management” inside leading companies and across a global community of some  35,000 management innovators. 

Polly is the coauthor of the bestselling book Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original  Minds in Business Win. She was a member of the original team of Fast Company magazine, where she played a central role in the remarkable success of a magazine  that recast the conventional wisdom on working, leading, and winning.  

Polly has delivered hundreds of keynote addresses around the world and developed  and hosted numerous events. Her writing has appeared in a variety of publications,  including Fast Company, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Harvard  Business Review, Fortune.com, the McKinsey Quarterly, and The Huffington Post. In  addition to frequent television appearances on CNBC, PBS’s Nightly Business Report,  Good Morning America, and the Today Show, Polly has also been a business and  innovation correspondent for CNN where she produced regular segments on big ideas  and best practices from the world of business and beyond.  

Polly is a passionate gardener, an ardent cook, and a devoted yogi. A graduate of Yale  University, Polly lives with her family in New Haven.

Nicole “Nikki” Najam
Chief Employment Counsel, 
Hubbell Incorporated
CitySeed Board Secretary

Nikki is the Chief Employment Counsel for Hubbell Incorporated where she provides legal counsel and advice on labor and employee relations, workplace policies and benefits, and general human resources matters. Nikki also works on teams within Hubbell to promote diversity, equity & inclusion, workforce development and sustainable business practices. Nikki received her juris doctorate from the University of Connecticut School of Law and her undergraduate degree from Boston College. Upon moving back to southern CT for her current professional role, Nikki was looking for ways to connect to the local community. She was drawn to CitySeed’s mission, programs, and goal of building an equitable, sustainable food system and making cultural connections through food. Nikki serves as Secretary of the Board and sits on the Finance and Governance Committees for CitySeed.

Onyeka “Ony” Obiocha
Executive Director,

Onyeka (Ony) is the Executive Director of CTNext. Previously, he was the Director of Integrated Capitals and Learning at the F.B. Heron Foundation, the Managing Director at the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale and the inaugural Director of Innovation at Yale’s Center for Public Service and Social Justice. He is also an entrepreneur, having co-founded of A Happy Life Coffee, a coffee shop and coffee roasting company dedicated to creating a happier world for all, and Breakfast Lunch & Dinner, a design studio that aims to build social cohesion through economic and cultural development. Through this work Ony comes to CitySeed as a practitioner and lifelong student of the role food can play in catalyzing community and economic development. He is the recipient of the Connecticut Magazine’s 40 Under 40 award, served as a Next City Vanguard, a Nantucket Project Scholar, and a 100 Men of Color honoree.

Ritika Jain
 MBA candidate at the Yale School of Management

Ritika is an MBA candidate at the Yale School of Management and joins CitySeed as a non-profit board fellow for 15 months. She works at the intersection of strategy, innovation, and impact, having partnered with diverse mission-driven organizations – from large INGOs and UN agencies, to early-stage social enterprises and local nonprofits – to accelerate their impact as a previous consultant at Accenture Development Partnerships (Accenture’s social impact consulting arm). Ritika is passionate about the unique nexus of food, economic development, and the environment. She quickly found her way to CitySeed when moving to New Haven, drawn to the organization’s compelling mission, and of course, the farmers markets. During her time at Yale, she is engaging in projects related to innovation and sustainable food systems, and when she’s not missing her garden in her family’s home in DC, you can often find her biking around East Rock or volunteering at the Yale Farm.