Who We Are

Our Team

Faculty Directors

Charisma S. Acey

Faculty Director


Charisma Acey is an Associate Professor of City and Regional Planning and a member of our Executive Committee. Her work focuses on local and regional environmental sustainability, with special attention to poverty reduction, urban governance, connections between food justice and environmental justice, urban agroecology, and access to basic services.

Timothy Bowles

Co-Associate Faculty Director


Timothy Bowles is an Associate Professor of Agroecology and Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management. His research focuses on how increasing reliance on biodiversity can create productive, healthy and resilient agricultural systems, drawing on agroecology, soil ecology, and biogeochemistry.

Susana Matias

Co-Associate Faculty Director


Susana Matias is a Cooperative Extension Specialist in the Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology. Her research concentrates on food security, as well as obesity and diabetes prevention, through nutrition education and behavioral change interventions. Dr. Matias’ research is particularly focused on women, children, and immigrant and farmworker populations.


ab banks

Agroecology and Wellness Coordinator


ab is a healer and a farmer. They graduated from UC Berkeley in 2016. They’re a deep advocate for complete self sustainability. Born in Oakland, they embody the heart of the Black Panthers and serve as a part of the central committee for People’s Programs, an organization in West Oakland that serves the people through a host of programming. They care about creating sovereignty from an intersectional stand point, pushing folks that are last to go first and letting love lead the way.

Francisco Benítez

Project Scientist


Francisco Benítez Altuna was born in Quito, Ecuador, where he earned an engineering degree in agro-industry from the National Polytechnic School and managed the yellow corn value chain at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Aquaculture and Fisheries. He received a dual MA in agribusiness and rural development from the University of Göttingen in Germany and the University of Talca in Chile. He holds a PhD at Wageningen University, where he focused on food value chains. His research addresses the policy and socioeconomic barriers to sustainable food systems. He is interested in analyzing governance mechanisms, contracting, market orientation, innovation, and equity.

Federico Castillo

Project Scientist


Federico Castillo is an Environmental/Agricultural Economist with PhD and undergraduate degrees from UC Berkeley. Federico’s research centers technology transfer and innovation, economic valuation, socio-economic impacts of climate change, and the economic aspects of protected areas and migration. He contributes in developing a research agenda on climate change, agriculture and population issues in Berkeley. He is also engaged in research with scholars from The Tropical Agricultural Research Center (CATIE), the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), The Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL) and UC Davis in projects over ecosystem based adaptation to climate change, the socio economic impact of weather extremes in California agriculture and climate change impacts on migration from Mexico to the US. He has taught courses related to migration to the United States, natural resource economics, and economics of climate change and sustainable business practices.

Scott Chang-Fleeman

Administrative and Finance Director


Scott Chang-Fleeman is a UC Santa Cruz Environmental Studies alum, vegetable farmer, and Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology alum. His farm, Shao Shan Farm, specializes in growing certified organic Asian vegetables for Bay Area AAPI chefs, grocers, and farmers markets. As a member of the farmer collaborative Second Generation Seeds, he also grows, saves, and distributes rare and climate adapted varieties of Asian vegetables. Prior to BFI, he worked at the Claremont Colleges managing operations, finances, education, and undergraduate employment at their educational farm and food waste recovery program. Outside of work, he volunteers time lobbying for increased resources for farmers of color and leads educational and cultural events around food, farming, and seed sovereignty for various community groups.

Jeanne Merrill

Executive Director


Jeanne Merrill is the Executive Director of the Berkeley Food Institute. She has more than 25 years of experience in food systems advocacy, policy analysis and development, and nonprofit leadership. She is a co-founder and former Policy Director with the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN). She has held several state and federal appointments, most recently to the U.S. EPA’s Farm, Ranch and Rural Communities Advisory Committee. Ms. Merrill holds a B.A. in political science from U.C. San Diego and an M.Sc. in Land Resources from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She began her career in community organizing, where she partnered with communities in California impacted by pesticides to win local and state protections. Her greatest passion lies in empowering people with the tools needed to affect democratic change and work together to achieve resilient and equitable food and farm systems.

Nathalie A. Muñoz

Community Engagement Program Manager


Nathalie A. Muñoz is a 2018 UC Berkeley graduate with a BS in Environmental Sciences. Before joining the Berkeley Food Institute team, she was the Contracting and Purchasing Agent for the Berkeley Student Cooperative where she procured the food and supplies for 1,300 student-members. As a first-generation transfer student at Cal, she was a student researcher for BFI, working on the Berkeley Foodscape Mapping Project to help collect data on campus gardens, student food groups, and UC Berkeley food course historical trends. As the descendant of a Bracero farmworker, she is passionate about uplifting the marginalized voices of our food labor force.

Austin Price

Communications Coordinator


Austin Price is a writer and editor focused on environmental justice, climate change, biodiversity, and food and agriculture. He has a degree in history from Emory University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. Before coming to BFI, he worked as an editor for Earth Island Journal and maintained a small market garden in the Northwest Territories, Canada. His writing and photography have appeared in Edible East Bay, Sierra, Bay Nature, Yale Environment 360, the Texas Tribune, and others. Aside from work, he enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife, son, and dog, and making music with his guitar and mandolin.

Jezra Thompson

Education Programs Coordinator


Jezra Thompson is a food systems planner with over fifteen years of experience developing sustainable programs for healthy schools, environments, and communities; with ten years leading public education programs, creating curriculum, building and strengthening partnerships, and implementing instructional design initiatives and professional development. She has a master’s in urban planning from Columbia University and began her career at the Food and Nutrition Service, USDA as a Policy Analyst, where she participated in community food systems and healthy food access initiatives, such as Know Your Farmer Know Your Food and Peoples’ Garden, and was a lead author of the SNAP EBT How-to Handbook for market managers accepting nutrition assistance benefits during the food stamp transition. Before coming to BFI, she supported nonprofits advocating for healthy food access resources and policy, such as leading efforts in branding the California Farmers Market Market Match program and participating in national research projects on the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program (FVRx). In addition to work, Jezra enjoys road biking, trail running, paddle boarding, and getting into nature as much as possible.

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