Meet Our Staff

Karen Lehman, Director
Karen’s food system work spans three decades, beginning with an award-winning PBS documentary on women’s leadership in farm movements. Karen directed both the local food and regional economy programs at The Minnesota Project; co-founded and was co-director of Youth Farm in Minnesota; and directed the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Food and Agriculture Program. Karen also held an endowed chair in Agricultural Systems at the University of Minnesota, consulted with the Ford Foundation on rural development in Mexico, and received a Master’s of Public Administration from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government as a Bush Foundation Leadership Fellow. Prior to her work with Fresh Taste, Karen was a Senior Associate with Cambridge Leadership Associates. Download Karen’s bio.


Vanessa Reese, Program Assistant
Vanessa brings more than 20 years of experience in business development, event planning and strategic communications to Fresh Taste. With a passion for good food and an exceptional eye for detail, Vanessa has worked at top restaurants in the United States and England to improve their operations and marketing. She was also a freelance graphic designer and nonprofit fundraiser for several years, creating impactful pieces for food businesses as well as fundraising campaigns that raised millions of dollars for Chicago-area nonprofits. Prior to joining Fresh Taste, Vanessa was Director of Development at Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Cook County. Vanessa holds a degree in Art History from the University of Illinois.


NoelPiatekNoel Piatek, Program Associate
Noel received her master’s degree in Plant Biology from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. During this time she worked on a project that aimed to engineer plants that more efficiently turn the sun’s energy into food to sustainability increase worldwide food productivity. Prior to joining Fresh Taste, Noel served as an AmeriCorps VISTA with Northern Illinois Food Bank where she contributed to development and community outreach while learning more about issues surrounding food access, distribution, and waste in 13 northern Illinois counties.