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 Manager
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 a freelance graphic designer and nonprofit fundraiser for many years, creating impactful pieces for businesses and fundraising campaigns that raised millions of dollars for Chicago-area nonprofits. Prior to joining Fresh Taste, Vanessa was the Director of Development at Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Cook County. Vanessa holds a Bachelor’s degree in Art History from the University of Illinois.


emily balsamo

Emily Balsamo, Summer Analyst
Emily comes to Fresh Taste from the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, graduating in June 2017 with a Master of Arts in Public Policy Analysis. Prior to her graduate study, she worked as a Food and Nutrition Analyst with the research firm Euromonitor International, where she wrote on issues ranging from national food security to consumer food trends. Emily has a passion for local sustainable agriculture and is excited to apply her skills and experience to the Regional Food System Study and other projects with Fresh Taste.