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/Office 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.


MonicaTorresMonica Torres, Program Intern
Monica is a Master in Public Policy Candidate and Co-Executive Director of the Inter-Policy School Summit at the University of Chicago Harris School. She is passionate about food systems and wants to revolutionize the landscape of sustainably produced goods in Mexico. She previously worked with the United Nations Environment Program office in Mexico on projects for poverty mitigation and environmental conservation. Currently, she works on the development of a social enterprise project that aims to connect small and medium sustainable rural producers in Mexico with consumers interested in ethical and environmentally produced goods. At Fresh Taste, she is working on a cultural value chain project for Latino communities in the greater Chicago foodshed. Monica majored in Biology at the University of Guadalajara in Mexico and specialized in Environmental Science.


Talia Cohen

Talia Cohen, Program Intern
Talia is currently studying for her Master’s degree in Public Administration and Policy at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Her background is in the restaurant industry, where she began as a pastry chef and went on to become the Assistant General Manager of a Michelin starred restaurant in Chicago. This experience taught her the importance of good food—food that is sourced locally, ethically, and responsibly, and above all, that tastes good. Her main interests lie in environmental policy and sustainable food systems. Talia would like to use her MPA degree to join the lobby efforts advocating for regenerative agriculture.