Current Staff


Ali Papp

Program Director

Ali graduated from the University of Illinois-Chicago with a degree in Secondary Education; the Teaching of History. Her love to travel and explore the outdoors grew as a little girl; discovering the woods of Wisconson, hunting for frogs in the ravines, and spending as much time playing in the waters of Lake Michigan as possible! While studying abroad in Southern France, she discovered that she must, in addition to travel the world, see what her own country holds. She worked with students and teens in a variety of capacities in Chicago, but her heart settled on outdoor education while living and working in North Carolina. In attempts at better understanding her world, she made a bold move south to became an instructor at the McDowell Environmental Center years ago. The grip of Alabama was strong and here she remains, constantly striving to learn and grow. The farm is the ideal environment for her to cultivate her passion for all things cheese; milking goats, experimenting with new recipes, and reading and discovering as much as possible.


Andrew Shea

Produce Ambassador

After scouring the nether regions of our planet and beyond in search of Utopian habitation, Andrew has returned to McDowell. Most recently working as a goodwill ambassador of the island of Hispaniola, his diverse career path has led him to the understanding that the heart of nurturing change lies in the grumbling belly of us all. With the benefit of the history behind us, the land and its inhabitants, and a future that is yet to be determined, he hopes to create a vision of the way things ought to be, right here. His door is always unlocked, keys in the ignition.

Why are you passionate about farm education? The farm is the place where our connections to the land is most readily apparent. When we take time to observe and nurture the relationships we create here, we find ourselves happier, healthier, and at a greater understanding of what needs to be done for one another and our planet. If you plant, you grow.


Laura Rodgers

Program Coordinator

Laura grew up outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan and attended Michigan State University. She had been bouncing between jobs in agriculture and education until she found the perfect blend of both these interests at the McDowell Farm School! In her free time around McDowell she enjoys playing sports, board games, and making crafts like goat milk soap. She dreams of having a small homestead style farm of her own and spending one month of each year on a long vacation just cruising on her bicycle.

Why are you passionate about farm education? I became interested in farming because I thought it was the most practical thing I could do for people. We eat food every single day. Food is essential for our survival - it is life giving. But after a couple of seasons farming I realized I wanted to share more than just the food. I wanted to share the process. On a teaching farm we share our experiments, ideas, and designs while getting input from others. It feels like a living scientific document. But without the boring parts.

I'm proud to be a part of the farm education movement because it empowers individuals to think for themselves. It is a way to learn the value of working with others to develop ideas and accomplish goals. Farm education teaches patience as we wait for seeds to grow. It teaches kindness as we care for animals that can be difficult. Students are introduced to potential careers because they are given the opportunity to apply classroom learning. And classroom learning becomes more valuable because they connect the information to their world and their passions.


Brandon Phillips

Camp Medic

Brandon grew up on the coast of Mississippi. After graduation from the University of South Alabama he spent the next five summers in Alaska, working at a friends homestead farm and guiding wilderness trips for young folks at Trailside Discovery Camp in Anchorage. Brandon has worked for Camp McDowell's Environmental Center since 2009, with intermitten travels to the far North. He enjoys everything in the outdoors and is a rock climbing and fungi enthusiast.

Why are you passionate about farm education? I am passionate about farm education because I want to do my part in promoting healthy lifestyles for people, animals, and the environment. I want to share this with others so that they may be able to make healthier choices and enrich their own lives. There is no better venue to teach these ideas than outside on an actual working farm.



Seasonal Gardener

Why are you passionate about farm education? My passion comes from a place of belief. A belief that teaching people to take care of themselves and others, teaching independence and responsibility, respect and love is the root of a world filled with happy, successful folks. Here at the Farm School we feel strong about this and have the perfect tools by raising animals and plants to educate hungry minds!



Seasonal Instructor

Why are you passionate about farm education? I think knowing about food and it's connection with the rest of nature - from weather patterns to pests - enhances the very experience of eating! And when we appreciate where our food comes from and all the work that goes into that, I think we better appreciate nature and its importance to our survival. When kids get the chance to go out on a real farm and learn about food, they access these values and have a ton of fun!

What is your food philosophy? I think people should have a relationship with their food. When I cook, I like to know where my food comes from and if I'm lucky who grew it or the history of the food. Food is our most tangible connection to the earth, and this helps us grow in our appreciation and understanding of our environment. Everyone has to eat so our food relationship is the easiest way to get people to care about our world.




Grace Kyle - What is your food philosophy? I believe that food is a rich and amazing tool that can be used to discover the world around us. Food teaches us diverse histories of people and places. It teaches us about our earth and environment. It teaches us about our own health and that of our communities. Food knowledge--where it comes from, how it's grown and prepared, how it nourishes--should be a SHARED knowledge that enriches us all!




What is your food philosophy? Whew, that is no small question! I would say something along these recent years, gathering around the table and working outside have become two rhythms of life that feel incredibly sacred and important in my ongoing journey towards understanding what it means to be human. Our bodies need food, but they also need community; deep fellowship and friendship. Food, for me, has come to be the medium through which we can cultivate that kind of holistic nourishment and offer hospitality to one another across barriers of age, race, language, gender, background or perspective. Laboring to grow wholesome, delicious food offers us a chance to engage with the wounds of the world and truly get to know our neighbors as well as the land. It reminds us of our physical, emotional and spiritual need, both for sustenance and for people. Ultimately, working in the garden, working with this dynamic thing we call "food" has invited me into a new kind of wonder, a new depth of marveling and a new way to rejoice at the audacity of a tiny seed poking its head through the soil, proclaiming with all its being "life!" So let's go freak out at the color of beets together - I can't wait!




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