Who WE Are
Welcome to Wild Earth! Get to know our Staff, Instructors and Board of Directors. Want to know more about our values, etc? Visit our About page.
Wild Earth Staff
David Brownstein, Executive Director
, (845) 256-9830 x 4 – In 2004, David co-founded and, today, is the Executive Director of Wild Earth, where he seeks to help regenerate healthy community culture and create opportunities for people to connect with themselves, each other and the Earth. Prior to founding Wild Earth, David worked as a wealth advisor on Wall Street for twelve years before realizing a life dream – fully sharing in the care and parenting of his three children, and creating a small family farm. Today, the Brownsteins raise dairy cows, goats, chickens, bees and vegetables in season. David also maintains an active counseling practice called Root Connections, where he focuses on helping individuals, couples, groups and business leaders identify and manifest their unique vision. Learn more about David at rootconnections.org. Have you seen David’s Wild Earth blog posts?
Simon Abramson, Development Director
, (845) 256-9830 x 3 – Over the past twelve years, Simon has led and supported nature connection and coming-of-age programming for thousands of youth and adults. He joined the Wild Earth team in 2006 and has since held myriad roles in the field and in the office. Simon has a B.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Vermont where he focused on exploring the relationship between a healthy psyche and a vibrant natural world. He has staffed and studied with various wilderness schools throughout the Northeast including the Institute for Natural Learning, White Pine Programs and the Vermont Wilderness School. Have you seen Simon’s Wild Earth posts?
Sarah Nason, Finance & Operations Director
, (845) 256-9830 – Sarah grew up in Michigan, where her first introduction to the “wild” was through YMCA summer camps. She looked forward to exploring and getting dirty, and would jump into any body of water that she could find. Her passion for the outdoors led her to the Pacific Northwest, where she spent nearly 20 years on the shores and slopes of Washington State. Sarah has a Master’s Degree in Natural Resource Management and has worked in the fields of environmental conservation, food justice, corporate accountability and civic engagement. A desire to build community and share her love of the outdoors with young people led Sarah to spend nearly a decade volunteering as a mentor and snowboard instructor for Seattle youth. Sarah moved to the Hudson Valley in early 2017 to be closer to family and is proud to call Wild Earth her home. She still loves to get dirty and will still jump into any body of water she can find.
Omari Washington, Communications & Connections Director
, (845) 256-9830 – Omari Washington identified his purpose in 2004, during a backpacking & paddling trip above the Arctic Circle in Alaska. Despite emerging evidence, at that time few people were willing to believe climatologists’ warnings that humans were negatively impacting our planet. Hiking across the melting permafrost, Omari witnessed the significant changes already taking place. Moreover, he knew that many marginalized communities would be disproportionately affected by our inaction. After returning from that trip, Omari attended Green Mountain College in Vermont and received a B.A. in Environmental Studies. Since then, he has led hikes in urban parks, managed diverse teams of environmental educators, built school gardens, developed curricula, and helped plant 1,000,000 trees in New York City. The focus of all of this work has been to engage and empower youth in developing deep connections to nature, centered around their own unique experiences. Omari is grateful to be welcomed into the Wild Earth community, where young leaders are growing wild!
Ana Jimenez, Program Administrator
, (845) 256-9830 – Ana grew up in Harlem, spending most summers in her native Dominican Republic, where she made hens her pets and took in and fed any stray dog that approached her. Her love and affection for all living things led her to the Hudson Valley after spending four years in the west in pursuit of her B.A. in English from Brigham Young University. Since moving to the Valley, she has enjoyed her immersion in nature, through hikes, swims in local streams and ponds, and most importantly the impact agriculture has had on her health. Ana is passionate about providing guidance and education to younger generations, and she is determined to continue her affinity for community with Wild Earth.
Alisha Mai McNamara, Program Director
, (845) 256-9830 x 6 – Mai grew up in southwestern CT, where she spent her days clamoring across barnacled boulders lining Long Island Sound, and capturing crickets to feed to her leopard frogs. She studied acting at Emerson College and graduated from Hampshire College with a self-designed B.A. in ecosystem mimicry agriculture and community circus theater. Alisha Mai has run nature-immersion programming since 2008, with Vermont Wilderness School, the Institute for Natural Learning, Wolftree Programs, White Pine Programs, and most recently, Wild Earth. Mai enjoys working with girls and teens, and incorporating physical play into her programs. She draws upon her background in theater and circus to create zany and magical experiences in nature. Alisha Mai is certified in Wildlife Track and Sign (Level II) through CyberTracker, and is a Wilderness First Responder. She teaches vinyasa yoga and aerial silks, and studies at Circus Warehouse in Queens.
Esperanza Gonzalez, Program Director
, (845) 256-9830 – Esperanza is, and has always been, a teacher at heart. From the early age of 8 she would hold play groups in her church and tend to the young children who would often disrupt the sermons. This passion to teach carried on through the years, bringing her to SUNY New Paltz where she received her Bachelors Degree in Elementary Education and History. While living in New Paltz, she merged her love for the outdoors, her passion for teaching and her organizational and entrepreneurial skills into many different educational programs. She has taught in various local schools, led theater groups, kids yoga, art programs and of course worked with Wild Earth in a number of programs. Her commitment to community connection has guided her community service work in jails, juvenile centers, Americorps, inner-city art programs, soup kitchens and many more volunteer based initiatives. She sees every child’s potential and knows there is no better way to hold their blossoming than through the arts and the exploration of the natural world.
Dustin Lamberta, Program Team Leader
, (845) 256-9830 – Dustin began his wilderness journey playing with his sister and other neighborhood kids in the “woods” (an acre of marshy land deemed too wet for development) near his suburban Long Island childhood home. After focusing his studies on political science, and philosophy at SUNY New Paltz, he began to take in interest in local food and ecology while working at local farms and wineries. In Fall, 2011 he was introduced to Wild Earth by his friend Thomas Meli, and began attending the Dawn Song Village Program. He has since worked at Kestrel Camp. Dustin has also staffed programs for White Pine Programs in Maine and Coyote Club Wildlife Education Programs in New Hampshire. He has a passion for bird language, harvesting edible plants, and sharing stories of deep nature connection. He received a permaculture design certification through Green Phoenix Permaculture and has been to two New England Bird Language Intensives with White Pine Programs, as an attendant and staff facilitator.
Michaela Himelfarb, Program Team Leader
, (845) 256-9830 – Michaela Himelfarb grew up on the beautiful and rocky north shore of Long Island. There, she spent much of her time working at her family’s second generation landscaping and gardening business, where her love for the natural world emerged. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Elementary and Special Ed, Michaela was driven instead to put her education to use in nature’s classroom, working many years as an outdoor educator and gardening instructor. Then she heard a call she could not refuse: she attended the Wilderness Awareness School’s two year nature connection mentoring program in Duvall, Washington, and left with teachings and stories she will carry in her heart forever. While in WA she also had the privilege of guiding trips with youth and teens at Rite of Passage Journeys. After returning east in 2013, Michaela has recently moved from Long Island to West Shokan with her husband Eric, where they help care take the beautiful property they call home. During her free time you may find her practicing her grandfather’s fiddle, visiting her sit spot, or diving into whatever craft seems irresistible in that moment.
Jonathan Gonzalez, Program Team Leader
– Jonathan was first introduced to the woods on camping trips with family and friends as a young boy growing up in Southern California. At home, the influences of gangs, drugs and violence were often times literally right outside the front door. But with the fierce love and support of his parents his family made the brave move to New York. Jonathan attended Plattsburgh State University where he earned his Bachelors in Social Work. In 2008, Jonathan met friend, teacher and mentor, Michael Ridolfo. Michael introduced him to wilderness awareness, tracking and greater awareness of one’s self. This brought Jonathan to Tom Brown Jr. and to the world renowned Tracker School. Jonathan continues to pursue his inner tracking and awareness through Vision Quest with Malcolm Ringwalt where he has trained as a Vision Quest Protector. Jonathan’s passion is in sharing his love of the natural world through wilderness skills with kids and adults that are underserved or haven’t otherwise had the chance to experience themselves in nature.
Zach Jones, Program Team Leader
– Zach “Maui” Jones has been with Wild Earth since the very beginning. As a child, Zach participated in multiple wilderness programs throughout the east coast. Growing up in the Hudson Valley, he enjoyed time outside in the woods and playing basketball, soccer, motocross, and BMX. Zach has spent countless summers working as a wilderness summer camp instructor while pursuing his education and traveling the world. In 2017 Zach joined the Wild Earth team in a more permanent role. Zach now coordinates the Wild Earth Kingston Project for both Bailey & Miller Middle Schools, as well as our summer camps for 7-10-year olds.
Ryan Looft, Finance & Office Administrator
– Ryan moved to the Hudson Valley when he was sixteen and was first introduced to Wild Earth through the ROPES teen program. After high school, he continued to explore his passion for nature connection and has been working with Wild Earth since then. In 2017 he spent three months living off the grid with a family friend in New Zealand, where he tended sheep, slept in fern shelters, built natural structures, and foraged for food. During his time there, he took part in a five day rite of passage event and found a deep interest in leading and experiencing rites of passage. His love for nature, community, and connection guides him through life and brings him gratitude every day.
Wild Earth Instructors
Tiffany Barringer, Instructor
– Born and raised in the magical Catskill mountains, Tiffany’s idea of a perfect day would be spent barefoot off the beaten path exploring the true wild woods, climbing high into the pines, bird-watching (especially at her favorite place, the Great Blue Heron rookery she visits as often as possible which had 5 nests and many babies last year!), tracking the local wildlife, snacking on the plants and berries along the way, and floating life away swimming in the streams. Graduating from Suny Ulster with an Associates degree in Science and spending nearly ten years in retail, she decided it was time she followed her passions and answering her own call to adventure, Tiffany began volunteering for Wild Earth, took the apprenticeship and is now proudly working as an instructor for the Wild Earth Kingston Project. She is also deep into her second year of the Ancient Art of Awareness classes taught by Michael Ridolfo and, just as she feels about her job with Wild Earth, she is enjoying every moment of it.
Zach Fisher, Instructor
– Zach Fisher grew up amongst the redwood forests and beaches of the Northern California coast. The pursuit of art and music brought him to NYC and eventually to Tom Brown Jr’s Tracker School which he considers to be the beginning of the education he was always looking for. He began teaching primitive skills and nature connection in 2011 and has since worked for several earth skills programs including the Wild Earth Foundation, the Children of the Earth Foundation, Two Coyotes Wilderness School, Urban Kid Adventurers, Mount Victory Camp in the US Virgin Islands, as well as his own company, Earth Living Skills based in NYC and the Hudson Valley. His fascination with wild edibles and medicinal plants lead him to study herbalism at the Twin Star school of energetic and herbal studies in Connecticut and his studying of indigenous shamanism lead him to begin attending sweat lodges and vision quests with the Hawk’s Nest Quest community in the Hudson Valley. His goal as a teacher and a student is to foster a deeper connection between people and the natural world in the spirit of conservation as well as rediscovering the vastness of our human potential.
Katie Grove, Instructor
– Going out into the forests and fields, harvesting materials from nature, and sitting down in the sun to weave a basket is Katie Grove’s idea of a perfect day. She is an artist and educator whose passion is to guide adults and children alike in connecting to their creative self through the combination of art and nature. Through nature-based arts such as basketry, plant dyes, weaving, sculpture, and journaling she creates an environment where individuals can explore self-expression while learning how to identify, use, and appreciate locally available natural materials. She has worked with Wild Earth since 2012 and in 2014 co-pioneered the first summer of Wild Earth Art Camp as a lead instructor and program designer. She has a BFA in Printmaking from SUNY New Paltz and continues to teach and exhibit art throughout the region.
Stephanie Hertel, Instructor
– Stephanie grew up in the woods of northern New York State. Her early days were filled with playing outdoors and wild harvesting food. Now, as a certified herbalist and seasoned grower for 6 years, Stephanie’s roots are shown in her work as a therapeutic and medicinal garden consultant. She is currently creating and implementing a horticulture therapy program for the Anderson center for autism. Through her love of teaching herbalism, homesteading skills, and other ancient healing techniques, she strives to give others the tools necessary to lead a happy and healthy life. Her passion for making herbal products, natural crafts, and wild harvesting medicinal and edible plants are highlighted in her offerings as a wilderness educator.
Lisa Hrbek, Instructor
– Lisa grew up in the suburbs of the Hudson Valley too afraid to explore the outdoors. She has spent her adult life making up for it! Lisa started her outdoors journey developing a love of hiking which is growing into more and more of a wholesome love for nature. After years of teaching in the classroom, she heard about Wild Earth from a few of her students. She enrolled in the Instructor Apprenticeship program the next year and has been working and learning with Wild Earth adult and children’s programs ever since! Lisa feels lucky to be able to work and grow with the inspiring Wild Earth community!
Sarah Little, Instructor
– Growing up in the Hudson Valley, Sarah has been with Wild Earth since the very beginning. From a young age, she participated in many wilderness programs in the New England area; backpacking on the Appalachian Trail, Biking in Nova Scotia, and teaching at Summer Camp and year-round Wild Earth programs. An avid world traveler, Sarah is currently finishing her degree in Global Studies at the New School in New York City. Passionate about nature connection, Sarah continues to stretch her roots in the Wild Earth community and will be working as one of the Program Coordinators for Kestrel Camp this summer. Believing that each person has special gifts, she works to help children discover self confidence, appreciation of self, and of others.
Jessie Lotrecchiano, Instructor
– Jessie has come to resettle here in the Hudson Valley after spending most of her young life in North Carolina. After receiving a degree in Elementary Education from Appalachian State University, Jessie went on to work in various child care professions before leaving the classroom to be a wilderness therapy guide in Utah for five years. During that time she learned and taught self reliance, survival skills and natural crafts with teenagers while hiking and camping in the desert. She loves learning and exploring in the outdoors and hopes to instill that passion in her students.
Liz Malmstedt, Instructor
– Liz first discovered her love of the outdoors in college, where she learned to rock climb, camp and play in the woods. After 5 years in Seattle teaching outdoors and in-schools, Liz spent five years in Japan exploring, learning, teaching and (much to her Tokyo co-workers amazement) most every weekend in the mountains or ocean. Since moving to New York in June of 2016 she has not stopped smiling and being part of the Wild Earth family has played a huge part of that.
Mary Jane Nusbaum, Instructor
– As a child Mary Jane spent every season outdoors in Central NY skiing, swimming, hiking, canoeing, and every summer went back-woods camping in the Adirondacks with her ambitious parents and four siblings. Her two boys have grown up attending Wild Earth programs which has had a profound affect on who they are today. She piloted an art program for Wild Earth in 2013 which has blossomed into a full blown summer camp. Mary Jane is a visual artist and art teacher who has traveled extensively and has a love of world cultures, people and the natural world in which we live.
Michael Ridolfo, Instructor
– Since childhood Michael has been a student and teacher of the natural world and continues to be a life-long learner. Concurrent with his commitment as the full-time Naturalist at the world-renowned Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, NY he has taught at myriad institutions, both public and private, has worked with a broad spectrum of students from Jr. Naturalist programs to creating and running transformative programs for youth-at-risk, facilitated rites-of-passage experiences for adults and children, taught authentic survival and tracking skills to corporate groups, both domestic and worldwide, has maintained an ongoing native philosophy program for twenty-three years and much more. His passions include music, rock climbing, martial arts, cycling and teaching. He lives in Accord, NY with his wife, teacher and best friend Sophia.
Will Soter, Instructor
– Will Soter is a NYS Licensed Guide, and the Co-founder of Upstate Adventure Guides, LLC. He enjoys sharing his love and knowledge of the outdoors. Will holds certifications in CPR & Wilderness First Aid, he has completed the Master Educator training for Leave No Trace, and teaches Water Safety for Guides. Will worked as the Director of the Catskill Conservation Corps, and as a NYS DEC Licensed Guide. Will works to open opportunities for others to enjoy safe and memorable adventures in the outdoors. Will has founded the Catskill Adventure Tourism Summit, and The NY Outdoor Expo, to raise awareness to the bounty of outdoor recreational opportunities that await us, here in New York State. Will serves on the Board of Directors for the Catskill Mountain Club, as well as the New York Outdoor Guide Association (NYSOGA). He was employed by the NY/NJ Trail Conference, managing the Catskill Conservation Corp, which provides recruitment, and training services for various volunteer stewardship organizations in the Catskill region. Through all of his work, Will strives to help others find a deep and meaningful connection to the world outdoors.
Connor Stedman, Instructor
– Connor Stedman is a field ecologist and wilderness educator based in the Hudson River Valley. He holds an M.S. from the Field Naturalist and Ecological Planning program at the University of Vermont and is an expert in landscape tracking and forest forensics. Connor has shared the mysteries of the natural world with students of all ages for over a decade across North America.
Paul Tobin, Instructor – A treasured elder and inspiring teacher, Paul’s approach to life embodies much of what Wild Earth seeks to create. (Paul Tobin would not a write a bio for our website.)
Email Paul or call him via (845) 657-6818
Gowri Varanashi, Instructor
– Growing up in an alternative school, on a wild campus in India that had bears, snakes, leopards passing through and more, Gowri discovered her love for nature and animals from a very young age. She started teaching kids while still in school in India and went on to guide trips in the Amazon Rainforest in Peru, for adults and college students, while finishing her B.A in environmental studies in the US. She is a naturalist and teacher at heart who loves rock climbing, playing in nature and teaching kids.
Wild Earth Board of Directors
Micah Blumenthal, Board Member
– In all aspects of his life, Micah is grounded in community – as co-owner of CIXdesigns, a yoga teacher, a board member of the Center for Creative Education, a helping hand at the Uptown Farmers Market (come say “Hi!” on Saturdays), Community Animator at The Lace Mill, and rocket scientist for the O+ Festival – he is dedicated to creating positive change in his community. Most of all, he is a happy father of two. It is through both CCE and his daughter’s involvement with Wild Earth that he came to love and appreciate the work Wild Earth does. He has seen through his daughter the growth that a child can experience through these kinds of programs.
Mischa Cohn, Board Member
– Mischa hails from Colorado where he acquired an appreciation of natural environments during summer hiking trips in the Rocky Mountains. After studying Marketing in college, Mischa lived in San Francisco and then spent a year traveling the planet – including living and teaching English in a small town in S. Korea. That adventure culminated in NYC where Mischa launched a career in digital media strategic partnerships, met his wife and started a family in Brooklyn before moving to New Paltz in 2011. Wild Earth has been an enriching influence for his family and friends, and he looks forward to helping the organization impact diverse communities.
Laura deNey, Board Member
– Laura deNey is a devoted Wild Earth parent and an Emmy award winning filmmaker who is passionate about telling hidden stories from around the world, often focusing on gender, race and the environment. She has produced and edited dozens of hours of documentary programming and is currently executive producing a documentary television series called Hidden Heroes
, which profiles the incredible Wild Earth along with dozens of other deserving heroes. She looks forward to continue helping Wild Earth with their video storytelling and now serving on the board.
Matt Elkin, Board Member
– Known by many families in the New Paltz community as “Mr. Elkin,” Matt is a teacher at Duzine Elementary School. In more than ten years in the district he has worked with first/second grade students, including Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners. Also known at Duzine as “The Garden Guy”, Matt co-founded and currently chairs the committee for the first school garden in the New Paltz district called, The Green Classroom. So passionate about helping to shape the world of education, Matt collaborated with two other local teachers to create Inspired Learning Connections (ILC), an education consulting firm. Since childhood, the forest is where Matt feels most at home. Hiking, biking, camping and backpacking have always been favorite pastimes bringing him closer to the natural world. Matt Elkin has lived in Gardiner, NY for 12 years. In that time, he and his wife have had two children each of whom have adored Wild Earth programs since they were old enough to participate.
Stevenson Estimé, Board Member
– Stevenson is a first generation Haitian American and was born and raised in New York City. He is a visual artist whose work deals with the representation of race, class and gender in media and popular culture. He received his MFA from Hunter College and teaches art and digital photography at a private school in Manhattan. Stevenson is passionate about spending time outdoors and enjoys landscaping and gardening. His daughters have attended Wild Earth programs for many years.
Joan Ewing and Wilton Duckworth, Board Members
– Joan Ewing and Wilton Duckworth are founders of Lost Cat Farm and co-founders of Green Phoenix Permaculture. Prior to moving to Lost Cat Farm, Wilton and Joan, lived for 8 years at Epworth Camp and Retreat Center developing a super-effcient timber-frame passive solar farm house, supporting annual gardens and perennial orchards/food forests, and running educational programming for children and adults. They are certified permaculture teachers and offer all that they can in a spirit of service and reverence for life.
Doree Lipson, Board Member
– Doree is a clinical social worker in New Paltz with a focus on embodied self-growth and spiritual integration with all aged people from late adolescence to elderly adults. Doree grew up in central New York but found her first nature home in the Thousand Islands region as a camper on a beautiful lake surrounded by trees and cliffs. Her nature connection has been a steady guide in her spiritual study within the Soto Zen lineage of Buddhism and her birth religion, Judaism. Doree has served on a number of boards prior to joining the Wild Earth Board of Directors including Great Lakes PeaceJam, People’s Food Co-op of Kalamzoo and Phillies Bridge Farm Project. She can be found hiking on the Shawangunk ridge, gardening or playing with her two young children and husband.
Ana Linneman, Board Member
– Ana grew up in southern Germany, where adventuring in the foothills of the Bavarian and Austrian Alps was a big part of her life. After coming to the US, starting a family and settling in the Hudson Valley, Ana was excited to find out about Red Fox Friends, the precursor to Wild Earth. Her three children became enthusiastic participants in, and later, counselors for many Wild Earth programs. As a devoted supporter, Ana learned much from their adventures and participated in some herself. Connecting with and preserving the natural world is one of her primary interests.
Joel Oppenheimer, Board Member
– Joel Oppenheimer is a Licensed Clinical currently working at the Psychological Counseling Center at SUNY, New Paltz. Before coming to SUNY, Joel was Assistant Director at Daytop Village in Rhinebeck, New York, a long term, all male, residential drug treatment program. At Daytop, Joel applied his social justice lens working for racial and gender equity in drug treatment and criminal justice institutions. As a mental health professional Joel has been a new voice in helping individuals and groups find connections and recover from addiction, traumas, and loss. He has extensive experience working with men and is currently working on programs focused on male culture and its impacts on male behavior and mental health. Joel is a lifelong artist and performer who uses his creative abilities to implement innovative programs. Joel believes that connecting to community is one of the most powerful ways of healing and he is always seeking new ways to help people improve their mental health by telling their stories and engaging their community and natural environment.
Rovika Rajkishun, Board Member
– Rovika Rajkishun is a fundraising consultant specializing in helping nonprofits identify opportunities and challenges and developing and executing strategies with results that consistently meet, and more often exceed, measurable goals and expectations. Utilizing almost 15 years of experience in fundraising, Rovika’s expertise includes strategies for increasing revenues and diversifying funding streams, individual donor and board stewardship, and maintaining and establishing relationships with foundation and corporate grantors. Rovika has a B.A. in Comparative Religion from Barnard College. She has lived in Sunset Park, Brooklyn for the last 15 years with her husband. They now have two sons (Noah, 6 and Leo, 3), both Wild Earth participants. Rovika is also on the board of directors of Girls for Gender Equity and volunteers with Atlas: DIY.
Jason Stern, Board Member
– Jason Stern is Founder and Publisher at Luminary Media. He launched the flagship magazine Chronogram in 1993, with the aim of nourishing and stimulating the creative and economic well-being of the Hudson Valley. Since then Jason has led the launch of several magazines, web-sites, and participated in the development of a full-service marketing agency, Luminary Media. Jason attended SUNY New Paltz prior to founding Luminary Publishing. In addition, Jason serves on several not-for-profit boards of directors including Wild Earth, Re>Think Local, Institute for Creative Studies, and the Gurdjieff Heritage Society. He is a firm believer in local living economy principles and the power of a small group of dedicated people to make a meaningful difference in the world. Jason is the author of Learning to Be Human (Codhill Press, 2010) and writes regularly for Chronogram magazine and other publications. He teaches meditation and inner work internationally. Jason lives in New Paltz where he was raised, with his wife and business partner/cofounder Amara Projansky, and their two boys (who have been Wild Earth campers for ten years).
Michelle Williams, Board Member
– Michelle is a mother, actress and nature lover. As a Wild Earth parent, she has seen first hand the impact on her daughter’s life and she wants to see every child afforded the same opportunity.