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Meet the Team

Theo Ferguson Vital SystemsTheo Ferguson, Founder and Trustee

In 2009, Theo founded Vital Systems, which became one of the earliest California Flexible Purpose Corporations, incorporated on January 17th, 2013. Vital Systems supports people aligning their values, passion and money to source food locally and grow regenerative economies. In this arena, Theo is also a founding member of Slow Money. She facilitated the formation of the local chapter for Slow Money Northern California. She is an active member of the SOIL Network (Slow Opportunities for Investing Locally), an activity of Slow Money NoCal. Theo focuses on community benefit investing in food and farming infrastructure.

Vital Systems evolved from the non-profit Sustainable Ventures, which Theo founded and for which she served as Executive Director. Sustainable Ventures catalyzed values-based purchasing decisions by elevating true cost pricing and true cost accounting resulting in integrated information about environmental, social, governance, and financial sustainability.

In the private sector as a sole proprietor, Theo launched an export management consultancy, Export Profiles, representing renewable energy and resource management products and services to South and South East Asia and the People's Republic of China. She has also incorporated and served as Executive Director for three other non-profit organizations working in energy, arts, and sciences. During the course of her career, Theo has held positions in the public sector as well, including the City of Nuremberg, the California State Government, and the National Science Foundation.

David Corson-Knowles Good Food Web Vital SystemsDavid Corson-Knowles, Director of Strategy

David Corson-Knowles joined Vital Systems and Good Food Web as Director of Strategy in June 2013.

For the previous three years, David served as the chief technical officer and Associate Director of Slow Money, connecting a national network of investors interested in rebuilding healthy local food systems across the US and abroad. In 2009 and 2010, David took administrative and operational responsibility for the start up of Gather Restaurant in Berkeley, California. His previous work experience ranges from forest conservation and grant administration to hands on work with mathematically gifted university students with disabilities.

David earned his bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Yale University, where he also worked as a researcher for the Program on Agrarian Studies. While an undergraduate, David served on Yale’s Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, charged with ethical oversight of the university’s multi-billion dollar endowment. Taking this responsibility seriously, he worked to increase the transparency and openness of the committee, to publish annual reports for the first time, to extend its purview from the 20% of the endowment in public stocks to include all assets — particularly private equity and foreign bonds — under management, and to divest from oil companies violating human rights in the war zones of Sudan and Burma.

As part of the launch of Gather Restaurant, David produced a Source Book, documenting where all the food in the restaurant came from, which gained coverage in The San Francisco Chronicle and the NY Times. This "Source Book" concept was later parodied in the hit first episode of the TV show Portlandia.

David first learned to hand code web pages from a 1998 course taught by the Library of Congress while he was a US Capitol intern.

Andrew Hasse Vital Systems Good Food WebAndrew Hasse, Storytelling Strategist

As Vital Systems’ filmmaker and storytelling strategist, Andrew Hasse is a native and current resident of Berkeley, California. He is a graduate of the NYU Film and Television program, and co-founder of Waverly Films, a successful music video and commercial production collective based in Brooklyn. After moving back to the Bay Area in 2005, Andrew has focused his efforts on making films that envision a more ecologically and socially just future. His most recent film, Edible City, is an inside look at the local food revolution that’s happening in the San Francisco Bay Area and around the world. Andrew is proud to help share Vital Systems’ work and vision.

Gerardo Marin Vital Systems Paths to Heal the LakeGerardo Marin, Project Manager for Pathways to Heal the Lake

Gerardo is a community organizer and youth mentor, cultural activist, facilitator, healer and inner-resilience educator. At Vital Systems, he serves as the liaison and project manager for Pathways to Heal the Lake, in partnership with indigenous Mayan women and community organizers working to revive the Mayan cosmo vision and heal the Sacred Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. As project manager, he coordinates efforts around 22 pueblos for cultural workshops, disaster preparedness, collective healing and community resilience. In addition, the project focuses extensively on training young women to be environmental guardians.

Gerardo offers strategic planning, leadership development, and facilitation to grassroots organizations in the U.S. and abroad, providing a range of workshops in inner-resilience through expressive arts, movement, meditation, and healing ritual. He is a practitioner of healing arts based in Mexican tradition and Chinese acupressure, weaving his offerings for boosting our movements of peace, healing, power and justice. He has been recognized and supported by the San Francisco Foundation's five year Koshland Civic Unity Fellowship and the Art of Living Foundation City Leadership Corp. Gerardo graduated from Colorado State University and is based in Oakland, CA.

Li An Phoa Vital SystemsLi An Phoa, European Representative

Li An Phoa is a passionate systems-thinker engaged in research, holistic learning and creation for sustainable food, water, and vital living. She explores how we can embody and live together in the Earth-Body with ourselves, each other and all other living systems. Li An holds three masters degrees, one in Business Administration, one in Holistic Science, and one in Philosophy. She lived for seven years as a nomad. Since 2005, Li An has been teaching an outdoors course ‘Companies in Ecologies’ that she co-designed at the Rotterdam School of Management. She researches responsible business practices, including examples like preparing Unilever’s 'Sustainable Living Plan' and studying the impact of dairy and beef for the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform. In 2012, Li An co-founded Spring College, which takes hundreds of people outdoors for courses on ecology and economy, our daily lives, and visions for the world.

Sally Prowitt Good Food WebSally Prowitt, Project Manager for the Good Food Web

Sally is the project manager for the Good Food Web (Vital Systems' flagship project), which will be an online platform to help grow local food systems and local economies. Prior to working for Vital Systems, she was a researcher in the climate and energy program at the World Resources Institute, exploring how to incentivize private sector engagement in climate adaptation and long-term sustainability. Having trained in the field of psychology, Sally is also very interested in building capacity to overcome individual and collective barriers to creating more a more sustainable society, and in strengthening communities in the process. She is a San Francisco native with a weakness for classic cars, World Cup soccer, useless knowledge, and British television.

Andrew Thorbecke Vital SystemsAndrew Thorbecke, Bookkeeper

Andrew is the bookkeeper at Vital Systems, Inc. His love of systems analysis and learning new skills combined with his interest in economics, social justice, and food politics led him to Vital Systems. In his spare time, Andrew is devoted to trans and queer community building, asking difficult questions, interrogating and reconstructing masculinity, and cooking with his family and community.

Vince Trotter Good Food WebVince Trotter, Good Food Web Consultant

At Vital Systems, Vince leverages his experience as a farmer and advocate to map the sustainable food community, engaging stakeholders and inviting collaboration as well as contributing to the strategic vision of the Good Food Web.

Vince Trotter started his professional life as an English teacher, evolving later into a trainer and facilitator for Kaiser Permanente where he helped to develop collaborative workgroups and redefine workplace relationships. After a few more twists and turns, he eventually (and quite unexpectedly) felt the pull of his agricultural roots and found himself deep in farming and food system advocacy. After several years working on organic farms in the Sierra foothills and coastal California, he has found a “sweet spot” at the intersection of education, agriculture and activism - helping producers and consumers join together to tackle the complexity of growing food and feeding community. And while he works toward a better food system for all, Vince is working alongside his wife to raise their son and teach him the importance of growing food sustainably, raising livestock ethically and eating well with those you love.

Ann Valliant Vital SystemsAnn Valliant, Operations and Finance Manager

Ann Valliant has been working with Theo Ferguson since 2006. She currently serves as operations and finance manager for Vital Systems.

Born in 1945 into a white Southern family of small farmers/ranchers and skilled trades entrepreneurs, Ann was trained from birth to continually evaluate the intended and unintended consequences of the way things are done. Black women's clarity in the Southern civil rights movement inspired her to deeply engage in feminist and class analysis and activism. Thanks to the women's liberation movement, by the late '60s she understood the connections between her father's liver failure from herbicide poisoning, the benefits and costs (and to whom) of assigning subservience to groups of people and the inescapable necessity and power of inspiring change in one mind, one heart, at a time. In the mid-'80s, Ann recognized that computers would revolutionize business; they remain her favorite tool and toy. Since then she has consulted with small businesses in a variety of industries, implementing software for operations, helping their staff change their practices and upgrade their skills.

She came out as a lesbian, had a baby in 1981 by donor insemination, became a disciple of Gurumayi (Swami Chidvalasananda) and continues to plant trees and put in gardens everyplace she can get her hands into dirt. Her constant question: what is served by believing this thought?

Beth Waitkus Vital SystemsBeth Waitkus, Outreach Consultant

As Vital Systems’ outreach consultant, Beth supports both organizational and project outreach activities, including writing, editing and development of outreach strategy and implementation. With more than 20 years planning and implementing strategic communications campaigns and doing organizational consulting in the public, private and non-profit sectors, Beth facilitates strategic planning and alignment of business systems, facilitates messaging and positioning sessions, and has conducted target audience and competitive analysis research and done extensive media and community outreach.

As part of her deep commitment to community service and environmental and social justice issues, Beth founded and continues to manage in the Insight Garden Program, currently at San Quentin State Prison. She has won accolades for her prison work as runner up for the Agape Foundation’s Peace Prize; is featured in the book, Eco Amazons: 20 Women Who are Transforming the World by Dorka Keehn; and recently won the Hotchkiss School’s 2013 Community Service Award. She regularly speaks about the power of nature to transform lives and spends her free time hiking in the redwoods, playing in the waves, and biking through dust in Black Rock Desert.

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