Innovation Food Forest Who is Involved

Innovation Food Forest Team:

Donielle Nolan, Greenhouse & Gardens Specialist

A former biology student at GMU, Donielle, Doni for short, was hired as a staff member for University Sustainability in 2014 after her graduation. She realized her passion for plants while volunteering for the Potomac Heights Organic Vegetable Garden on campus as a student. She now runs the Presidents Park Greenhouse where she maintains weekly harvests of assorted greens grown using hydroponics. These greens are served on campus in the dining halls. Promoted to full time in 2016, Doni now has the pleasure of managing the Innovation Food Forest as well as the hydroponic greenhouse and student led garden.  She earned her master’s of science in plant and pest management at Virginia Tech in 2018. She is currently teaching sustainability courses as an adjunct faculty and hopes to pursue her PhD in biosciences. E-mail her to schedule a tour or ask questions at

Rhys Bethke, Recruitment Team Leader

Rhys is an undergraduate student at Mason majoring in Environmental and Sustainability Studies with a concentration in Environmental Policy & Economics. He started temporarily taking over the position of Gardens Team Leader for the Fall 2018 semester, and was kept on the team in this new position. He helps to lead volunteers during gardening hours, and assists with landscape design and related projects. Outside of University Sustainability, Rhys is also heavily involved on campus with student organizations such as GOGA, Mason Dining, the Vegan Society at GMU and Pride Alliance. He is also a part of the LGBTQ+ Living Learning Community. After he graduates in 2020, Rhys hopes to enter the field of sustainable food production. Join him by participating in the garden hours or events hosted by GOGA (GMU’s Organic Garden Association), or participate in their upcoming cooking competition for the fall 2019 season!

Alexandra Williams, Garden Team Leader

Alex was formerly our garden team leader, starting fall 2017, taking a break for the Smithsonian semester in Front Royal for the fall of 2018, and left the position to pursue conservation efforts in 2019. She was also the president of GOGA, the gardening club at GMU. She has been a huge help in the food forest, identifying fungal pests, maintaining grafted trees and managing the Potomac Heights Organic Garden in the summer of 2018.

Erika Ali, Greenhouse Team Leader

Erika was our part time team leader in summer 2017 who helped grow food at the Presidents Park Greenhouse and also helped to maintain the food forest. She graduated in 2017 with her undergraduate degree in Environmental and Sustainability Studies.

Tovah Siegel, Environmental Assistant

Tovah Siegel was a graduate student in the Environmental Science and Policy Department. She began as Doni Nolan’s assistant during Fall 2016. Her main work focused in the Greenhouse and Innovation Food Forest. She worked in the Rooftop Greenhouse during spring 2017.

Jonathan Storvick

Hired in 2014 and had to leave in 2016, Jon added so much to the Innovation Food Forest. His efforts were crucial to the development of the site. He created a detailed digital design of the plants to put in the garden according to the site’s micro-climates and needs. His experience in permaculture was very valuable and the design he created is still being implemented today. His contributions will not be forgotten, as they are set in the stones of the garden beds, in every tree and within the entire layout and design.

Elizabeth Torrens
Project Manager & Volunteer

I founded the Innovation Food Forest in 2012. Growing up playing in the woods of central Delaware, I had a connection to nature from childhood. I realized I wanted to make a study of it after experiencing hands on activities in a high school Greenhouse Management class and learning from my older brother at Virginia Tech there was a major called Horticulture. My family moved to Iowa before I could graduate high school so I enrolled in the horticulture program at Iowa State University, studied Environmental Horticulture, and graduated in 2005 with a Bachelor of Science degree. After working in a retail nursery and pumpkin patch for a few seasons, I moved into customer service in the financial industry for a while (for practical reasons) before moving back East when my husband finished his graduate degree. After moving to Northern Virginia, I began working for George Mason University in 2010 as a Grounds Worker and pesticide applicator, generally performing weed control but simultaneously taking graduate courses and learning about the innovative programs at GMU. I was able to take advantage of the 2012 intensive permaculture design certification course thanks to the generosity of Facilities Management and their desire to see those principles integrated into the campus landscapes. With the encouragement and support of many of my permaculture classmates, I wrote a grant application for the Patriot Green Fund in fall of 2012 to install a garden on campus. With the idea of integrating the important concepts of multifunctional, sustainable food systems into a little used campus landscape, Kay and I designed the site and brainstormed ways to incorporate the tenets of Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share into the operation of the garden. I now work at the Mason Enterprise Center (again – practical reasons) but I continue to lead this project on my free time and look forward to seeing it succeed with the assistance of students, staff, and local community members.

Kathryn “Kay” Fowler
Native Plants Manager & Volunteer

I have always loved being outdoors. As one of seven children I spent much time playing outside and being involved with nature. My father taught us to identify and harvest edible wild foods; persimmon, polk, cattails, mushrooms and such. My naturalist uncle, Jim Fowler, brought us a wide variety of unique animals, a cheetah a condor, anteaters. Some, a raccoon, an opossum, a crow, sparrow hawks and others we raised as pets. From this “tom-boy” girlhood I attended Oberlin College and studied athletics. I went from athletics and coaching to motherhood. In 2001 while volunteering at my children’s elementary school Arbor Day I took my first “environmental” job with Fairfax ReLeaf, a non-profit organization that plants and preserves trees in Northern Virginia. While working for Fairfax ReLeaf, I became a sponge and attended any and all workshops on trees and native plants. In the Fall of 2009 I taught a class for The National Wildlife Federation. It was in this class, from a visiting lecturer, that I first heard the term “permaculture”. But it was the permaculture course offered at GMU in the spring of 2012 that really got me on the path to the importance of local food. Through the installation of the Innovation Food Forest I am gaining experience in planting many different food bearing trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants and giving GMU a good example of the possibilities that exist on the campus to raise more fresh fruits and other foods for the community.

Robert Kupczak
Operations Manager & Volunteer

Robert is a community member who has volunteered and lead groups at multiple sites on campus. He is currently the assistant to Mark Cooley, running the Green Studio Garden located next to the art building.

University Sustainability & the Patriot Green Fund

The source of funding and motivating force to get this project off (or in) the ground. The office that currently manages the site and its employees.

Permaculture Design Certification class of 2012

A few members of the 2012 class (Elizabeth, Kay and Robert) wanted to give back to George Mason University, students and the community by collaborating on a plan of action. After many months of planning, they applied for the grant and approval from the Land and Building Committee.

Land and Building Committee

With a forward looking vision and desire to see thriving ecosystems on campus, the committee approved our landscape design and set aside the land Northeast of Innovation Hall on a permanent basis.

Facilities Management Grounds Shop

Archie, grounds shop supervisor, initially suggested the location. With the ability to do the heavy lifting by getting bulk materials delivered and the ADA compliant path excavated, this project would be moving along at a snail’s pace without the assistance of the Grounds Crew.

Edible Landscapes

Tom Hayes has been a source of inspiration and advice. Many of our plant materials were sourced from his back yard.