Board of Directors and Staff

Board Members

Sara Johnstone

Sara Johnstone, President 2022- Current
Sara Johnstone is a results oriented operator with over a decade experience in the tech start-up industry. Her background spans hospitality, sharing economy, e-commerce, blockchain and venture. She is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Numundo – a network of 900+ regenerative land projects around the world. Previously Sara was the Chief Operating Officer of Regen Network, a global fin-tech blockchain company which realigns incentives for regenerative land stewardship. Sara is passionate about reversing climate change, regenerative finance, permaculture, food sovereignty and community movement-building. She takes inspiration from her studies in regenerative business, the Solarpunk movement, and the eco-village movement.

Candice Orlando

Candice Orlando, Vice President 2021- Current
Candice Orlando (she/her) is a farmer, small business owner, filmmaker, mother and wife. Candice has a BA in Environmental Studies which led her to become a farmer and herbal medicine maker. After farming in Denver for 7 years, Candice, her husband and daughter moved to the North Fork Valley in 2016. They are now the stewards of a 5 acre farm in Paonia, CO which traditionally was/is the land of the Ute Indians. Her and her family grow hemp, medicinal herbs, vegetables and fruit on the land that runs along the North Fork of the Gunnison River. In 2018, Rock ‘n Roots Farm was born and now they sell their handcrafted CBD products, teas, salves and dried medicinal herbs..
She has also worked on 2 award winning documentaries and is currently working on a documentary called, Still Here. She also sits on the board of Frontline Farming in Denver as the Treasurer which is transforming, decolonizing, tearing down and recreating systems that perpetuate systemic racism and discrimination. Candice loves to creating magic on the farm for kids, taking hikes, cooking delicious vegetarian food and most of all, spending time with her family and friends.

Rachel Schmitzer

Rachel Schmitzer: 2021- Current
As a student of Cultural Anthropology and Global Sustainability, Rachel cares deeply about how humans shape their lives, their landscapes, and their futures. Working with TLC allows her a means of exploring these themes, as well as a way to help her community access new avenues of art, education, and cultural experience. Rachel has worked as a seasonal Wilderness and Trails employee with the Paonia Ranger District since 2019. Her work takes her on mule-back deep into the back-country wilds of the West Elk and Raggeds Wildernesses where she works on trail clearing and improvement. She is also a co-owner of Remedios Hemp, a local, organic CBD company dedicated to affordable hemp products for everyone and their pets.

Patrick Liberty

Patrick Liberty, Treasurer 2020- Current
Patrick hails from the mountains of Colorado, and now resides in Paonia, where his family runs a sustainable and biodynamic farm. He has traveled the world over, which has influenced his approach to business and life. To keep him grounded and balanced through it all, Patrick has found time to practice Sheng Zhen, a form of moving and non-moving meditation, every day for the last 12 years. Patrick Liberty is co-founder of Akomplice, an 18-year old clothing brand distributed at boutiques all over the world. Akomplice is known for its sustainable production practices, social and political designs, philanthropic and environmental initiatives, as well as its storied collabs. In 2018 Patrick opened The Linden Health & Wellness Center in Paonia, CO, which hosts leading practitioners who offer a wide variety of healing modalities to the community.

Taya Jae

Taya Jae, Secretary 2022 – Current
Taya Jae (she/her) is a documentarian and storyteller whose work is centered on the human experience. Born in the North Fork Valley and raised in small towns all across the US, Taya returned to her birthplace 5 years ago. Taya works as the Production Coordinator at KVNF Mountain Grown Community Radio where she produces weekly public affairs segments, coordinates and communicates with 67 Volunteer DJ’s and ensures that all KVNF content is substantial and high quality. Taya is a Graduate of Bennington College and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Her work with TLC allows her to invest in the long term wellbeing, sustainability and progress of her community and its members.

Staff Members

Alicia Michelsen

Alicia Michelsen, Executive Director 2018-current
Alicia (she/her) is the current Director of The Learning Council. She is also a village herbalist in the Wise Woman Tradition. For over 20 years Alicia has been growing medicinal herbs, making plant medicines, and teaching students of all ages how to enjoy the bounty of the green nations. Alicia sits on the board of Viva la Vida, a foundation for developing spiritual agriculture in the traditions of Biodynamic and Trinium methods. She is a Sexual Health Educator and advocate in Delta County, runs the TLC Kitchen, and curates community events and educational opportunities with a focus on Social Justice and Equity. Mother of three boys, Alicia has worked in Waldorf inspired education since 2000 and brought two groups of students through the elementary grades. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and now lives in the North Fork Valley.

Emily Goughary

Emily Goughary, Administrative Team Member
Emily (she/her) has enjoyed living in the North Fork Valley since 2014. With an inspiration to connect more deeply with the community, she joined The Learning Council as an Administrative team member in 2021. Emily acquired a BA in Environmental Studies at Hamilton College, NY focusing on sustainable cultural development, and continued to study these topics in a more village-style hands-on learning environment at Bolad’s Kitchen, New Mexico. She recently spent 3 years working with the Paititi Institute in the Andes mountains of Peru. Emily is currently studying Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy and has become a certified Death Doula. She is inspired to bring end-of-life care options and hands-on healing therapies to our community. Emily has a deep love of farming, cooking, playing music, and making moccasins and beaded jewelry.

Rose Costello

Rose Costello, Executive Director of Arts For All
Rose (she/her) has been an admirer of The Learning Council since she moved to Paonia in 2016. She joined the team in 2020, cooking alongside Alicia in TLC Kitchen, deepening her connection to the community through food. In 2021 she became Executive Director of Arts for All, TLC’s youth arts program, where she facilitates memorable creative experiences for Delta county’s youth. Her goals with TLC are to bring more events to the students of NFV, and to provide beautiful meals to the community. Her passions are working with local farmers, inspiring artists to become teachers and dance as therapy.

Alicia Toldi

Alicia Toldi, Arbol Farmers Market Coordinator
Alicia (she/her) is a creative organizer, artist, aspiring permaculturist, and traditional craft enthusiast. California born and raised, she first came to Paonia in 2013 as an artist in residence at Elsewhere Studios, and after many long visits has recently moved here full-time. She’s pleased to have the chance to deepen her relationship with the fertile North Fork Valley community as the Arbol Farmers Market manager.

Ben Katz

Ben Katz, Grant Writing Assistant
Ben (he/him) began working for the Learning Council in 2022. He grew up in Connecticut and graduated from the University of Vermont in 2012 with a B.S. in Environmental Science. As the grant writer for the Learning Council, he enjoys working with the staff and board to direct grant funds into this wonderful organization. In his free time, he enjoys laughing, eating, and being with his partner Kenzie and their dog Otis.