Melissa Graham is the founding CEO and Head Spear of Purple Asparagus, an award-winning 501(c)(3) non-profit that educates children, families and the community about eating that’s good for the body and the planet. From 2005-2010, Melissa was also the chef-owner of a boutique catering company, Monogramme Events, and cooked for luminaries most notably First Lady Michelle Obama at a private dinner party in her home. Until 2005, she was a partner at McDermott Will & Emery LLP resident in the State and Local Tax practice group in the Chicago office.
Melissa has received several awards for her work including a 2011 Chicago Tribune Good Eating Award, the International Association of Culinary Professionals Culinary Youth Advocate Award of 2012, and the 2012 Chicago Children’s Empowerment Award. In July 2012, Greatist.com named Melissa one of the 15 Top Crusaders for Health in the Food Industry by Greatist.com alongside Alice Waters, Michael Pollan and Jamie Oliver. In April 2015, 2017 and 2019, Melissa was named one of the Chicago’s NewCity Big Heat: Food and Drink 50 -- the Dining and Drinking Cultural Leaders of Chicago, an honor also bestowed upon restaurateur and television personality Alpana Singh and former Top Chef Stephanie Izard. Melissa is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier, a professional honor society for women in the food industry.
Melissa received her bachelor’s degree from Colgate University in 1991 and her law degree from the Washington College of Law, The American University in 1994. Melissa is currently pursuing her Executive MBA at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.
Melissa has been involved with and has taken a leadership position in many local and national organizations including Les Dames Chicago (as Event Chair), Slow Food Chicago (as Advisory Board member), Green City Market (as membership chair), and the International Association of Culinary Professionals (as chair of the Kids in the Kitchen Section), and the Pew Charitable Trust (as delegation member of Supermoms Against Superbugs).
Contrary to what you might think, Melissa’s favorite vegetables are carrots and her favorite color is red.
In 2011, Rachael graduated with a BA in History from Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. She ran the vegan cafe at her college before moving back to Chicago, where she worked as a line cook at Uncommon Ground. From there, she moved to Cordova, Alaska to run her own food truck, providing gourmet food to a the small town. Most recently before Purple Asparagus, Rachael ran multiple retail locations for Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread and Wine, the city’s premier cheese shop. It was at Pastoral that she learned about Purple Asparagus and took over the role of program manager in the fall of 2017. Rachael is passionate about educating kids and families on the importance of healthy eating and believes every child, individual and family should feel empowered and have the access and knowledge to make healthy choices for themselves.
Connor has always had a passion for health and fitness. He hails from Noblesville, Indiana where he spent most of his youth. Wanting to pay homage to his Hoosier state, he attended college in Indiana. He enjoys cooking and experimenting with new oils, fats, and spices. He loves to travel and has dreams of setting foot in every country and climb the tallest peaks. A cup of cold-brew with healthy fats and pinch of monk fruit with a good book takes him to his happy place. Beyond cooking, traveling, and working out, he enjoys learning through audiobooks and podcasts.
Connor is a two-time alumnus of Ball State University, where he earned his BA in interpersonal communication studies and a Masters in Public Administration. His borrowed philosophy is “Learning is great, but it’s what you do with that knowledge counts”. He hopes to earn his health coaching certification by the start of 2020. With the certification, he can then serve the public by teaching people and working with them to build a healthier lifestyle. He hopes to help spread the knowledge that not all food is created equal, but we are and thus all deserve to be gifted the knowledge of nutrition. His favorite vegetable is sweet potato sautéed in creamy ghee butter.
Former restaurateur, Cafe Phenix, and founder of Social Media Evolution, Yevgeniya has been helping organizations to use social media marketing since leaving the restaurant industry in 2011. After managing and promoting her cafe, and with a brief mention in the New York Times, “Best coffee and breakfast in Santa Fe”, she returned to her hometown of Chicago and decided to pursue a degree in communications, with a focusing on nonprofit development and multimedia marketing. Around the same time, Yevgenia began volunteering with Purple Asparagus and later went to serve on the PA Marketing Committee.
In 2015, Yevgeniya Gozenpud founded Social Media Evolution and has been focused on helping organizations evolve by integrating SEO, PR, and social media marketing to better help people communicate and organize across the internet. Past and current clients include: Eastern Illinois University - School of Continuing Education and Alpha Sigma Lambda Honor Society (2015), as well as multiple marketing agencies and their business clients.
Originally starting out as a horticulture major in college, she began working in greenhouses and farms in high school. Her passion for horticulture, agriculture and healthy eating continued over the years and included assisting in school gardens in California and Illinois, organizing a community garden in the Triangle District of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and creating custom container gardens for local greenhouses in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. She has spent time volunteering for Hebrew Immigration Aid Society - HIAS Chicago (2014) whom were vital in her own immigration to Chicago as a child from Belarus. In her spare time she works on a wildlife habitat assisting the property owners with urban gardening, volunteers at Wagner Farm with her daughter in Glenview, Illinois, and serves as a mentor at Run For Something candidates.
Mindy Arndt is a Public Health professional who has worked in fields addressing obesity prevention since 2014. She graduated from Michigan State University with her BA in Advertising, and then worked in corporate retail planning for over 10 years. In 2013 she returned to school to obtain a Masters in Public Health, with an emphasis on health behaviors and nutrition. She moved to the Chicago area in 2017 and soon discovered and began working with Purple Asparagus. Mindy loves cooking healthy meals with her husband and young daughter and exploring her new home city of Chicago!
For Media Inquiries, reach out to our Public Spear, Shannan Bunting