Project Team

Project Leaders

Cinzia Fissore, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Science at Whittier College and the Roy E. and Marie G. Campbell Distinguished Chair in Biology. Fissore teaches courses in Environmental Science, Soil Science, Climate Change, and Sustainability. She has over ten years of research experience in the field of soil science and terrestrial biogeochemistry across ecosystems, from forest to urban ecosystems, which have led to a number of peer reviewed publications and other relevant reports and documents. She has conducted work for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, and the U.S.D.A. Forest Service. Recently, she has conducted work on urban farming and on the practice of coffee-avocado intercropping at the peri-urban fringe.

Natale Zappia, Ph.D. Natale Zappia is the Director, Institute for Sustainability and Associate Professor in the Department of History at CSUN. Until 2019, he was an associate professor and the Nadine Austin Wood Chair in American History at Whittier College. His work explores the intersection of food systems, Indigenous political economies, and ecological transformations across early North America. Before Whittier College, Zappia served as the Executive Director of the Garden School Foundation, an environmental non-profit based in South Los Angeles focusing on ecological literacy. He continues his focus on food justice issues as co-director of Whittier College’s Sustainable Urban Farm Lab (SUrF) and co-director of Whittier’s Integrated Arts and Humanities Program, as well as other projects around the city.

Team Members

Scott Murray, Farm Consultant. Scott is an organic farming consultant, organic farmer, and sustainable development consultant. He has over four decades of organic agricultural production experience in the United States and Mexico. Scott’s recent projects include the conversion of 4.5 acres of an 11-acre avocado monoculture to a polyculture planting with 2,300 coffee trees. Scott has recently taught organic farming techniques to immigrant farmers from Iraq for the International Rescue Committee and to students at San Diego City College’s Seeds@City training program. He serves as president of the board of directors for Mission Resource Conservation District based in Fallbrook. He has also worked extensively on conservation projects with the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) in California and is being certified by the NRCS as an Organic Technical Services provider to work with organic farmers and carbon farming. He specializes in farmland preservation projects utilizing smart growth principles.

Andrew Margenot, Ph.D. Research Collaborator. Andrew is an Assistant professor of soil science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He has strong experience on coffee agroecosystems in Central and South America.

Delia Hitz, Field Assistant. Delia joined the team in August 2020 after years of experience as nursery manager and gardeners. Delia is responsible for the management and day-to-day operations of the experimental coffee plot at Whittier College.

Stephanie Alcala, MS. Stephanie graduated from Whittier College in 2015 and continued her studies at the University of Michigan, where she obtained a master in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology focusing on the molecular ecology of coffee and on how coffee forests create sustainable ecosystems and help mitigate climate change.

Ashkan Soltani, MA. Soltani is an Associate Professor and Director of the Film Studies Department at Utah State University. Soltani is an award-winning filmmaker whose films have screened at numerous international film festivals. In his films, Soltani explores a wide range of topics such as affordable housing, immigrant workers, indigenous land rights, and subversive music. His past documentaries include I Know You Well, Tuning the Pulse,King Coal, and Long Struggle.He is the recipient of numerous awards for his work, including sponsorship from the prestigious International Documentary Association.