Sustainable Tompkins is governed by a Board of Directors and supported by staff and volunteers.

Board of Directors

Gay Nicholson, President
Tom Shelley, Chair
Miranda Phillips, Secretary
Marian Brown, Treasurer
Don Barber
Shira Evergreen
Dick Franke
In Shik Lee

Staff Support

Gay Nicholson, Director of Programs
Karen Jewett, Director of Operations
Nancy Robbins, Bookkeeper

Board and Staff Bios

Gay Nicholson, President

Since 2004, Gay Nicholson has led Sustainable Tompkins in designing and implementing an integrated program to advance the creation of a more sustainable regional community. Gay emphasizes a systems approach to working with partners to build the infrastructure and social capacity for more sustainable ways of living and working. She has also been instrumental in the founding and development of the Green Resource Hub and its SEEN (Sustainable Enterprise & Entrepreneur Network), which focuses on expanding the regional marketplace for sustainable living. Gay participates in a number of local partnerships related to energy and climate, local investing, equity as an economic driver, and green tourism.

Gay left a career in sustainable agriculture to work in environmental advocacy and education with Cornell’s Program on Ethics and Public Life, and as executive director of the Finger Lakes Land Trust before leading the creation of Sustainable Tompkins. She has been an active volunteer in numerous community and environmental organizations, providing leadership from the local to the national level. Her B.S. in Environmental Science is from University of Virginia, and her M.S. and Ph.D. are in horticulture from Cornell University.  She currently serves on the boards of Center for a New American Dream, Green Resource Hub, and the Tompkins County Planning Advisory Board.

Thomas Shelley, Chair

Thomas Shelley attended Bowling Green University (Ohio) majoring in geology and chemistry. Most of Tom’s early working career was as a chemist doing analytical work in industrial labs.  He worked at Cornell University Environmental Health and Safety for 13.5 years, and held the position of Chemical Hygiene Officer for the last nine years of his career there.  Tom then worked part time for Cornell University Environmental Health and Safety and held other consulting and training positions for four years before his full retirement at the end of 2007.

In the ensuing years, Tom has become increasingly involved in the sustainability movement in Ithaca and Tompkins County.  He volunteers in various capacities for 12 different sustainability-related organizations including the Board of Directors of Sustainable Tompkins.

miranda phillips

Miranda Phillips, Secretary

Miranda Phillips graduated from Cornell (1997) with a BA in English. Another core interest at that time was Jewish education. In 2000, Miranda received a Masters in Jewish Education (Hebrew College, Boston) with a focus on environmental issues. After eight wonderful years at a congregation in Newton, MA, Miranda took a break from synagogue teaching to explore more deeply her interest in sustainability. She spent a delicious sabbatical year shadowing garden teachers in Berkeley, CA. On returning to Ithaca with her husband in 2006, she enjoyed volunteering and organizing volunteers with Sustainable Tompkins, and joined Interfaith Action for Healing Earth – a local group exploring the overlap between sustainability and congregational life. Miranda was also excited to study permaculture design at the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute, and continues to enjoy redesigning her house and garden with these principles in mind. When her baby daughter Julia is old enough, she also looks forward to returning to synagogue education and school gardens.

Marian Brown, Treasurer

Marian Brown, special assistant to the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Ithaca College, provides staff support for the College’s sustainability initiative, hosting educational events and documenting the campus’ sustainability progress. She supports numerous sustainability committees on the campus including the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment campus committee which is charged with developing the College’s climate action plan. She also provides logistical support for the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival.

Marian serves as secretary of the Ithaca Carshare Board of Directors and is a member of the Tompkins Renewable Energy Educational Alliance. Brown represents IC on the steering committee assisting Mayor Carolyn Peterson to implement the City’s Local Action Plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Brown, who headed IC’s purchasing department for many years, advised on the development of Finger Lakes Buy Green and is a member of the Finger Lakes Environmentally Preferred Procurement Consortium. Brown serves as president of the Southern Cayuga Scholarship Foundation.


Don Barber

Don Barber

Don Barber grew up on a 300-acre family dairy farm in Danby, NY. He received a BS and MS in engineering from Alfred University. After working as an engineer in Corning for 10 years and earning a US patent, he returned to his farming roots on 65 acres in Brooktondale. He also owned and operated a residential construction business for 25 years, purchasing only from locally-owned businesses and is a living wage employer. His early efforts in reuse and recycling were features in a tutorial for home builders in the early 1990′s. He is currently in his 8th term serving as Town Supervisor in Caroline, NY.
Don has always been conscious of his carbon footprint. He operates his farm with draft horses, bikes 3 miles to work at his Town office, and 13 years ago installed a 2KW photovoltaic system at his farm. He and his wife Rita currently operate an agri-tourism business acquainting guests with the wonder of right-off-the-vine fresh garden vegetables and sustainable agriculture.

During Don’s tenure, the Town of Caroline was one of the initial consortium of local governments to purchase their municipal electricity from renewable sources; and the second municipality in NYS to purchase 100% of its electricity from renewable sources. Caroline’s new super-insulated office building is heated by the earth (geothermal) and powered by the sun (PV).

Shira Golding Evergreen

Shira Golding Evergreen is a queer multimedia artist and activist living in Dryden. She runs Shirari Industries with her partner Ari, providing creative and consulting services to nonprofits and others who share their vision of social and environmental justice. Shira studied documentary filmmaking at Cornell University and the British American Film Academy in London and worked in the independent film industry in New York City for six years where she directed the Media That Matters Film Festival and served as Director of Education and Outreach at Arts Engine, traveling to India to help launch Adobe Youth Voices, a global youth media initiative. She also served on the board of MIX NYC, a queer experimental film festival.

Since moving back to Ithaca in 2008, Shira has plugged in to the local scene, becoming an organizer with Ithaca Freeskool and co-founding Share Tompkins, a volunteer-based group that helps people share and barter goods and services through events and online community-building. She wrote and co-directed Frac Attack: Dawn of the Watershed, a short environmental zombie thriller that explores the dark side of natural gas drilling. Her first feature film, Empowered: Power from the People, tells the story of Tompkins County residents who are meeting their energy needs through totally renewable resources, from solar and wind to veggie oil and geothermal. The film is being screened around the region and country to inspire people to take concrete steps towards a fossil fuel free future.

Richard Franke, Ph.D.

Richard W. Franke is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Montclair State University in New Jersey where he taught from 1972 to 2009. He received his B. A., M. A. and Ph. D. from Harvard University. Franke has done research in Surinam, France, The Netherlands, Indonesia, West Africa and Kerala, India on social aspects of economic development, social inequality, social justice, social movements and environmental sustainability. He is author or co-author of six books and numerous journal articles and reviews.

Franke taught courses on globalization and sustainability, nutritional anthropology, the anthropology of conflict and violence, development anthropology, research methods and non-western contributions to the Western world. In 2009 Franke and his wife, Dr. Barbara H. Chasin, moved to the Ecovillage at Ithaca where they have been participating in local area activities in support of the already advanced work on sustainability and social justice in Tompkins County. Along with Sustainable Tompkins, Franke has been actively involved with the Tompkins County Workers Center, the Sustainability Center, and the Martin Luther King Community Build.


Karen Jewett-Bennett, Director of Operations

Karen joined the staff of Sustainable Tompkins in July of 2011 after spending 20 plus years in San Francisco where she happily lived in the Haight Ashbury district. Her responsibilities include expanding the base of support for Sustainable Tompkins while running the day to day operations. Karen has a broad and deep experience in community building, non-profit management and fundraising including running a touring circus in California; coordinating neighborhood performing arts events and community celebrations in Pittsburgh, PA; organizing citizens in New York City in support of their neighborhood parks; and training and supporting peace activists to help soldiers during the first war with Iraq. From 1999 to 2007 she worked for Cornell’s Western Regional Office: connecting Cornell alumni in the seven western states to each other and to the University. For the last few years she has been honing her horticultural skills at the San Francisco Botanical Garden, and as a residential gardener in 25 San Francisco gardens. Karen grew up in Ithaca in the Northeast neighborhood and left after graduating from Cornell’s College of Human Ecology in 1979. She and her husband, Hal Bennett (a Dewitt Jr. High boyfriend) live in Dryden.