Meet our crew!
Tamara O’Brien is a garden facilitator/consultant and pollinator advocate. She is the co-founder and co-president of the Western Pennsylvania Area Wild Ones Chapter. Wild Ones is a national nonprofit dedicated to the restoration and preservation of natural habitats through native plants and natural landscaping practices. Tamara is also the founder and CEO of a local nonprofit Plant it Further which strives to educate about pollinator importance, their reliance and relationships with native plants, and helps implement more permaculture style school and community gardens. Additionally, she serves as a mentor for the Pitt Plant to Plate Urban Student Garden and sits on the PA Farm to School Policy Implementation group, as well as a few other garden implementation groups.
Tamara is the third generation in her family practicing proper land care techniques, her mother’s family still lives on and runs their biodynamic farm in Hungary, and her father is known around Pittsburgh as Tom the Tomato guy. There has never been a point in her life that she has not been a part of homesteading and plant cultivating. After college Tamara worked in the family business, Eva Szabo Skin Care, learning plant properties, bringing in the skin care line Eminence, and taking over the making of the skin care products Eva learned how to make in Austria until 2017 when Tamara had her youngest daughter and made the full shift into the garden facilitating world.
Tamara was born and raised in Pittsburgh, she grew up in the Fox Chapel area and got her first few volunteer hours as a teen at Beechwood Farms and being a wilderness camp counselor for what was then Camp Sequanota. She started college at the University of Pittsburgh but finished school in Hungary at the Corvinus University of Budapest. She stayed in Hungary for two years to spend time getting to know her roots and further learn proper Earth Care practices. She has a PDC through Verge permaculture and is a Penn State Master Gardener with Lawrence County. She was selected in November 2021 to sit as one of seven judges on the review board for the Wild Ones Lorrie Otto Seeds of Education Grant. This year she is continuing her education by taking the “Teaching in Nature’s Classroom” course offered virtually via the University of the Pacific.
Tamara is mother to three humans, two dogs, and a backyard flock of chickens. When not in someone else’s garden she can be found on her own “farmden” in Mt. Lebanon, PA for a short while longer. Her family has recently sold their 15 yr old garden (with house attached;) and will be relocating to a large acreage to create a pollinator sanctuary, permaculture farm and teaching center in Lawrence County, PA.
I began my love of the soil on the hillsides of Marin County as a child under the tutelage of Mrs Terwilliger, maven and conservationist, whose wise lessons taught me all about native species, ecosystems, and the interdependence of all living things. I grew my first real garden in nursery school with a Stone Soup Garden and progressed to have organic garden learning first hand in both volunteer opportunities with the Marin Horticultural Club and in West Marin on Farms that are still in production today serving the San Francisco Bay Area. I worked at the famous Marin County Farmer’s Market at the Frank Lloyd Wright built Marin Civic Center several summers and shopped there every Sunday Morning. In high school, I volunteered with the Nature Conservancy for 3 weeks intensives each year removing non-native plant species from the State and National Shoreline Parks: mostly Scotch Broom and Poison Oak.
I went to college at the University of Redlands with a vocal scholarship and quickly realized my love was with animal husbandry and being outdoors. I changed my focus to pre-Veterinary Medicine to accommodate this need. During the course of my education I opened a dog walking and training service in the East Bay Area and it became an overnight success, keeping me more than busy for 13 years and allowing me to spend more time in my own garden and on trails and in wild spaces studying the ecosystem. I was able to familiarize myself with a whole different assortment of flora across the Bay. During that time, I met my husband, started a family, and we moved across the country to Connecticut.
In Connecticut, while familiarizing myself to an entirely different climate, I began to study permaculture, organic and urban micro-farming, straw bale building, and raised a large flock of free ranging chickens. I learned chipmunks will steal any and everything edible as do deer, racoons, badgers and all sorts of hungry ground predators. I invested a large chunk of time at Common Ground High School in New Haven seeing how principles of organic land management and sustainable agriculture can be taught from the youngest of ages. While most of most of my time was dedicated to raising my three young children- hiking, walking in the forest, picking blueberries and learning all the little songbirds and beneficial insects that came to our garden, we did grow a successful organic community garden plot and a smaller fairy garden filled with preying mantis, lady bugs and wildflowers.
Nearly 4 years ago, we relocated to the South Hills of Pittsburgh. The very first project, even before our furniture arrived, was flipping our front lawn into a pollinator and hummingbird garden. I have a food forest backyard that is abundant and where I take care of my mental health. I love growing heirloom vegetables and inserting edibles into my landscape anywhere I can. I have been avidly working away at familiarizing myself with the local nurseries, community groups, neighborhoods and natives. I have been working as a garden coach and boutique organic and native garden designer for about a year and I have been enjoying the success of teaching and sharing knowledge with anyone who wants to learn.
I am in the process of obtaining my Permaculture Certification and my PA Master Gardener. I am currently enrolled in Teaching in Nature’s Classroom and am always reading and absorbing more knowledge.
Kristen Johnson is a painter, graphic designer and art educator. She has been teaching Elementary Art in the Pittsburgh area for the past 14 years. She received her BFA from Carnegie Mellon in 2002 before moving to New York City where she worked as a graphic designer for 5 years. In 2008 she moved back to Pittsburgh where she obtained her Masters in Art Education from Carlow University. She has helped grow support for community care in her school district by serving as a Union representative in her district before growing her own family.
If you asked Kristen she would say she has a black thumb but she always grows a beautiful garden of peppers and cooking herbs. She is a farmers market regular and loves to support local CSA farms. When not working she loves to cook with fresh locally sourced food, paint her cares away, dance like nobody’s watching, and help foster a love of Earth care in her daughter through play.
Noelle O’Brien is a senior at Mt. Lebanon High School as well as the Secretary and Co-founder of Plant it Further. During her junior and senior year in high school, she held the position of the student representative of Mt. Lebanon’ Nature Conservancy where she took the roles of teaching and filming various projects such as maple tapping local trees and educating third graders about the ecosystem in addition to assisting in managing the public parks.
This past fall, Noelle also gave a hands-on presentation to Pennsylvania’s student council students at the PASC State Conference on the importance of native plants and pollinators which concluded in every attendant planting their own milkweed plant to take home. Additionally, she enjoys cooking and baking with flowers and ingredients from her garden as well as creating artwork primarily using pen. She also designed and drew both of her floral tattoos.
Noelle enjoys spending time with her free-roam rabbit, Cricket and her 26 house plants. This fall, she will be attending Chatham University class of 2026 and majoring in Environmental Sciences. Eventually, she aspires to go to law school for Environmental Law.
Julia Steiner is an educator and life-long learner who takes her teaching beyond the walls of the classroom. Julia has a B.S. in Agricultural Sciences from the University of Delaware and dual certifications in Elementary and Special Education from West Chester University and Immaculata University. As a former classroom teacher, she realized that too many people were growing up without any sort of connection to the environment. Julia’s background in agriculture and conservation plants the seed to empower others to see the connection between digging in the soil and the health benefits that growing your own food provides, while her education hat feeds various perspectives on how to reach a variety of learners. A self-taught gardener, food preserver, “recipe tinkerer” and health & wellness adventurer who relishes in sustainable lifestyle choices, Julia finds joy in sharing ways others can benefit from a similar economical mindset.
When not experimenting with ways to improve her gardening systems, or trying out new seed varieties, Julia can be found spending valuable time with her greatest 2 and 4-legged loves and food concoction samplers. You can also spy her doing pretty much anything outdoors along the lines of mountain biking, jogging or paddleboarding in local open spaces or listening to too many podcasts while slowly working through her pile of “books to read”.
Julia’s mantra in the kitchen and garden is to challenge yourself to take on a perhaps unrealistic challenge each growing season. Last year she had tomatoes until Thanksgiving and this year it was lettuce through the winter in her living room. JuliaSteiner.com
Part of garden facilitating is often about securing project funding, particularly through grants. This means Plant it Further needs a solid grant writer to tell our story, so we collaborate with the grant-writing duo at ecoTHINK.
Amrit Chima is the team writer. Her history as a professional journalist and storyteller has been very advantageous to her clients. She nails tone and word choice, her project narratives fully capturing her clients’ intentions. Her portfolio is diverse, but she most enjoys using her expertise to write grants for impact-driven programs. Have a look at her LinkedIn profile to get a sense of her style and to see her latest projects.
Shayna is ecoTHINK’s resident business and sustainability expert. She’s mapped the field pretty thoroughly throughout her career, having worked in both corporate and small-business environments (DuPont, Heal-the-Bay Santa Monica Aquarium, SCS Global Services, and The World Green Building Council). Shayna also cofounded the Impact Hub in Budapest, part of Impact Hub Global, a vast entrepreneurial community at the very center of social enterprise. Currently she consults for Monmade, a Pittsburg-based non-profit that accelerates and supports regional artisan producers.