Our Staff

Maxson Hence (Board Member and President)

Max is a professional farmer and forester with over 20 years experience as an entrepreneur. A nine-year veteran of the U.S. military, Max received his BS in Forest Management from Oregon State University in 1994 and has since developed or otherwise been actively engaged in multiple businesses including organic farming, e-commerce, international log procurement, “for-profit” fundraising, non-profit education, and others. Mr. Hence has also been a consultant in the bio-energy sector for the past 5 years. During this time, he performed services for Dynamotive Energy Systems, Africa Biofuel and Emissions Reduction LLC, Westshore Bioenergy, and Atlantic Ethanol. Services rendered include: identifying and securing long-term supplies of feed-stocks for biomass-conversion plants in the United States and Canada; negotiation of overseas contracts related to the validation of bio-fuel(s) and their off-take; biomass market research, and the facilitation of project financing.

Max is happily married with three children and resides on an historic family farm in Westerly, R.I., where he and his wife operate Hillandale Farm and AYERSfoundation.

Ulrike Maria Hence (Secretary)

German-born and educated, Mrs. Hence is co-owner of Hillandale Farm and co-founder of AYERSfoundation (AYERS). A certified German Educator experienced in special education and early childhood development, Mrs Hence brings immeasurable experience in the art and science of growing organic food to the outdoor classrooms situated at Hillandale and other affiliated farms, where she helps teach and carry-out the mission of AYERS.

In the first year of operations, Mrs Hence, working closely with Kids First of Rhode Island, personally coordinated farm tours, work shops, and hands-on learning for nearly five hundred students at multiple farms in Westerly RI.

In collaboration with the Westerly Tower Street Community Center, Mrs. Hence successfully co-developed and managed  daily programs for thirty 6-10 year olds attending a summer farm and food camp at Hillandale and other area farms (see programs). The camp's success in 2012 has been recognized by the kids themselves, the parents, the administrators, as well as others in the community and bodes well for additional funding of summer learning programs in the future.

Mrs Hence and her husband, Maxson Hence, have embarked on a mission to enhance the education of RI and Eastern CT's youth through experiential learning and feel most fortunate that they are in a position to share the bounty of natural resources and knowledge they work with and practice every day.

David Prescott (Board Member)

David Prescott serves as the South County Coastkeeper for Save The Bay’s South Coast Center in Westerly, RI.  As the Coastkeeper, Dave provides a visible on-the-water presence and works in the community to protect, restore and promote stewardship of the southern coast of Rhode Island.  Since opening the office in 2007, Dave’s roles include advocacy for Little Narragansett Bay and the south coast, habitat restoration, experiential environmental education, and water quality monitoring and research.  In the spring of 2013, Dave officially opened the South Coast Center, an exploration center that features a touch tank and several aquaria, all featuring native marine and freshwater animals.  Prior to serving as the South County Coastkeeper, David has six years experience within Save The Bay’s education department where he played a crucial role in developing Bay-wide programming for the shoreline and classroom as well as shipboard programs on the Bay.  Dave has a graduate background in Marine Affairs as well as undergraduate degrees in Marine Biology and Environmental Chemistry.  He has been actively involved on the executive committee of the Rhode Island Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation since 2000.  Dave is an avid surfer and skier and enjoys spending time with his wife and two children.

Brendan Haggerty

“I hold a deep belief that critical thought is the most indispensable quality of a self-governing society, and therefore public education must be recognized as the heart of a functioning democracy.”  — Brendan Haggerty

Mr. Haggerty is one of two science teachers at The Greene School, where he teaches chemistry.  Armed with a Bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and education, and a personality that inspires a thirst for learning, Mr. Haggerty is undoubtedly one of The Greene School’s strongest advocates of expeditionary learning. He believes in experiential education, a process in which students are immersed in direct learning through field work which then relates back to the classroom experience

Before joining The Greene School, Mr. Haggerty taught at an expeditionary learning school in Arizona, but his desire to return to his New England roots, and its diverse ecosystems and landscapes led him to embrace the unique opportunity to serve students in Rhode Island, where The Greene School is the first and only expeditionary learning, chartered public high school. Mr. Haggerty is also a regular leader during field work trips held on site and locally within the surrounding communities of Rhode Island.

Jim Buffum (Board Member)

Jim Buffum grew up in the resort business. His family owned and managed the Weekapaug Inn in Westerly, RI and the Manasota Beach Club in Englewood, FL. Traveling to Florida for the winters and to Rhode Island for the summers was described by Jim’s Dad, Bob Buffum, as “the best of all possible worlds”. After high school in Rhode Island, Jim attended Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. Jim entered in the family business in 1987 as the Assistant Manager of the Weekapaug Inn. After spending two winters in Charleston, SC at the Yeaman’s Hall Club Jim took over management of the Manasota Beach Club. In 1996 Jim and his wife, DeeDee DeVore Buffum, became the sole owners and managers of the Weekapaug Inn with the stated goal to “maintain, improve, and cherish” the Inn for future generations. This vision led to a plan to completely renovate the Inn into a sustainable business capable of thriving into the future. The Inn was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, applied and received a town permit to become a Historic Oceanfront Hotel, and the new Inn was designed to Silver LEED specifications. The town of Westerly issued a building permit for the project in July 2008. Due to the inability of Jim and DeeDee to acquire financing for the project they sold the Inn to members of the community with a similar vision and belief in the importance of the Inn to the fabric of the communities of Westerly and Weekapaug. Today others can stay or dine at the Inn and enjoy this uniquely beautiful location where we are so lucky to live. As an innkeeper without an Inn, Jim obtained his real estate license and is currently an agent with Coleman Realtors in Watch Hill. In the hopes of continuing and improving his knowledge of the hospitality business Jim attended Johnson and Wales University in Providence RI and obtained a Masters in Business Administration with a concentration in Hospitality Marketing. Jim hopes to continue his career in the hospitality field and use the business as a way to show people that simple, sustainable living combined with positive human interaction and conversation leads to profound happiness and well being.

Patrick Strauss

           Patrick Strauss is an educated young chef entrepreneur from New York who dedicated his life in the service of others. His experience                     includes his Master degree in Business and Finance, Michelin Kitchens, Religh & Chatuex, Agriculture, philanthropic endeavors, and most             recently his culinary backpackers excursion across Europe, Africa and the Middle East. In his most recent venture, FreshCon, Patrick                     innovates a new approach toward sourcing Local food by sharing the energy he derives from his faith - and his love for food - with his                   partners to help overcome the obstacles toward realizing a healthier and more spiritually connected world for all.

Matthew H. Thomsen

Matthew H. Thomsen - University of Connecticut (BA, 1980), Western New England College (J.D., 1983) and Emory University (LL.M., 1984).  Licensed to practice law in Rhode Island and Connecticut and before the Connecticut Federal District Court and the U.S. Tax Court.  Member of Thornton, Thomsen, Cavaliere & Arsenault, Inc.  since 1987.

Law practice focuses on estate planning, from very simple plans to very complex estate plans, federal and state estate and income tax issues, such as transactional tax planning and audits, small business planning and administration. Firm represents or has represented many non-profit and public entities, including The Watch Hill Conservancy, the Weekapaug Foundation for Conservation, and two fire districts. Audit experience with the IRS, the Connecticut Department of Revenue and the Rhode Island Division of Taxation includes representing clients from the initial field audit to appealing IRS decisions to the U.S. Tax Court or applicable state court. Firm has also represented many taxpayers regarding property tax assessments and has given seminars on property taxation for the National Business Institute

Mr. Thomsen has served or volunteered on the Town of Westerly’s Finance Board, Charter Commission, Manager Search Committee and Harbor Commission, and Dunns Corners Fire District. He has also served as Director of the Washington County Literacy Volunteers of America, Chairman of the Westerly Hospital Foundation, as a Trustee of the Westerly Hospital’s Board of Trustees,  led a Legal Explorer Post for the Boy Scouts of America (Matthew in an Eagle Scout), and served as a member of the Development Committee for The Westerly Library and for the Stand Up For Animals organization.

Other memberships include member of theand associations include those with the Watch Hill Yacht Club (Past Commodore), the North End Club and the Bocce Club.

Mr. Thomsen is married to Adrienne N. Hall and has two daughters, Mallory and Helena Hall-Thomsen.

Sharyn Singer  

Sharyn Singer is a former registered nurse, a Naturopath-UK (London College of Naturopathic Medicine and Health Sciences), tutor and full time professional chef.

Her enthusiasm for Naturopathic principles and particularly ‘food as medicine’ takes her work to many different levels.  Having recognized the profound health benefits foods offered while working as a nurse, she has studied and embraced an understanding of food in various ways. For over 35 years she has worked with, taught and continued to learn and appreciate the benefits of authentic, wholesome, nutritious and seasonal food. Sharyn has extensive experience giving talks and workshops as well as teaching Naturopathic Nutrition in different educational capacities; co-directing and tutoring at the London College of Naturopathic Medicine and Health Science, various schools of complementary medicine as well as mainstream education.  She cooks professionally and privately, providing healthy, wholesome foods and specializes in an individual’s unique food requirements. Dedicated to promoting healthy attitudes to food throughout life, beginning with very young children, Sharyn has developed an educational project ‘Eat a Rainbow Every Day’ which encourages children to grow, cook and eat vegetables and fruits and wholesome food in imaginative, colorful and fun ways. These have been used in the US and UK in schools and at food festivals, summer camps and library programs.

Currently Sharyn works full time as a chef and offers talks, workshops and adult cooking classes on healthy eating. 

Gay Warren

Mrs. Warren's bona fides are 25 years of experience designing and building gardens;  city gardens, country gardens, beach gardens, desert gardens, tiny gardens, huge gardens, moss gardens, and mountain gardens.

In 2010, when Westerly suffered what was called a "500-year" flood, Mrs. Warren was living on the Pawcatuck River. That event had a direct impact on her home, work, and life and forced her to change focus. She realized there had to be a change of attitude regarding sustainability, and started thinking differently about the "suburban yard" — how each yard can be designed so as to manage storm runoff and make use of the water, if properly contoured. Mrs. Warren began to implement her ideas at home and after a couple of years of preparation, she began a vegetable garden. It wasn't her first,and after years of designing and planting mostly decorative gardens,  it had a potent impact — growing food is the most powerful makeover opportunity for the American yard.

As Mrs. Warren was experiencing this compass-change in her life, a chance meeting on Main St. introduced her to Uli and Max Hence, of Hillandale Farm in Westerly, RI. They asked her to become mentor to a group of 1st- and 2nd-graders from Westerly schools, participating in a summer program, "School to Farm," associated with the Tower Street Community Center.

Mrs. Warren was told the children's math and reading skills declined during summer vacation, necessitating a period of "catch-up"  each fall. While the "School to Farm" program focuses mainly on the natural sciences, it's easy to cover a number of subjects. Each child kept a "journal". They were asked to save the sticker from bananas (for example). They would find out where the bananas originated, how far they'd traveled, would guess how they were transported, etc., then write the information in their journal, with drawings.

After a couple of "classes" at the Hillandale Farm, Mrs. Warren was invited to visit the Tower Street School Community Center, where she was mightily impressed with the work going on there. Rather than a frivolous pastime, to be forgotten when the summer ends, the program has great potential. Every spring, gardening companies look to hire high school students as part-time laborers. In her experience, it's hard to find young people who know anything about gardening, let alone farming. It is her hope that this highly successful program will build on the foundation of this first class, so that a few years down the road there will be knowledgeable gardeners, ready for the job-market, and well-suited to mentor younger students.

Mrs. Warren's generation was inspired by the Peace Corps. Young Americans went all over the world hoping to make life better for everyone. Her dream now is for a Garden Corps that teaches children, starting in 1st grade, how our planet works, from the living soil up, and to use the land where they live in a productive, sustainable way. 

Mrs. Warren's summer with these children has renewed my optimism. She encourages Westerly residents to visit the Tower Street Community Center and see the gardens the kids have started - it's only the beginning.   

Kyle Hence

Kyle is co-founder of president of Sustainable Aquidneck, a Newport non-profit working toward sustainability on Aquidneck Island. He is also a frequent contributor to ecoRI News, Rhode Island’s environmental news source. To whatever he undertakes, Kyle brings a broad set of skills derived from experiences as a sailor, photographer, documentary filmmaker and citizen watchdog. He ran Newport’s adaptive sailing program Shake-A-Leg for several years. He produced the first electronic field trip series utilizing Satcom M technology. A 2006 documentary “9/11: Press for Truth” Kyle produced featuring the widowed Jersey Girls was distributed globally.

During his 2011 fellowship with the Social Venture Partners of Rhode Island, Kyle developed the vision for RingREVOLUTION. He subsequently organized the Food & Farming Community Forum to support the local food movement before establishing Sustainable Aquidneck. Kyle is a founding member of “The Change Place,” a newly created social venture incubator in the heart of the Newport waterfront. He calls Aquidneck Island home. Contact him at kylehence@earthlink.net

Keith M. Cowley (Creative Consultant/Designer)

With a background in the geo-sciences, a naturalist and wild food forager, Cowley brings his intimate experience with the natural world to the table, pioneering his vision for an American Traditional Ecological Knowledge (ATEK) system. With the mission of networking together sustainability-minded educators he founded the New-Native Foundation in 2012. As the volunteer resident Naturalist and Program Coordinator (and Community Garden manager) for The Westerly Land Trust, he helps develop educational programs and marketing that support the mission and strengthen partnerships. He has also been employed in a similar capacity with the Tomaquag Museum, which focuses on preserving the stories and culture of Southern New England Tribes. For over ten years has worked as an exhibit designer, scientific illustrator and creative consultant, services he now offers to causes he believes in, like the Ayer's Foundation.

Cowley is the author of Presence, and Environmental Connection: A New-Native Initiative (Wild Animal Publishing, 2012). He resides in Westerly Rhode Island where he offers workshops, seminars and lectures, foraging walks and awareness/immersion hikes to his community.

Shannon Tibbetts

Shannon is especially talented in creating innovative ideas to reach goals and work towards the future. She is the CEO of Imaginif Media LLC and provides creative services and solutions for clients through program development, talent resourcing and community engagement.

Shannon has a degree in Television Production with 25 years in the Media and Marketing Industry and has received several awards for both broadcast and marketing. Her extensive Management and Technology expertise combined with educational program development and event coordination provides an unmatched resource for increasing awareness and ongoing program development.  Over the years, Fortune 500 companies, such as Hasbro, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Disney, ESPN and Motorola, consistently relied on her services as a result of her performance in high pressure situations requiring tight deadlines, creative direction and critical thinking.

In addition Shannon has experience creating hands-on educational programs from preschool through adult and in the last few years began focusing on the importance of getting families more connected with how to fuel their mind, body and spirit. In 2015 she began a second business dedicated to helping others live an active, healthy lifestyle through basic nutrition and proper supplementation, and to bring fun fitness back into daily life. It is her goal to help educate as many as possible on the importance of how we can fuel our body for optimal health, including providing free hands-on workshops on basic nutrition, hikes in our natural resources and workshops for goal setting and self improvement. She participates in the Advocare Champions for Children Foundation to help raise awareness in the fight to end childhood obesity and developed our own Dig Deep program, a community wide basic gardening initiative, to educate and gather for the purpose of helping people to understand our bodies’ connection with food, how it is grown, and the nutritional benefits of locally sourced food and sustainable agriculture.