Ecosystem Services Market Consortium Announces New Team Members

The Ecosystem Services Market Consortium (ESMC) is pleased to announce four new members have joined the team in its mission to advance ecosystem service markets that incentivize farmers and ranchers to improve soil health systems that benefit society. Paul Meints, Ph.D., will serve as the Research Director of the ESMRC, the research arm of ESMC. Two new Project Managers, Cassie Kniebel Aherin and Benjamin Bartley, will oversee coordination of pilot projects and protocol and certification work, respectively. Additionally, Deke Alkire, Ph.D., has joined the team to develop the ESMC Certified Technical Assistance Provider Program and the ESMC Certified Verifier Program. Caroline Wade has also been promoted to Program Director, providing leadership and coordination for linking the ESMC/ESMRC research and development, protocol development and pilot project work.

As Research Director, Dr. Paul Meints will provide research support and dissemination related to the development, demonstration and deployment of projects and activities undertaken by ESMRC. Meints has extensive experience overseeing a multi-disciplinary research portfolio across subjects including: Water Quality, Soil Health and Fertility, Agronomics and Genetics, Sustainable Polymers and Green Chemistry, Livestock Feedstocks, and Biofuels and Engine Technologies. He comes to ESMC following over a dozen years leading the research program at the Minnesota Corn Growers Association and prior to that tenured faculty at Mississippi State University working in agronomy and seed physiology research and teaching. In 2004 he departed to work in Kenya, East Africa, for three years to bring opportunities through education and on-farm example to enable Kenyans in sustainable agricultural practice and life.

Project Manager Cassie Aherin will be leading the planning, coordination and implementation of pilot projects to test and refine ESMC protocols across all regions of the U.S. and will serve as ESMC/ESMRC’s point of contact for producer customer service. Aherin grew up on a diversified farming, commercial cow-calf and Red Angus seedstock operation in the Flint Hills of Kansas and graduated from Kansas State University with B.S. degrees in Animal Science and Agribusiness. Following graduation, she worked for Elanco Animal Health for four years in sales and marketing positions with their U.S. poultry vaccines business and as an account executive on their multi-species distribution team. The past two years, Aherin served as Program Manager at the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University, administering the CattleTrace Pilot Program for animal disease traceability and coordinating partner relationships with multiple stakeholders across the supply chain. Aherin resides in the St. Louis area but is still a part of her family’s farming and ranching operation in Kansas. She will complete her Master of Agribusiness degree from Kansas State University in May 2021.

Project Manager Benjamin Bartley will lead ESMC/ESMRC’s protocol adaptation and refinement work, including management of the protocol, asset/credit and program certification process. Bartley has worked in food systems and sustainable agriculture throughout his career, from vending at farmers markets and processing livestock to working in cooperative extension and as a farm food safety auditor. His experience spans the non-profit, private, and public sectors, including employment at a cooperative, family-owned business, social enterprise, academia, and as an independent consultant. His prior positions entailed program area leadership, project management, and value chain coordination. He has a proven ability of working with a wide range of stakeholders, particularly food producers, businesses, researchers, and funders. Bartley earned a Master of Business Administration from Drexel University and is pursuing a Masters in Ecosystem Management and Administration from Penn State. He also studied at the Culinary Institute of America in New York and was a National Fellow with the Environmental Leadership Program.

Program Development Consultant Dr. Deke Alkire worked for the Noble Research Institute as a Livestock Consultant and Consulting Manager for nine years, serving producers in the southern Great Plains. Most recently, he was the Project Manager for the Integrity Beef Sustainability Pilot Project, a collaboration between the Noble Research Institute, Beef Marketing Group, Tyson Foods, Golden State Foods and McDonald’s. Alkire has an Animal Science degree from the University of Missouri, a Master’s degree from the University of Florida and a Ph.D. from the University of Missouri. He grew up immersed in agriculture in rural Missouri, is passionate about helping farmers and ranchers be good stewards of their land resources and continues to be involved in his family’s small row-crop and cattle operation.

“I am thrilled to increase the capacity of our team as we build and pressure test all aspects of our ecosystem services market for agriculture leading up to our 2022 full market launch,” said Debbie Reed, ESMC Executive Director. “Paul, Cassie, Benjamin and Deke bring a unique combination of additional expertise, experience and skills needed to strengthen our program. And the commitment and continued support of our generous funders and member partners is instrumental in moving our vision forward to reward farmers and ranchers for ecological improvements on agricultural lands.” EMSC’s past and current funders include the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research, General Mills Foundation and General Mills Inc., McKnight Foundation, Noble Research Institute, The Robert and Ida Gordon Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, United Soybean Board, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Walton Family Foundation.


About the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium

The Ecosystem Services Market Consortium LLC. ESMC’s mission is to advance ecosystem service markets that incentivize farmers and ranchers to improve soil health systems that benefit society. ESMC LLC is a member-based organization launching a national scale ecosystem services market for agriculture to recognize and reward farmers and ranchers for their environmental services to society. ESMC members represent the spectrum of the agricultural sector supply chain with whom we are scaling sustainable agricultural sector outcomes, including increased soil carbon, reduced net greenhouse gases, and improved water quality and water use conservation. ESMC Founding Circle members include: ADM; Bunge; Cargill; Corteva Agriscience; Danone North America; General Mills; Land O’Lakes Inc.; McDonald’s USA; National Fish and Wildlife Foundation; Nestle; Noble Research Institute, LLC; Nutrien; The Nature Conservancy; the Soil Health Institute; and Syngenta. An additional 37 Legacy Partners make up the ESMC. To learn more, visit


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