Elena Karoulina’s decision to become the Executive Director of the Benicia Community Gardens in 2011 was more than a career decision, it was a life calling. It came to her after participating in the Awaking the Dreamer symposium in Benicia that same year. “The symposium led us to look at the big picture and ask ourselves what is next for humanity, and what is mine to do,” she says. “This is when I became very interested in the relationship between humans and food.”
But this was far from the path she started on. Born and raised in Moscow, Karoulina was always driven to succeed in business. She came to the U.S. at the age of 30 to earn her MBA at Vanderbilt University, where she met her husband, a native of Mexico. She soon settled into a highly paid corporate executive role in telecommunications, but after starting a family her priorities changed. “It started with a nagging feeling that I was not doing what I was put on this planet to do.”
The journey of awakening led to her current role as Executive Director of Benicia Community Gardens, where she volunteers much of her time to pursue her life’s work. Last year the non-profit organization logged more than 3,000 hours from dedicated volunteers who help operate two community gardens, an orchard, and a range of public programs, including workshops that teach hands-on skills in building edible landscapes, permaculture, laundry-to-landscape greywater systems, and other innovative techniques for sustainable living.
In her spare time, Karoulina teaches food history at the Waldorf School in Sonoma, where her sons Daniel, 12, and Nikita, 6, attend. Most recently they prepared a Viking feast, which isn’t too far from her vision to someday create a “food village,” where people gather to rejoice in preparing and sharing affordable feasts from locally sourced, seasonal foods.
“Food is the power source of everything good and bad in humanity,” she says. “Tell me how you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are.”