Lara lepionka, founder & executive director
During the 2008 recession Lara Lepionka and her family tore out their postage stamp lawn and started an intensive urban micro-farm, feeding their family of four and creating a model for urban farming in Gloucester, MA. Having caught the gardening bug, Lara founded Backyard Growers in 2010 with a $6,000 budget, helping a handful of families in her neighborhood start their own vegetable gardens. Her ultimate goal: creating life-long gardeners inspired by the power of growing one’s own food.
She has developed Backyard Growers into a grassroots non-profit organization with an annual budget of over $250,000. Backyard Growers provides resources and support to establish vegetable gardens at homes, housing communities, non-profit organizations, and public schools, and offers accompanying programs and initiatives that promote a love of fresh, local produce. Prior to her role as Executive Director of Backyard Growers, Lara has worked for the past twenty years in the non-profit sector focusing on education, the arts and food justice issues.
aria mcelhenny, Development director
Aria McElhenny has worked in nonprofit fundraising for over 20 years, most recently as a freelance grant writer for agencies on Cape Ann and beyond. A participant in the Burnham's Field Community Garden, Aria loves being outdoors with her husband and kids and soaking up the beauty of Cape Ann.
Meghan stratton, School programs manager
As a two-term FoodCorps service member, Meghan has been involved in all aspects of Backyard Growers' school programs. After a calm month finishing her service and spending afternoons walking, swimming, and kayaking around Gloucester, Meghan became our School Programs Manager. If she's not in the office or at the Cape Ann Farmers Market, she's usually enjoying off-leash days at the beach, planning trips, or tinkering with some project or another.
anna swanson, community programs manager
Anna was Backyard Grower's first FoodCorps service member in 2013. After completing her service she moved back to her hometown of Philadelphia, where she taught farm, food, and nutrition classes on the farm and in Philadelphia schools. In May 2016, she packed her bags again and moved back up to Gloucester to start again with Backyard Growers as their Community Programs Manager. When not in the office or working with community members, Anna is usually walking her dog all over Gloucester or off exploring other New England towns.
Sam Drown, foodcorps service member
Samantha Drown grew up in a small town outside of Chicago with a desire to explore other areas around the country. She traveled to Colorado to complete her degree in Environmental Communication and discovered a new love for the outdoors, surrounded by plants. She pursued that love all the way to New England working in education and now, with Backyard Growers as a Food Corps Service Member. She also enjoys cooking, hiking, yoga and Blackhawks Hockey!
Mackenzie Sains, terracorps service member
Community engagement coordinator
Mackenzie Sains grew up in sunny Southern California and was crazy enough to find her way to the North Shore for college where she studied communication arts and creative writing. Mackenzie has traveled around the world and learned from rad people doing awesome things towards justice- through her travels she has seen food not only as a vehicle of unity, but a tool for hope. She loves the buzzing bees, crazy chickens, garlic with everything, and the sweet smell of soil.
Sarah Visnick, Terracorps service member
Youth education coordinator
Sarah Visnick is a Cape Ann local and excited to be making grassroots change in her own community. Sarah recently graduated from UMAss Amherst where she studied Sustainable Food and Farming and Education. Sarah has worked on various farms between the Northshore and the Pioneer Valley. Sarah loves knitting, danceing, and all things veggie. Fun fact: Carrots are her spirit vegetable and she even has a tattoo of a carrot!
AmeriCorps Legacy at Backyard Growers
Backyard Growers is proud to be a host site for FoodCorps and TerraCorps for over 3 years. Throughout the years we've been able to host amazing service members and see them go on to continue to do great things in their communities. From professional careers in food justice and nonprofits, serving in PeaceCorps, prestigious graduate study programs, and farm management- we are proud to be the launching pad to their ambitious careers.
BOARD of directors
Jennifer Perry, President Director of Distribution and Nutrition, The Open Door
Bethe Palmer, Treasurer Finance Consultant; board member of seARTS and Manchester Essex Conservation Trust
Suzanne R. Gosselin, DC, Clerk Harbor Health Group, PC
Betsy Brown Community Volunteer, Former Wellspring staff & board member
Sophie Courser Farm Manager, Alprilla Farm
Joel Favazza Founding Attorney, Seaside Legal Solutions; Gloucester School Committee
Frieda Grotjhan Business owner (retired)
Lara Lepionka Executive Director, Backyard Growers
Heidi McGrath Teacher, O'Maley Middle School (retired)
Conor Miller Founder, Black Earth Compost
Jen Zola Volunteer Outreach Specialist
interested in joining our board?
Do you have knowledge and skills you would like to contribute to Backyard Growers to help us sustain and grow our organization? Contact Lara Lepionka, Executive Director, if you are interested in learning more.