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, Associate Director of School programs 

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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, Associate director of community programs


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 dogs all over Gloucester or off exploring other New England towns.

Courtney Allen, Marketing & Communications Manager


Courtney has worked in marketing and communications for almost a decade, at both global PR agencies and as an independent consultant. Courtney started out volunteering for BYG after moving to Gloucester in 2017. She got her first taste of community gardening while living in London, UK, where she was part of a group that founded a community garden in her neighborhood. In Gloucester, she is a community gardener at Burnham’s Field where she loves meeting and learning from fellow gardeners.

Abby Johnstone, foodcorps service member


Abby is excited to be returning to Backyard Growers as a FoodCorps Service Member. Inspired by her internship with BYG in 2016, Abby began researching the farm-to-school network for her senior honors thesis at Connecticut College. After graduating in May 2018, she has happily reconnected with the Gloucester community through Backyard Growers’ school programs. Outside of school gardens, Abby can be found reading at the beach, swimming, or baking cookies.

Addy Shreffler, Education and Garden Coordinator

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From bed buildings in April and May, to a cooking workshop in June, Addy has found as many opportunities as possible to work with BYG since moving to Massachusetts. Addy's first step towards becoming involved with community food projects was in opening a farm to table restaurant in Encinitas, California in 2016. Working directly with farmers opened her eyes to how empowering it can be to participate in your local food system. As a result, she left that position to pursue farming - first in California, and then right here on the North Shore! Addy is thrilled to have the chance to become even more involved with the Gloucester community and continue to empower people through their experiences with growing food. When she's not in the office or on a farm, Addy is usually canning produce, cooking meals for her friends and family, or napping on a paddle board in the ocean.

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

Dr. Brian Orr                                                                                                                                    Brian Orr Pediatricians

Elizabeth Redmond                                                                                                                            Chief Financial Officer, Pathways for Children

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.