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.
Courtney Allen, Marketing & Communications Manager
Courtney has worked in marketing and communications for almost a decade, most recently as a consultant for small organizations and nonprofits on Cape Ann as well as cause-driven businesses further afield. Courtney started out volunteering for BYG after moving to Gloucester in 2017. She is interested in food security, community cohesion and environmental sustainability. 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
Bio coming soon!
Addy Shreffler, Education and Garden Coordinator
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.
Doug Cook, Youth Garden Educator
Doug grew up exploring the forests and fields of Washington, New Hampshire. After studying Experiential Education at the University of New Hampshire, he has had several exciting jobs that include leading back-country hiking and canoe trips around the northeast, living aboard the schooner A.J. Meerwald as an environmental educator and deckhand and Education Manager for Land’s Sake, a community farm and education non-profit in Weston, MA. In 2014, Doug and his new wife Sara lived in Nicaragua for a year and a half while building a veterinary clinic and permaculture farm. Doug just moved to South Hamilton and is a stay-at-home dad with his 2 year old son.
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
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.