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
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.
J. Harrison, interim program director
J. joined Backyard Growers in 2019 following 14 years in roles ranging from Executive Director and North Shore Regional Director to Farm Manager and Director of Agriculture at the Food Project. He has an extensive background in small-scale agriculture and has managed farms throughout the United States. J. has also served as the Massachusetts State Partner for FoodCorps, was a founding member of the Lynn Food and Fitness Alliance, and is currently on the steering committee of the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative.
Courtney Allen, Communications & Operations 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
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
Corinne Lippie Administrative Executive, Cambridge International Group, Ltd.; Consultant
Heidi McGrath Teacher, O'Maley Middle School (retired)
Conor Miller Founder, Black Earth Compost
Larry Oaks President, MHPI, Inc.
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.