Mesa Verde Gardens is a grassroots program with minimal staffing, run primarily by our own member families and Peer Leaders.
A team of one to three dedicated Peer Leaders—each a returning, experienced Mesa Verde Gardener—receive training in skills needed to manage day-to-day operations in the garden and keep things running smoothly. Through education, hands-on practice, group problem solving and ongoing coaching, these emerging leaders develop their natural empathy, and learn to encourage the strengths of their peers and lead through democratic decisionmaking and inclusion.
In 2014,10 gardeners stepped up to join our first Peer Leader Development training. In 2015, some of that cohort returned and were joined by several new Peer Leaders. This team now drives learning, participation and adherence to ground rules at their sites—a change which spreads responsibility and greatly increases internal garden sustainability and strength.
Peer Leader Demographics:
- 80% are current/former farmworkers or their family members
- 80% are Latino
- 60% men; 40% women
Vicente Lara, MPH – Executive Director
Vicente joins Mesa Verde Gardens following several years of community organizing in Salinas and CA's Central Valley for the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water (EJCW). Vicente led EJCW's effort to build institutional capacity to advance the human right to water in Central Coast communities. He holds a Master's degree in Public Health from UCLA, with an emphasis on community-based health education and health metrics. Vicente is bilingual and lives with his wife and daughter in the Salinas Valley.
Ana Rasmussen, MSW – Founder/Backyard Garden Coordinator
Ana has been a bilingual social worker in Santa Cruz County for 25 years, and has worked in the areas of community health education, child welfare, juvenile justice, and public school counseling. In 2008, her two sons recently grown, she was called to make a major mid-life career change when one of her son’s friends looked her directly in the eye and said, “This green movement—it’s the revolution of our time. No matter who you are, no matter what you do, there’s a place for you.”
She decided right there and then to quit her good job and commit herself to the cause of food justice. Over the next two years she apprenticed at City Slicker Farms and the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems at UC Santa Cruz, listening and looking for how she could best make an impact in Santa Cruz County. When she learned of the 49% childhood obesity rate in south county, the path was clear: to merge her social work experience and new sustainable agriculture training to directly impact food security among low-income families.
Abel Herrera – Facilities Manager
Abel is a 4th year Community Garden member, a Peer Leader at Mi Jardin Verde, a skilled general handyman and possibly the humblest and kindest human being on the planet.
Angelica Ortega – Outreach and Communications Coordinator
Angelica is a bilingual 4th year Community Garden member at Mi Jardin Verde, an expert canner and canning instructor, skillful communicator, and natural leader. Angelica is the strong, efficient hub of the communications wheel involving Mesa Verde Gardens' staff, Peer Leaders, gardeners and community partners.
Blanca Tavera – Peer Leader Trainer and Coach (contracted annually)
Blanca is a bilingual/bicultural community organizer, facilitator and nonprofit professional who holds a Master of Social Work degree. She brings grounded experience and deep expertise in addressing systematic oppression and leadership skills development.