Our Team

Vicente Lara, MPH – Executive Director

Vicente joins Mesa Verde Gardens following several years of community organizing in Salinas and Central Coast 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.

Liz Milazzo - Garden/Orchard Manager

Liz joins Mesa Verde Gardens after serving as Apprenticeship Instructor at the CASFS Farm at UC Santa Cruz for many years, and managing/working in organic fields for 25 years.  As Garden/Orchard Coordinator, Liz is tending to the ecology of the garden sites, working behind the scenes to keep the gardens supplied with drip tape and compost, and caring for the fruit trees, native plants, and borders and edges.  Liz is passionate about seed saving, building seed resiliency, and honoring cultural resources and indigenous foodways.  Liz was an active member of Dearborn Community Garden in San Francisco in the 1980’s.  She lives in Santa Cruz, where she also does organic farm inspections for a 3rd-party certifier, and is cultivating medicinal herbs in a large urban garden. 

Candy Moreira – Community Outreach Coordinator

Candy, Mesa Verde Gardens' (MVG) outreach coordinator, focuses on engaging our membership by implementing different outreach strategies. Candy is passionate about bringing access to organic fruits and vegetables to this community. She does this by registering gardeners for their garden plots and building community through workshops and events. She also coordinates MVG's newest program Tu Salud Verde bringing produce from Mesa Verde Community Farm to community members at an affordable price. Candy recently graduated from nursing school with a goal to work as a nurse in the community focused on preventative health through nutrition and an active lifestyle.

Ana Rasmussen, MSW  –  Founder/Community Farm Coordinator

Ana Rasmussen is a native of rural eastern Oregon and has lived in Santa Cruz County for over 30 years. Her two adult sons also live locally. A bilingual social worker for 25 years, her positions included community health educator, public school counselor, and community organizer. In 2010 Ana completed the ecological horticulture apprenticeship at UCSC, during which she felt called to bring together social work and sustainable food systems. That same year she founded Mesa Verde Gardens which joins with Pajaro Valley families to directly improve their own food sovereignty by growing organic produce for themselves. 

Abel Herrera  –  Facilities Manager

Abel Herrera learned traditional farming growing up in Guerrero, Mexico.  Skilled in many trades, Abel has applied his talents to building much of the infrastructure of the Mesa Verde Gardens, laying irrigation pipe, building gates and installing fences, and much more!  Abel is the go-to person for fixing irrigation breaks, assisting gardeners with their drip tape, making sure cover crop is planted in the fall, and working to reclaim the garden spaces in spring with a mower and weed wacker.  Abel is the keeper of traditional varieties of corn, beans, and squash, which he shares widely.  Abel is a welcoming presence in the gardens, friend, and champion to all!



Mesa Verde Gardens is a community-based program, run primarily by our own member families and Peer Leaders.


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 decision-making 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. Today, 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.