The mesa team
Founder, Executive Director
In 1994, juggling several part-time jobs to keep her dream afloat, Lauren founded the nonprofit Multinational Exchange for Agriculture (MESA). Three years later, MESA became the U.S. State Department’s first program devoted to sustainable agriculture. Now entering its 23rd program season, MESA’s annual exchange program has forged deep alliances between thousands of global farmers and their counterparts, one beginning farmer and one mentor farm at a time. Lauren has overseen MESA’s expansion through an online e-learning platform for farmers, and numerous SF-Bay Area initiatives. Every day, her inspiration still comes from the “a-ha” moments that happen when people from vastly different backgrounds come together to grow and share healthy food.
Natalia Pinzón Jiménez
Natalia has served MESA in various capacities since 2014. From 2015 – 2019, she served as Co-Director of the organization and established a new program to help MESA’s global network grow: “The Virtual Campus for Farmers”. Now as Program Director, she continues to serve as a distance-education specialist and work towards the amplification of agroecology education around the world. Natalia has built four certificate courses on topics ranging from agroecology to climate resilience and widlfire adaptation. As a doctoral student she brings a range of participatory research experience and has supported MESA in writing multi-year government and private grants. Natalia has created several web-based learning communities, providing enriching curricula and co-learning opportunities to several thousand learners. As a Colombian immigrant and beginning rancher, Natalia is dedicated to supporting under-served communities through access and education.
Research and Education
Paul joined MESA in 2016 as the Co-lead Farm Educator for the Bay Area Farmer Training Program. In addition, Paul conducts research on urban agroecology at UC Berkeley, manages farm operations for Don Bugito in West Oakland, and co-founded the Cooperative New School for Urban Studies and Environmental Justice.
Paul has been involved with organic farming & marketing, agroecology, and social movements for the past 15 years in CA and abroad (Brazil, Mexico, Mali, and Malawi in particular). Paul’s experience in organic farming & marketing comes from his background in Bay Area worker collectives, as well as growing vegetables at ALBA and several other organic farms.
Previously, as a Research Associate at Michigan State University, Paul studied the potential for perennial staple seed and pulse crops in smallholder farming systems of Mali and Malawi. His doctorate at UC Berkeley involved participatory research on climatic variability and rainfed agriculture with CEDICAM, a civil society organization in the Mixteca Alta of Oaxaca, Mexico that uses the farmer-to-farmer training methodology.
Outreach & Engagement
Katie has worked for over a decade in the food movement as a researcher, writer, educator and beginning farmer. She ran an international, solidarity travel program for four years bringing people to the frontlines of the global Food Sovereignty movement, working with affiliated partners from La Via Campesina, The Basque Farmer’s Union and The Korean Women’s Peasant Association. After advocating for farmers internationally for many years, she decided it was time to get her hands dirty in local soil and completed the 6 month apprenticeship program at the University of California, Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, where she graduated with a Certificate in Ecological Horticulture. She also holds a B.A. in International Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara which grounds her work in global systems and social justice.
When she is not at MESA, Katie farms at Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastopol, CA, growing food and sequestering carbon!
Agroecology and Community Partnerships
Tanama came to MESA shortly after completing the Bay Area Farmer Training Program in 2017. Tanama has a deep commitment to agroecology, food sovereignty, horizontal knowledge exchanges and community organizing. He’s excited to be able to continue this work at MESA. Prior to working with MESA he got his start in the agricultural world working in education and conservation of butterflies and native plants at Butterfly Farms in Encinitas. This lead to being the first in his family to go to college, he attended UC Davis where he received his B.S. in Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems with a focus on Agroecology. Here is where the love for agroecology and food sovereignty was cultivated. While at UC Davis, Tanama worked with a number of farms and organizations including Wilton Rancheria, Acta Non Verba, Green Gulch Farm, and the Tatanka Wakpala Model Sustainable Community. When Tanama is not at MESA you can find him skateboarding around the Bay Area guerrilla gardening with his friends at Black Earth Farms or organizing with youth to spread food sovereignty across the country.
Education & Communications
Shelley Hawkins is a beginning farmer and budding educator hailing from the East Bay. Recently graduating from the Bay Area Farmer Training Program, she has dedicated time doing outreach and engagement to other graduates of the program and for future BAFTP cohorts. Shelley wishes to create projects geared toward making vital farming information-as it relates to food Justice through a racial justice lens- to community members most impacted by systemic exclusion from these spaces.
Operations & Project Management
Dani Solis joined the MESA team in 2019. She is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley with interests in food policy, planning, and urban design. Her background in urban studies has shaped her interest in the role of institutions and social organizing in changing food systems, while her lived experience continues to drive her passion to cultivate empathy and love within them. She is fascinated by the power of policy and place and hopes to pursue a career in food systems planning for underserved communities.
Dani has been involved in food justice efforts since 2015, serving as an undergraduate research apprentice for the Rethinking School Lunch Oakland initiative and spearheading the Critical Discussions in Food Systems colloquium, a student-led speaker series to spark campus-wide conversations on issues of food sovereignty and agroecology. During her undergraduate career, she was also involved with several campus food organizations, including the Berkeley Student Food Collective and the Berkeley Food Institute, where she strove to raise awareness of UC Berkeley’s pouring rights contract with PepsiCo. She is also a co-author of a comprehensive report on the Food Systems Minor at UC Berkeley.
Lauren developed an interest in food and agriculture during her time as a geography and political science major at Bucknell University. She later went on to get a graduate degree in geography from Penn State, where the focus of her research was agricultural supply chains and stakeholder decision-making for farm-to-school programs. She now feeds her passion for agriculture through participating in an Oakland community garden and serving on MESA’s board of directors. Lauren currently works as a Program Manager for Environmental Defense Fund’s Oil & Gas Program.
Mary Collins aka “Mary from Maryland” has worked with animals ranging from cattle to cheetahs. Working in wildlife conservation made her question its connection to sustainable agriculture, so she joined the Peace Corps to learn first-hand how people farm and eat. In Panama, she worked side-by-side with famers and families to implement sustainable agriculture techniques. She extended a third year to serve as Regional Coordinator, a role in which she served as a bridge between Peace Corps, local government agencies and communities. Currently she is getting a Master of Public Policy at University of California, Berkeley and plans to work with sustainable agriculture and environmental conservation.
Bill’s entire working life has had some connection to the family farm. Childhood chores on the farm progressed to adult responsibilities and eventually Bill managed the dairy and walnut operation for the family. Meanwhile he ran a photography studio in Gustine for 30 years and spent short stints with the US Postal Service and the local newspaper.
As the family phased out of “conventional” farming Bill began growing and selling vegetables from about 2 acres carved out of the original family farm. Using regenerative practices, Bill has cut outside inputs to a bare minimum while reducing pest and disease problems. Contented Acres Produce operates a semi-weekly farmstand, and runs a small CSA.
Bill has hosted five different MESA stewards from four countries with financial support from Gustine Rotary Club. Working with farm stewards has amplified Bill’s passion to support small farms feeding their local communities worldwide. MESA programs facilitate the commingling of the best of ancestral knowledge and modern sustainable technologies.
Soon Bill will have a somewhat different experience to share with MESA stewards. Bill and his wife, Marybeth have moved a century-old farmhouse onto a city lot. While the original garden at Contented Acres Produce will continue, Bill will also be growing produce in a large backyard garden within the city limits.
A former MESA Host, organic farmer, and sustainable development consultant, Scott has 32 years of organic agricultural production experience in the United States and Mexico. Scott’s recent project experience includes the restoration and development of an organic agricultural project and education program on a 250-acre historic farm owned by the County of San Diego. Scott designed and built a 15-acre organic farm supplying the boarding high school on site and selling to the Whole Foods stores of Southern California. Scott has served as an elected California Conservation official for the last 12 years managing a $ 3.5 million dollar annual budget for conservation projects in North San Diego County.
Scott serves as the president of the South Coast Resource Conservation and Development Council which covers two-thirds of California’s population. He has worked extensively on conservation projects with the National Resource Conservation Service in California. He specializes in farmland preservation projects utilizing Smart Growth Principles.
Susan Coss is a long time marketing and communications strategist in the sustainable food and beverage worlds. She is cofounder of North of the Border Adventures, a media, events and consulting firm. Previously, she was the Director of Marketing and PR for CUESA, the organization that runs the world famous Ferry Plaza Farmers market in San Francisco. She was also a cofounder and former director of the Eat Real Festival, an annual food event in Oakland and Los Angeles CA that drew more than 250,000 people in its first three years. She was also part of the team that brought national attention to the “food movement” through Slow Food Nation. She has spent time in Mexico since 2003 and has established relationships within the food world all over California and Mexico. She has a degree in Agricultural Economics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.