Our Dedicated Staff
Founder and Operations Director
With a career devoted to cultural exchange and experiential learning, Lauren served nine years as assistant director at a “conventional” agriculture exchange program before founding MESA. Inspired after speaking with an organic farmer, and alarmed by the increasing incidence of pesticide-related medical claims made by trainees in her old program, in 1994 Lauren founded MESA to promote sustainable farming alternatives throughout the world. Lauren’s Lithuanian grandmother’s wonderfully inventive cooking, coupled with a B.A. in Russian Language & Literature from the University of New Hampshire at Durham, sparked her initial interest to pursue a career in cross-cultural exchange focused on food and agriculture. In 1996 Lauren successfully negotiated the Kafka-esque designation process for MESA to become a J-1 Training and Cultural Exchange Program with the U.S. Department of State. Lauren served as Executive Director until 2013. Lauren now delightedly shares director duties under MESA’s newly minted shared directorship model.
Leah joined MESA in 2004 and now serves as Co-Executive Director. Her Humboldt farmland roots instilled a love for food and farming practices that nourish people and the planet. Leah moved to the Bay Area in 1999 to pursue degrees in Environmental Policy and Spanish at UC Berkeley. She has lived in South and Central America as well as Southeast Asia working on behalf of social, environmental and food justice initiatives. As a result of her travel and work experiences she gained insight into myriad traditional agricultural practices, implications of a globalized corporate food regime and the value of farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchange, agroecology and unconventional multi-interestholder collaboration. Her past work experience includes program development for the International Institute for Bengal Basin which focused on pollution mitigation for farmers and rural communities in Bangladesh, fund development for the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant and supply chain review for Scientific Certifications Systems. Leah is a co-founder of Wild and Radish, LLC, and developing a 10-acre urban farm and eco-village in El Sobrante, CA. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of Planting Justice, an Oakland non-profit creating green jobs and democratizing access to affordable, nutritious food. Climbing rocks, yoga, milking goats and befriending bees are frequent sources of fascination.
Michelle is a Bay Area native who is proud of her roots, but dreams of working abroad with MESA Stewards.
During her college career at UC Berkeley, she helped start a food co-op (the “Local”) for students, faculty and community members on campus. Since 2007 she has been involved in local farmers’ markets and has worked on a small organic farm run by one of the first migrant Latina farmworker-turned-owner women in the Central Valley. After graduating in 2009 with a B.S. in Conservation and Natural Resources, Michelle traveled to La Mixteca Alta, Oaxaca, Mexico for a research project under Dr. Miguel Altieri on native corn varieties. She lived and worked for five months with a local campesino-a-campesino-affiliated organization of indigenous farmers where she learned how to farm with zero irrigation. In 2011, Michelle spent a month in Peru, traveling the country to meet MESA Steward alumni, forge new relationships, and visit exciting community projects. Michelle loves working with MESA and incorporating her experiences to promote sustainable agriculture and to encourage farming and cultural exchange.
Michelle has been on board with MESA since 2010 and has taken on projects ranging from graphics and web design to donor cultivation and event planning. She’s always looking for a challenge at work and beyond—some of her current projects include raising a bilingual (at least!) 2-year-old along with her hardworking and dedicated partner, and trying to maintain three of her neighborhood’s gardens.
Natalia joined MESA in 2013 to offer emergency IT support. Now, as director of education, Natalia is thrilled to engage with MESA’s network both online and on the ground. She spearheads the development and managment of MESA’sonline learning platform and the Certificate in Applied Agroecology. Natalia is enthusiastic about her involvement in MESA’s new beginning farmer training program where she will be able to support fellow immigrants in realizing viable farm business.
Natalia immigrated to the US from Colombia at a young age. She comes from a lineage of software developers and agriculure enthusiasts. She’s blessed to be able to combine these two interests at MESA; where her respect for agroecology need not be held back. As secretary of theLatinamerican Scientific Society of Agroecology she frequently looks for ways to integrate agroecology research & education into MESA’s work.
Curriculum Development and Educational Programs
Kate recently graduated from UC Berkeley in Conservation and Resource Studies, with a focus in Agricultural Ecology and Community Empowerment. Before finishing her undergraduate degree at Berkeley, she worked on farms in Vermont and California in hopes of curing her romantic notions of farming. In Vermont, she worked as apprentice at a social-justice minded farm where CSA members received subsidized CSA boxes as part of their compensation from their employers, a local factory and hospital. After that, she worked on a larger farm in Watsonville, CA, where she was involved in everything from production to marketing to distribution. Other adventures include work on a self-sufficient dairy farm in Uruguay, at a wood-fired bread bakery, croissant making, and suburban beekeeping!
Kate is excited to be at MESA, combining her interest in critical ecopedagogy and agroecology in her work on the online curriculum in Applied Application. She’s incorporating her love of farm-based learning while helping with planning process for the Bay Area Urban Farming Training Program, and dabbles in social media and communication for MESA!
Ana holds a bachelor degree in Biology, a Master’s in Sustainable Development and a Master’s in Latin American Studies with an emphasis in food justice. She is deeply interested in agroecology as an agricultural production alternative to produce good food, conserve natural resources and strengthen social movements. For over 15 years Ana has worked with the food justice movement and food sovereignty movements in Mexico, Colombia and the USA.
Ana is originally from Colombia, single-mother of a teenager, recent immigrant to the USA and has a deep love and admiration for ancient cultures and indigenous cosmovisions. She has extensive experience teaching agroecology to people of different socio-cultural backgrounds, ages, and genders.
Paul joined MESA in 2016 as the Co-lead Farm Educator for the Bay Area Farmer Training Program. 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). 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. Paul’s experience in organic farming & marketing comes from his membership in a Bay Area worker’s collective, as well as working for ALBA and several other organic farms.