Our Team

Richard D. Garcia

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR & CO-FOUNDER

Richard's passion to grow food comes from a long-line of Filipino farmers.  A Los Angeles native, Richard lives to see that no life or land is wasted in the City of Angels.  Richard studied at St. John’s Seminary College and has extensive experience in pastoral ministry inside juvenile halls and prisons.  As a pastoral minister, youth advocate, and urban farmer, Richard knows how growing food is a transformative way of bringing people together.  Since completing an M.A.in Pastoral Theology at Loyola Marymount University, Richard incorporates principles of restorative justice into urban farming. 

 

Before launching Alma Backyard Farms, Richard initiated garden programs for schools and restaurants.  Richard trains our urban farmers to create beautiful landscapes, install raised beds, and grow food.  As a skilled craftsman, Richard builds innovative outdoor structures that encourage outdoor living.

Erika L. Cuellar

OPERATIONS DIRECTOR & CO-FOUNDER

An LA native and first generation Mexican-American growing up in Watts, Erika witnessed how her community has been fraught with challenges in education and food insecurity.  Undeterred by these challenges, Erika pursued a degree in Education at Loyola Marymount University.  Erika applied her studies to empower previously incarcerated women and men at Homegirl Cafe, a division of Homeboy Industries.  Her years of social enterprise management ensures the integrity of Alma Backyard Farms' mission and its financial viability. 

 

Erika's talent for landscape design was further advanced through her Landscape Architecture studies at UCLA's Extension and through her work as Project Manager for a top-rated outdoor living company.  Erika's passionate about teaching families and children how to grow and cook culturally-relevant and flavorful meals.

Jonathan Garcia

URBAN FARM TECHNICIAN

From an early age, Jon enjoyed getting his hands in the dirt and growing plants.  Working side-by-side with his dad as a jardinero, Jon got to know Los Angeles through a different lens. Jon has a background in architecture and landscape design. Since joining the Alma team, Jon is responsible for assisting all areas of production from seed to distribution.  In his free time, Jon enjoys climbing, cooking, and drawing. Jon also looks after Zinnia, our farm cat in Compton. 

Mia Aguilar

COMMUNITY EDUCATOR

Mia embraced the world of good food while growing up near the heart of California’s farmland.  Mia finds joy in transforming people’s relationship with food.  She has seen how good food is key to strong and healthy communities.  Mia has credentials in General and Special Education and a Master’s in Special Education from Loyola Marymount University.  Currently, Mia is continuing her culinary studies at the New School of Cooking.  Since joining the Alma team, Mia has been instrumental in our Youth Program where she facilitates hands-on culinary and garden lessons.  In her free time, Mia enjoys cooking, baking and the outdoors. 

Judy Kirshner

COMMUNITY EDUCATOR

Judy’s deep love for community, food and gardening is marked by her commitment to educate and inspire others to lead a healthy lifestyle.  She’s helped heal people in her capacity as a Registered Nurse.  With a Master’s in Education and certification as a UC Master Gardener, Judy offers our program participants a holistic learning experience in urban agriculture, horticulture and botany.  In her free time, Judy enjoys cooking, time in her garden, and spending time with her grandkids.

Briley “Journey” Presely 

SOCIAL ENTERPRISE ASSOCIATE

Raised in the City of Compton, Journey expresses warm hospitality at ALMA’s onsite Farm Stand and off-site at local Farmers' Markets.  She has great capacity to build relationships as she has gotten to know the people that visit and source their produce from ALMA’s farm stand.  After an on and off 4 years of incarceration, Journey has found deep peace in her work at the farm.  She especially enjoys harvesting flowers and making arrangements.

Armando “Mando” Padron 

SOCIAL ENTERPRISE ASSOCIATE

Mando connects his own upbringing with his role at ALMA. As part of the ALMA team, memories of gratitude and appreciation for receiving food assistance in his childhood are prompted as Mando returns the favor. Now, giving to others during his second chance at life fulfills his own soul. “It’s all about love,” he believes. After more than 20 years of incarceration, Mando comes to the ALMA team with Wildland Firefighter training, a Lifeskills certificate, and an aspiration to live a healthy lifestyle, promote peace, and give hope.  Mando is a member of Laborers 1309 and brings his hard work ethic to ensure the urban farms continue to develop. 

Larry Garcia 

SOCIAL ENTERPRISE ASSOCIATE

“I can now return to the community what I took away,” reflects Larry about being part of the ALMA team. Larry aspires to build a happy and sober home for him and his family and believes his opportunity at ALMA is to help revive love in the community. After 5 years in and out of the prison system,  Larry is now enrolled in college and a carpenter in Local 213.  Larry brings his passion for learning and his skills for construction to help advance the build out of ALMA’s farm sites.  Larry is most encouraged by seeing families together at ALMA. 

Luis Armando Mota

SOCIAL ENTERPRISE ASSOCIATE

Luis' life attests to the power of transformation. Gang-involved at an early age led to 22 years of incarceration. During incarceration, Luis discovered his resilience that allowed him to attain an AA with an emphasis in Social Science. While inside prison, Luis discovered the power of a vegan diet that led him to a healthier life inside and out.  Since returning home in 2017, Luis adheres to his vegan practices that fuel his work as a Local 300 laborer and as a member of the ALMA team. His involvement at ALMA grants him an opportunity to grow food for others and promote on-going access to healthy foods. 

Joe Barjas

SOCIAL ENTERPRISE ASSOCIATE

Joe believes that after 13 years of incarceration, he now has the opportunity (and the strength) to help others as part of the Alma Backyard Farms team. Joe’s experiences on the farms continue to transform him from a mindset of “take, take, take” to one of sharing and serving others. The energizing and centering effects of his time at ALMA fuel his full-time work in a rehabilitation facility and studies to be a drug counselor. Joe’s effort of reaching out to others facilitates his own healing.  With great joy and humor, Joe ensures that ALMA distributes its produce to families in need most especially during the crisis of COVID-19.  

Social Enterprise Team

Board of Directors

Mary Ellen O’Driscoll, Board President 

Founder & Principal Associate 

MEOD Consulting 

 

Violeta Cristobal, Treasurer 

Founder & President

Cristobal & Company, CPAS

 

James Becerra, Secretary 

Faculty  

Department of Landscape Architecture, 

Cal Poly Pomona

Erika L. Cuellar

Co-founder & Operations Director

Alma Backyard Farms

Richard D. Garcia

Co-founder & Executive Director

Alma Backyard Farms

Nora Gilbert

Director of Strategic Projects & Partnerships

Represent.Us

References

Mike Davitt 

Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles

Robert Foster

Loyola High School Board Member

 

Don Swartz

Quest Property Corporation 

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