I was born in New Mexico and raised on tamales, posole, and chile rellenos made with the loving hands of my mom, grandma, and auntie. Growing up, I learned how these rich food traditions rely on small farmers who cultivate spicy chile, nutty posole, and red and white speckled beans on land that their families have carefully stewarded for generations. My deep respect for the food and farmers that sustain us is at the root of my commitment to understanding our deep connection to one another and to our environment.
During college, I pursued this passion for sustainability as an intern and later as an environmental scientist at Sandia National Laboratories, where I built computer models to manage scarce water resources in a desert climate. However, through organizing with small farmers—for whom sustainability is at the heart of ancient water sharing traditions—I became concerned with the inability of quantitative modeling to account for the cultural value of water and its role as the lifeblood of my birthplace. This sparked my interest in Community-Based Participatory Research, which is founded on the premise that people are the experts of their own lived experience.
I went on to design an innovative participatory research method—inspired by StoryCorps—that allowed me to facilitate conversations and connections between community members in new ways. This method, which allows friends and family members to interview one another, generates rich dialog and provides an opportunity for people to learn from one another. I used this method to capture the stories of immigrant gardeners in New Haven, Connecticut, and I featured their stories on local radio and in a community art exhibit. I also worked with land trusts and government agencies to demonstrate the capacity for New Haven’s 50 community gardens to provide food security, cultivate health, and build community.
Since moving to Portland in 2010, I have worked with organizations to understand the experiences of communities facing a wide range of issues, including poverty, food insecurity, displacement, and gentrification. These projects have deepened my commitment to using participatory methods that engage community members in the research process. For example, I have used Photovoice—a participatory method that combines photography and storytelling—to capture the experiences of low-income health clinic patients enrolled in Community Supported Agriculture Partnerships for Health and Farm Share Rx. I have also employed archival and oral history methods to document the history of Portland’s Black gardeners, who cultivated the city’s very first community gardening project on vacant land that had been cleared for urban renewal in the Albina neighborhood. Drawing upon activist scholarship methods, I spent two years organizing with low-wage foodservice workers—who became the nation’s first federally recognized fast food workers union in over 40 years—to understand why workers’ health and wellbeing are often left out of efforts to build sustainable food systems. Through these projects, I have helped organizations center economic, racial, and environmental justice in their social movements.
I founded Cultivate in 2019 to offer community-based research and evaluation to organizations that are committed to building a more just and sustainable future. I draw on my extensive experience working collaboratively with community members and organizations as well as my rich educational background to conduct innovative, evidence-based research. I hold a Ph.D. in Urban Studies from Portland State University, a Masters of Environmental Management from Yale University, and a B.A. in American Studies and B.S. in Chemistry from the University of New Mexico.