Joanne Foster, Executive Director
Serving as the Executive Director of Growing Places since 2011, Joanne has brought together 25+ years experience in nonprofit leadership and social change work with her passion for gardening. An avid home gardener, Joanne knows that gardening provides nourishment for the body and the soul!

Prior to joining Growing Places, Joanne served as executive director of the House of Peace & Education, Inc. (HOPE) in Gardner, MA where she led the organization through a transition from its founder’s vision to an efficient, community based organization offering high quality services to women, children and families in need. Previous to HOPE, Joanne held numerous leadership positions in both the public and private sectors, among them Mount Wachusett Community College, Oak Hill Community Development Corporation and as an elected member of the board of selectman in the town of Lancaster, MA.

Joanne is the mother to two grown daughters who are both passionate about gardening and sustainable food and farming practices. A life long resident of central MA, she recently moved to the seacoast of NH with her husband Peter.

Joanne holds a BA from Assumption College and an MBA from the Heller School for Social Policy & Management at Brandeis University.

Contact Joanne:, (978) 598-3723 x801

Janet O’Brien, Director of Program Operations

Inspired by her trail-builder father’s love of the natural world and her registered dietitian mother’s commitment to healthy living, Janet shocked no one at all by falling in love with the mission of Growing Places Garden Project. As a life-long backyard gardener who can’t imagine a summer that doesn’t feature pick-your-own veggies and the pungent smell of marigolds, she is thrilled to convert a personal passion for sustainable living into a vocation that benefits  Janet holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Clark University in Worcester and an initial license in secondary education from Framingham State University. Her previous experience includes working as an English teacher at Wachusett Regional High School and as the Garden Coordinator for The Trustees of Reservations’ Lindell Avenue Community Garden, located in her hometown of Leominster. She happily continues to reside in Leominster with her loving boyfriend Ross and her rambunctious corgi Elly.

Contact Janet:, (978) 598-3723 x802

Cynthia Espinosa Marrero,  Education Manager

Cynthia Espinosa Marrero is a food systems scholar and activist, helping diverse communities grow and eat more healthy food. Her passion for gardening was seeded with her family and neighbors in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico where she grew up. After moving to Holyoke, Massachusetts in her teens, Cynthia participated in extracurricular activities related to food, gardening, environmentalism and community building. Her ultimate goal as a humanistic educator is to give opportunities to underrepresented groups to find their inner power, voice, and gardening skills to build a socially just food system. Her hobbies include dancing, pilates/yoga, soccer, writing poetry, reading, hiking, herb medicine making and of course, gardening!

Cynthia is currently serves as a Volunteer Program Assistant for Latino Outdoors, an organization focused to bring Latino culture into the outdoor narrative and connect Latino communities and leadership with nature to outdoor experiences.  Formerly, Cynthia served as the Co-Coordinator for Community Garden Connections in Keene, NH and as the Farm Program Manager for Nuestras Raices, Inc in Holyoke, MA.  She has a degree in Sustainable Food Management from UMass Amherst and a Masters in Environmental Studies focusing in Environmental Education from Antioch University New England.

Contact Cynthia:, (978) 598-3723 x 804

Erica Wood, Engagement Coordinator

Erica  is excited about building sustainable food systems! A Georgia native, she can’t imagine a summer without gardens, sunshine, and community gatherings. Erica studied International Affairs, and Community Agriculture and Food Systems at Virginia Tech. While there, she coordinated community meals with the Sustainable Food Corps, volunteered with local farms and community gardens, and actively campaigned for undergraduate students in various outreach roles.  Erica served as an AmeriCorps member at the VT Engage: Living Learning Collaborative after graduation, where she helped lead the organization through its inaugural partnership with the American Red Cross and Smart Beginnings NRV (a local childhood literacy nonprofit). Erica remembers food as a key component to family gatherings, and is inspired by this idea of food (be it gardening or cooking) bringing people together. Having seen community transformation first hand, she deeply believes in the capacity for gardening to increase a community’s health and happiness. In her free time, Erica enjoys exploring her Alaskan and Appalachian heritages through canning and crafting. She can also be found doing anything outside, practicing yoga, and spending time with her family or cat, “Kitty”.

Contact Erica:, (978) 598-3723 x 803

Donna Mackie, Donor Relations Coordinator

contact Donna,