Doron Comerchero is the Founder and Director of FoodWhat. Doron spent his 20’s in the South Bronx as a community organizer for GreenThumb, NYC’s community gardening program, supporting community efforts to protect local gardens that the Guiliani administration was seeking to destroy. Rich soil called, and he found himself having transitioned from city life to living in a tent on a beautiful piece of farmland in Santa Cruz as an apprentice at the UCSC Farm and Garden. Back East for one season farming full time at 50-acre Food Bank Farm, he returned to Cali in 2007 to launch FoodWhat. Doron is also in long-time service on the council that nourishes Rooted in Community, a national grassroots network of programs like FoodWhat that empowers young people from historically excluded communities to take leadership through food, justice, and local economic development. Ten years later, Doron is driven to create safe spaces for youth to grow and cultivate their power and resiliency while continuing to lead the organization with heart, laughter, and intention.
Farm & Culinary Manager Mary Hillemeier is a farmer and lover of all things food. She has worked on community-based farm projects in New York City, Shelter Island, Austin, and the central California Coast. She first got the farming bug working with Urban Roots, a youth development farming project in Austin, Texas. From there she studied organic farming practices for two years at the UCSC Farm and Garden. Most recently she managed operations for Blue House Farm, a 50-acre organic farm in Pescadero. She is passionate about the transformative power of growing your own food and preparing it with joy. She feels honored to be sharing that experience with youth.
Finance Manager Puiyee Tse comes to FoodWhat with over 20 years of experience in profit and nonprofit sector in Santa Cruz County. She oversees the accounting function from accounts payable to year end audit. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Puiyee earned a degree in Liberal Art at the National Taiwan University, and an Associate of Science degree in Accounting at Mission College, Santa Clara. When she’s not crunching numbers, she likes to travel around the world. Puiyee enjoys her work and often shares how honored she is to be with what she considers such an amazing organization.
Programs Manager Irene Juarez O'Connell is a mentor, educator, and advocate for youth and young people in Santa Cruz County. Originally from Los Angeles, Irene came to Santa Cruz to study Public Art and Latin American & Latino Studies at UCSC. Having previously served the community in mentorship roles in local high schools and in the Santa Cruz Juvenile Detention Center, Irene joined FoodWhat in 2016 with experience in community organizing around youth violence prevention. She is passionate about the intersections where youth expression and creativity can meet empowerment for lasting, impactful change for their lives and their communities. Irene is excited to work with young leaders and have her hands in the soil! Irene has received the NEXTie for Artist of the Year 2017 Award and the Eduardo Carrillo Healing the Community with Art Award that same year.
Programs and Operations Coordinator Moriah Barrow comes to FoodWhat from Raleigh, North Carolina. An activist and proud defender of social justice, Moriah feels right at home sharing these passions with and learning from the youth and staff at FoodWhat. She was drawn to FoodWhat particularly for their distinct youth-centered approach to programming, which she has only grown more fond of since stepping into this position. In her role, Moriah provides versatile and robust support to her team members in virtually all aspects of the organization. Moriah received her Masters Degree in Human Rights from Central European University in Budapest, Hungary in June 2017, and looks forward to broadening her worldview and sharing her international lens here in Santa Cruz County.
Programs Coordinator Bruno Nell joined the team in a newly created position as FoodWhat Programs Coordinator, supporting program logistics and showing up strong for the youth. Born and raised in Peru, Bruno brings a rich cultural perspective around the intersections of food, family, and music. A carpenter and builder by trade, Bruno is also gifted at building community. Bruno completed the UCSC Farm and Garden Apprenticeship, and is a trained doula supporting birth activism in the community with the Collective Wings Perinatal Project. When Bruno’s not playing the Afro-Peruvian cajón (drum) with friends, or making a killer compost pile with the youth, he is out enjoying the Redwood forests or the Pacific Ocean with his two daughters and two sons.
Development Director Kayla Kumar has dedicated her entire career to organizing people around the love, resilience and possibility found within community. Prior to joining FoodWhat, Kayla worked with youth in environments ranging from music classrooms, basketball courts and juvenile halls. Now, with seven years of nonprofit fund development experience, Kayla believes the purpose of her work is to contribute to the wellbeing and liberation of marginalized communities. In her role at FoodWhat, Kayla uplifts the highly supportive structure of our programming by cultivating community partnerships that are impactful, down-to-earth, deeply heartfelt and all about the youth we serve. Kayla has a background in restorative justice, harm reduction, policy analysis and grassroots nonprofit management. She holds a Master’s Degree in Economics from San Jose State University.
FoodWhat Junior Staff
FoodWhat Event Planners
FoodWhat Farm Interns
Val Mena and Eric Medina