Emily, Marissa, Alex and Melanie


Our team is made up of a group of passionate and talented gardeners, business specialists and more. Together we work to develop and carry out Huerto de la Familia’s programs and services for Latino families in need throughout the Eugene-Springfield area.

Executive Director: Marissa Zarate graduated from the University of Oregon School of Law with a focus on human rights work and holds a B.A. in Peace Studies from Chapman University. She has extensive nonprofit experience including legal work, nonprofit management, fundraising, community organizing, nonprofit incorporation and event planning. The daughter of a Costa Rican immigrant mother and Mexican- American father she began her professional career working on environmental justice issues within the Latino community in Southeast Los Angeles. Prior to joining Huerto de la Familia, Marissa worked as an attorney in the Columbia Gorge practicing immigration law and landlord-tenant law protecting tenant rights. Marissa enjoys reading books and exploring the Northwest outdoors with her trusty canine, Gracie. Contact Marissa at [email protected]

Organic Garden Program Manager: Melanie Hyers graduated from the University of Oregon with a Masters in Spanish and French. She also completed the coursework for a certificate in Food Studies. Her primary focus lies in food justice and nutrition. Melanie has worked as a bilingual assessor at the Oregon Social Learning Center and presently at the Center for Equity Promotion at the University of Oregon. Her volunteer efforts include several non-profits in Eugene such as Willamette Farm and Food Coalition, Grassroots Garden and the Courthouse Garden. In her free time, she likes to travel, work on organic farms, practice her languages and work in her own organic garden. Contact Melanie at [email protected]

Cambios Program Manager: Alexandra Perez Urbina is from Caracas, Venezuela and grew up with one foot in Venezuela and the other in New York and New Jersey. In 2009, she received a diploma in Culinary Arts from the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia, PA and in 2014, she received a Permaculture Design Certificate from Andrew Faust in Brooklyn, NY. Alexandra has worked in a variety of restaurants, catering facilities and food retail. She has completed a 500 hour internship at the San Francisco Botanical Gardens and farmed on a homestead for a season. Alex enjoys the arts, food, nature and being around fuzzy quadrupeds. Contact Alexandra at [email protected]

Cambios Farm Program Coordinator: Emily Sessoms graduated from Rollins College with a BA in Latin American/ Caribbean Studies and Spanish. She has conducted research, interned, volunteered and practiced permaculture and natural building in places ranging from Florida, Oregon, Brazil, Nicaragua and Hawaii. She has spent the last two years at Aprovecho, a sustainable education center in Cottage grove, Oregon, where she has worked to enhance her skills in the realms of sustainable housing and gardening. She hopes to use her knowledge as a way to empower others to use ecological alternatives for fulfilling thier own human rights. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, long bike rides, reading and practiciting herbalism. Contact Emily at [email protected]


Huerto de la Familia’s Board of Directors is made up of community leaders that bring a variety of assets to the organization. The Board dedicates time and energy to governance, fundraising, program innovation and more.

President: Mark Gissiner began as Police Auditor for Eugene, Oregon in June 2009. Prior to that, he spent 21 years working for the City of Cincinnati. His accomplishments include mediating a top level sensitive diplomatic dispute between Australia, China and Taiwan for the Australian Foreign Minister; being a keynote speaker at the 50th anniversary of the European Declaration of Human Rights conference in Evora, Portugal; and professional recognition by New South Wales and Australia for his service in the field of human rights. Mark is an active member of Eugene’s Southtowne Rotary Club. In the Winter, you can find him on the mountain slopes skiing. Contact Mark at [email protected]

Treasurer: George Bosch is originally from Cuba. He has 20 years of experience in the title and escrow field closing commercial and residential sale and refinance transactions. In addition, he works as a business consultant and teaches many classes in the community regarding home buying, business formation, and business plans. He teaches Spanish for fun. He volunteers with Huerto de la Familia’s Cambios Program by serving as an advisor and presenting on business formation to the Cambios Business Class.

Secretary: Justin Sandoval is a masters student in the Planning, Public Policy and Management Masters Program at the University of Oregon. He also works as the Office Manager at the University of Oregon’s Outdoor Program. Previously he worked as the Program Director for the Rural Education Institute of Mexico in San Miguel de Allende.  Prior to that position he worked as the Multicultural Outreach Liaison and Bilingual Administrative Assistant at Food for Lane County.

Roberto Peralta originally from Mexico, has over 15 years of experience working as a business consultant in Mexico, Peru, China, and the United States. As a business consultant, he focuses on strategic planning, business analysis, IT and commercialization. Roberto and his wife Catalina also serve as community leaders in Huerto de la Familia’s Organic Garden Program.

Catalina Angeles is originally from Mexico and she participates in Huerto de la Familia’s Organic Garden Program with her family in Springfield. She has worked as a professional business consultant for many years in many countries. She has extensive experience working in project management, team building and leadership skills in the context of business development. She speaks French in addition to both Spanish and English. She has a passion for cooking healthy, traditional Mexican cuisine.

Antonio Huerta is the manager of the Opportunities Program at the University of Oregon. He designs and implements bilingual programming for Latino, Native American and black families and works with school districts, counselors and multicultural liaisons to build relationships with Latino, Native American families and tribal leaders statewide to encourage students to pursue higher education. Previously Antonio worked as the Director for Latino Programs and Exhibit Services for Taking Control of Your Diabetes, a non-profit in California. Antonio enjoys family time, gardening, biking, riding horses and practicing his rope tricks talent.

Barbara Aldave is a lawyer and educator who practiced law for several years before joining the University of Oregon School of Law as a professor in 1970. She went on to each law at schools across the country. From 1989 to 1998, she served as the dean of St. Mary’s University Law School in San Antonio, Texas. She returned to the University of Oregon School of Law until her retirement in 2015. Barbara founded The Portia Project, an organization that works to provide legal services and advocacy for female prisoners in Oregon.

Ginny Canavan retired in 2015 from Oregon Research Institute, having worked preparing grant proposals and in grants administration for 35 years. She loves gardening and spends time with her husband, Don, in their plot at the Gamebird Community Garden. She loves learning, and practicing, permaculture organic gardening techniques. Ginny loves volunteering and volunteers with non-profit organizations involved in promoting individual peace, helping people without homes and protecting the environment.

Don Canavan is a retired carpenter who worked in construction for 45 years. He was introduced to gardening at the age of 13 and quickly developed a love for nature while working with seeds, plants and soil. As his gardening developed he developed a passion for the health and environmental benefits of organic gardening and permaculture. Don, and his wife Ginny, participate in Huerto de la Familia’s Gamebird Community Garden, where he can be found most days of the year.