Frank Mentesana is the founding Director of EcoSpaces Education, a program created at Philip’s Academy Charter School in Newark, NJ. Frank has over 20 years of experience in foodservice, 10 of which were spent as the owner of Once Upon A Tart in Manhattan. He is also author/photographer of the cookbook, “Once Upon a Tart…Soups, Salads, Muffins and More” (Knopf 2004).
Looking to give balance to his career as a food consultant, stylist, writer, photographer, and culinary teacher, he developed and now directs EcoSpaces Education, a comprehensive program that teaches children about the interconnectedness of food, health, and the environment. Through the use of learning environments, which include the school dining room (serving healthy, made-from-scratch lunches), a rooftop garden, a controlled environment growing lab, a hands-on teaching kitchen, and an Eco Handwork Studio, teachers are able to incorporate curriculum while reinforcing key health and wellness concepts. His proudest achievement by far is his son Matthew in spite of the fact he still doesn’t like lettuce.
Growth Initiatives Manager
Growing up in San Francisco, Joanna’s love of food started at an early age and followed her across the country to New Jersey where she is currently the Growth Initiatives Manager at EcoSpaces Education. Joanna’s interest in food led her to a Master of Arts in Food Studies degree from New York University focusing on the cultural, historical and sociological aspects of food. Turning her final master’s project into a reality, Joanna created Lucinda Burrito + Taco truck in 2005, one of the first gourmet food trucks on the East Coast. Featured in The New York Times and Food & Wine magazine, Lucinda’s set Joanna into a career of catering, food styling, and event management. Helping children gain access to food literacy is Joanna’s most important and rewarding work.
Director of Programming
Raised in Oregon moving between a rural logging community and the city of Portland, Catkin became passionate about ecology at a young age. While receiving her B.A. in Environmental Studies at Mills College in Oakland, CA, she developed a keen interest in how communities around the world address environmental issues. This interest led her to study in Greece, Madagascar, and Brazil, and to explore over 20 other countries. Catkin moved to the Bronx, NY in 1995 and discovered the joy of connecting with and inspiring young people to become leaders in protecting and beautifying urban greenspaces. While working for Green Guerrillas, NYC’s oldest community gardening organization, she collaborated with young people, community gardeners and city agencies to complete projects throughout the city with a focus on the Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem.
Catkin’s interest in gardening and nutrition drew her to explore health and wellness and in 2006, she became Board Certified in Acupuncture in Chinese Herbology. She is now entering her eighth year at Philip’s Academy Charter School.
Abbey’s journey to food is untraditional but fueled by passion. While majoring in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the College of Wooster in Ohio, she experienced the true realities of food insecurity and injustice during her three spring break service trips in rural West Virginia. After these experiences, she decided to change course and began pursuing food systems and agriculture. After graduating, she farmed on small and large organic farms in Eastern Pennsylvania for two years before finding her way into a gardening and nutrition education position at a small non-profit in Northern New Jersey. During her time there she learned about program development and eventually managed many of the offered youth programs. Her time in program management helped her realize she wanted more training and education on how to make sure programs developed for youth are as effective as possible; she is now working towards a Master’s of Public Health at Rutgers University. Today she joins us as the EcoSpaces Coordinator at Philip’s Charter of Newark. In this exciting role she educates PACS Newark’s PreK – 8th grade students about where their food comes from, and leads them to their own discovery of the joy of preparing healthy, wholesome meals and enjoying them in community.
Patrick was born in Rahway, raised in South Plainfield, and eventually moved to Westfield, New Jersey, where he currently resides today. He attended Stockton University, where he graduated with a degree in Sustainability Management in 2019. Post-undergrad, he worked within the composting industry, volunteering for the non-profit, the NJ Composting Council, and heading their marketing and membership drive. He also worked with everyone’s favorite compost pick-up company, Java’s Compost, before accepting his role as a first-year FoodCorps Americorps Service Member, serving at Philip’s Education Partners. Growing up, he never had any type of education that EcoSpaces and FoodCorps provides, and if he had had that education, his passion for gardening and eating healthier would have bloomed so much earlier. Now he wants to ensure that every child has that opportunity to be connected to the food they eat! Outside of school, Patrick obviously loves to garden, but also enjoys hiking, thrift shopping, going to concerts/festivals and visiting nurseries to feed his house plant habit
EcoSpaces Educator for The STEAMed Project
Veronica Rechten is a food educator with a Masters Degree in Nutrition and Integrative Health. Her passion is making healthy food fun and easy for kids and adults alike!
In her spare time, she enjoys hanging out with her husband, and her Greyhound, Luna.