Investigative Team and Partners


Our team is uniquely qualified to conduct a trial of community gardening. Our team includes researchers from the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, University of South Carolina, and Michigan State University, and brings together a diverse array of disciplines including epidemiologists, behavioral scientists, biostatisticians, and an exercise physiologist. Moreover, this community-academic partnership includes community investigators from Denver Urban Gardens and leaders from U.S. garden and greening organizations.

Healthy_Gardening4GAJill Litt, Ph.D. Principal Investigator, University of Colorado Boulder
I am an associate professor of environmental studies and public health at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Environmental Studies program. I received my PhD in environmental health and public policy from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and have spent most of my career working on projects related to urban environmental health and neighborhood design. I have worked in the neighborhoods of Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston and Denver on a variety of issues related to neighborhoods and health including urban brownfields cleanup and redevelopment, lead poisoning, residential demolition, environmental justice, chemical risk assessment, and most recently, housing, community gardens, and local food systems. On the CAPS project, I serve as the principal investigator of the study, overseeing all aspects of the project. I feel honored to partner with the American Cancer Society on the CAPS study and to be able to work with such a distinguished team of investigators and researchers, our community partner Denver Urban Gardens, and the broader community of Denver. My favorite vegetable is butternut squash.


Katherine Alaimo, Ph.D., Co-Principal Investigator, Michigan State University 
I am an Associate Professor in the area of community nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Michigan State University. I have a BS, MS, and PhD in nutritional sciences from Cornell University. My research and teaching focuses on creating environments and policies that inspire and encourage healthy eating, physical activity, sustainable food systems, and food security in schools and communities. I was drawn to partner with community gardeners through my interests in food security and regenerative agriculture. For many years, I have worked closely with Michigan community gardeners and the organizations that support them to study the impact of urban agriculture and community gardens for neighborhoods, communities, and health. I am thankful for the opportunity to expand my reach to Denver, and work with the CAPS research team, our partners at Denver Urban Gardens and national gardening organizations, and the American Cancer Society on this study. As co-PI, I provide leadership along with Dr. Litt on project activities, specifically focusing on study design and operations, dietary assessment, health and qualitative interviews, and collaboration with our Advisory Committee.  My favorite vegetables to grow and eat are basil, tomatoes, and curly kale.

Hamman, Richard 04 (2x3 in Color)Richard Hamman, MD, DrPH, Co-Investigator, Epidemiologist, Colorado School of Public Health (CU)
I am a chronic disease epidemiologist interested in prevention of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Though retired, I am working part-time on CAPS and other studies of diabetes and obesity. My role on the project is to provide input on design, methods, measurements, and analysis, given my experience on other large randomized clinical prevention trials, including the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), where I served as the national vice-chair. My favorite fruit is the homegrown tomato!

Glueck_photoDeborah Glueck, Ph.D, Biostatistician, Colorado School of Public Health (CU)
I am an Associate Professor of Biostatistics with a career-long interest in study design, power, and sample size analysis ( I serve as the study biostatistician, responsible for conceiving the overall design of the study, and for planning the analysis of the trial data. I am an enthusiastic home gardener, and highly recommend Thai Purple Podded Yard Long Beans.

Jenn Leiferman Jenn Leiferman, MS, Ph.D., Health Survey and Process Evaluation, Epidemiologist, University of Colorado Denver
An associate professor in the Department of Community and Behavioral Health at the Colorado School of Public Health, my research interests focus on the intersection between mental health and physical health. I also teach masters and doctoral level courses in health behavior theory. My contributions to CAPS include expertise in mental health, behavioral theory and process evaluation.

Maya Payton, Student Research Assistant, BS Candidate, Statistics, University of ChicagoI am heading into the last year of my statistics BS at the University of Chicago, with a particular interest in the mechanics of biological systems at various scales. My research experience includes using novel investigative approaches and neural network simulations to study the informational processing abilities of the brain. As Dr. Glueck’s research assistant, I support the research team by designing and implementing statistical models, cleaning data, and analyzing trial data and model results. I don’t have much opportunity o garden in Chicago, but I love going to the farmer’s market, where I’m always on the lookout for good carrots!

Kaigang Li Kaigang Li, Ph.D., Developer and Monitor of Physical Activity Component, Colorado State University
I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University and the Director of the Laboratory for Assessment and Promotion of Physical Activity and Health (APPAH). My research area is Health Behavior and one of major research lines is physical activity. I have worked in physical activity measurement and assessment, social-ecological and dynamic determinants of physical activity engagement, and promotion of physical activity engagement for more than 10 years. Currently, I take a role in physical activity monitoring and collection and analysis of physical activity data as a Co-Investigator in the CAPS project. My favorite fruits are avocado and watermelon, my favorite vegetable is cucumber.

James R. Hébert, MSPH, ScD, University of South Carolina
Dr. James Hebert is a Health Sciences Distinguished Professor at the University of South Carolina, as well as a Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, a Professor of Epidemiology at the Medical University of South Carolina, a Professor of Community Medicine and Epidemiology at the University of South Carolina, School of Medicine, and the Director of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program.

Tom Hurley

Tom Hurley, MS, Senior Research Associate, University of South Carolina
My role with the CAPS study is to oversee the diet assessment component and 24-diet recalls. I have a Bachelor of Science in Human Nutrition from the University of Massachusetts and have worked in the Department of Nutrition at the Massachusetts Nutrient Databank. I have an MS in Epidemiology from the University of Massachusetts, and I now work as a Senior Research Associate in Cancer Prevention and serve as Director of the Data Analysis and Management and Diet Assessment Research Units in the Cancer Prevention and Control Program. In addition, I am an Affiliated Scholar in the Center for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities in the Arnold School of Public Health.

2010 - Michael FormalMichael Buchenau, DUG Senior Landscape Architect and Director of New Gardens, CAPS Co-Investigator
My name is Michael Buchenau and I have been the Executive Director of Denver Urban Gardens (DUG) for 23 years working with over 160 urban communities to design, build and sustain their community gardens. For over a decade, I have been working with Dr. Jill Litt and her team on multi-year studies to explore how community-led garden projects affect community health in inner-city neighborhoods. My role has been to oversee the garden selection process from the practitioner side of the research. I can’t resist a freshly picked and sliced heirloom tomato.

Lara Pic

Lara Fahnestock, BA, , DUG Director of Garden Support
I grew up gardening and spent the last six years teaching children about real food and where it comes from. What began as a way to involve my family in gardening became a passion for educating an entire community. As a volunteer garden leader and Master Community Gardener, I led the creation of the school and community garden at Charles Hay World School and helped change its food culture. As an avid rock climber in her youth, I became an amputee after an 80 foot fall and now volunteers at hospitals counseling patients who face limb loss. As DUG’s Director of Garden Support, I act as the point person for all of DUG’s volunteer garden leaders, offering training and support for them and their gardens, as well as facilitating the Master Community Gardener class.

Dr. Violeta Garcia, PhD.,DUG Executive Director        violeta-happy-hour-headshot-26039 Dr. Violeta Garcia brings nearly 20 years of leadership experience in the field of education and a deep passion and commitment to creating sustainable, regenerative systems to DUG. Prior to joining DUG, she advanced opportunities for K-12 students through her consulting business, STEM Learning by Design. Before that, she served as the Colorado Department of Education STEM Coordinator and also taught middle, high school, and college-level students. Dr. Garcia holds a doctoral degree in biological education and a minor in applied research methods and statistics from the University of Northern Colorado; a master’s degree in education with an emphasis in bilingual, bicultural science education from the University of California, Los Angeles; and a bachelor of science in biological sciences from Colorado State University at Fullerton. In her downtime, Dr. Garcia spends time hiking, running, and gardening with her partner, Juan, and two daughters, Maite and Alejandra. She loves to travel and has visited over 32 countries, lived in three countries, and dreams of having a permaculture farm in her urban home. 

Project Coordinator

Angel Linked INAngel Villalobos, B.S., Culinary Nutrition, Johnson & Wales University
As program manager for the Community Activation for Prevention Study (CAPS): A Community Gardening Research Study, a Randomized Controlled Trial funded by the American Cancer Society, I ensure things run smoothly. I have worked in health promotion with medically underserved populations for over 7 years focusing on health education for low-resource communities. My experience as a certified culinarian, nutrition educator, group facilitator, and project manager has contributed to the success of community programs throughout Colorado. My favorite fruit tends to change every couple of months, but my all-time favorite are oranges!

Research Staff

IMG_0616Alyssa Beavers, MS, RD, PhD Student Human Nutrition, Michigan State University
I am a registered dietitian and a PhD student in Human Nutrition at Michigan State University. My research examines how urban gardening and gardener support programs influence health, including diet and physical activity. My role in CAPS is to conduct interviews with participants, I look forward to hearing their stories! My favorite vegetable is winter squash.

Hannah Buchenau, BA, Sociology, Tulane UniversityHannah B.
I am a Denver native and a recent graduate of Tulane University, where I studied psychology and sociology. I am a study assistant for CAPS and help with data collection and participant health visits. Additionally, I am a research coordinator for a Denver Neurological Research study on the different aspects of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. My favorite fruit is papaya and my favorite vegetable is broccoli.

Eva Coringato pic

Eva Coringrato, BA, Environmental Studies, University of Colorado Boulder  
I am a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder where I earned a degree in Environmental Studies. As a research assistant for CAPS, I am primarily involved in participant recruitment, health visits, and data collection. My academic interests include food systems, urban development, and environmental ethics. My favorite fruit and all-around favorite food is pineapple, with Colorado peaches as a close second!

POSNER_108.JPGErin Decker, BA, Communication and Conflict Resolution, University of Colorado Denver
My research encompasses topics of psychology, attachment theory, and trauma, and focuses on alternative ways of healing the adverse effects that result from psychological wounds. On the research team, I support the project in data collection, community engagement, and web development. I love speaking Spanish and growing and eating sugar snap peas.

Kristin_for websiteKristin Lacy, MA, International Studies, University of Denver  I bring expertise to the CAPS project as an active member of my SW Denver community, a gardener, and a researcher focused on the nexus of food, community and equity. I support the research team with data collection and engagement with Spanish-speaking families. I love gathering people around big tables with home-grown food and celebrating unity in diversity!


Ashby Leavell, PhD., CU Environmental Studies and Design  I am a PhD student at CU Boulder in Environmental Studies and Design studying the human + gardening connection. I graduated with a French major and a Landscape Architecture minor at the University of Virginia. For the past ten years I have worked in botanic gardens and public park systems in the U.S. and the U.K. as a horticulturalist, educator, administrator, and researcher. I completed a Master’s fellowship in Public Horticulture with Longwood Gardens and the University of Delaware in 2012. I am excited to be assisting this team by interviewing participants and building research connections with a similar garden trial in Montpelier, France. I love to garden (mostly flowers) but eggplants are a favorite vegetable.

Jimikaye Courtney, PhD. Bioenergetics, Colorado State University I am a doctoral candidate in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University. My mentor is Dr. Kaigang Li, the Director of the Laboratory for Assessment and Promotion of Physical Activity and Health. My research area is understanding health behaviors, such as physical activity, and related health outcomes, such as risk for cardiovascular disease, metabolic disease, cancer, and so forth. I specifically focus on applying data science techniques to understanding health behaviors and health outcomes in a variety of populations. Currently, I work with Dr. Kaigang Li in monitoring, collecting, and analyzing the physical activity data collected in the CAPS project. My favorite vegetable is fresh grown tomatoes – Black Krim to be specific – grown in my garden!

Advisory Team

Betsy JohnsonBetsy Johnson From Springfield, MA, I have over 40 years of community organizing experience related to urban growing, recycling and composting, air quality, occupational health, and neighborhood development issues, including accommodation for pedestrians and bicyclists. I am a former teacher and worked for the American Community Gardening Association, Chefs Collaborative, American Lung Association, Mass Audubon, and “green” engineering companies. I am partial to butternut squash and provide a national perspective for CAPS.


William “Bill” Maynard As the American Community Gardening Association past president, I now am the City of Sacramento Community Garden Program Coordinator. To the CAPS project I bring community garden knowledge and act as a representative of the ACGA. My favorite vegetable is the green bean!

Sarah Muntz

Sarah Muntz, MS, Colorado State University
In real life, I am a marketing and communications professional in the healthcare industry. I’ve been a community gardener for about eight years and currently serve as part of the leadership team for my garden.  My role in the project is as a representative on the study advisory board.  Choosing a favorite fruit or vegetable is like choosing a favorite child, but I would say that asparagus and black raspberries are right up there.


Laura Stevens, BA, Colorado State University
Hi! My name is Laura Stevens and I am a Colorado native. I am a passionate community gardener who earned my Master Community Gardener certification through Denver Urban Gardens. I helped open a couple of community gardens and enjoy teaching about organic gardening. I love eating any vegetable I grow (eat local, eat clean!) but snow peas right off the vine are one of my favorites.

 Melanie-Morrison pictureMelanie Morrison
I am a Registered Dietitian and am part of the CAPS Advisory board. I work for the Tri-County Health Department WIC program (Women, Infants and Children). I have been a community garden leader for Beeler Street Community Garden in Aurora for 4 years. I completed Denver Urban Garden’s Master Community Garden training in 2016, and my favorite vegetable is beets!

Past Collaborators

Heidi Kessler, MS, School Nutrition Specialist, STIR 
I am the principal of S.T.I.R – Skills To Ignite Reform, a school health consulting firm. I am a passionate school food advocate who believes that school meals are essential in raising a healthier generation of children. I’ve spent over a decade in childhood obesity prevention and school food reform. As a well-known trainer, speaker, and expert in environmental, policy, and systems changes that support healthy eating, I have created innovative models and tools for school wellness reform that are used across the country. As the 2019 Recruitment Coordinator for CAPS, I ensure the study has the participants it needs to be successful. I am a gardener and an herbalist.  I seem to be particularly good at growing carrots and radishes here in Colorado, but my favorite vegetable is the artichoke.

Mireia Gascon PhD Candidate, Environmental Epidemiology, Institut de Salut Global, Barcelona foto_Mgascon Until December 2018, I will be analyzing the microbiome data collected from the DGEM study, a pilot gardening study preceding CAPS, and assisting with CAPS participant health visits as well. Currently I am focused on improving scientific understanding of the health impacts of the built environment (mainly urban green and blue spaces) and transport planning. Since 2016 I am working on the EC-funded project BlueHealth, which is aimed at evaluating the potential for health promotion and disease prevention of ‘blue and green infrastructure’ in European countries. I love eating green peppers fried with a bit of olive oil, especially if they come from the garden I have in my hometown, Rubí en Catalonia, Spain.

carolannCarol-Ann Mullin, MSPH, Database Manager, University of Colorado Anschutz
Since 2000, I have contributed to the scientific community at the University of Colorado Cancer Center- primarily in the research areas of hereditary cancer, behavioral health survey and cancer registry research. My MSPH degree was awarded in 2009 by the University of Colorado Health Sciences Graduate School and the Colorado School of Public Health. I joined the Community Activation for Prevention Study team as a REDCap database developer. After creating the study database, my work with the CAPS team involved data management and analysis. I enjoy growing vegetables and herbs in my backyard garden at home, especially my patch of asparagus which has recently become mature and can now produce a harvestable yield.


Abby Bohannan, BA, MPH/MURP Candidate, University of Colorado Anschutz
I am a graduate student pursuing my Masters in Public Health and Urban Planning at the University of Colorado. My area of research has focused on the built environment, behavior change, and food security. My role is with CAPS project as a Student Assistant, where I have been helping with evaluating the process in the study, as well as the data collection. My favorite vegetables are asparagus and fresh garden tomatoes straight from the vine. Yum!

tessa crume Tessa Crume, MSPH, Ph.D., Co-Investigator, Epidemiologist, Colorado School of Public Health (CU) I am an Assistant Professor and co-director of the MS and PhD program in the Epidemiology Department at the Colorado School of Public Health. My research focuses on the functional consequences of nutritional exposures at different periods of human development. I am currently the Principal Investigator (P.I.) on an impact study of prenatal smoking cessation for low-income women to prevent of delivery complications and adverse neonatal outcomes. As part of CAPS, I served as an Epidemiologist to guide study design, implementation, reporting and analysis.

Pallas Quist photo

Pallas Quist, BA, Human Relations and Languages, University of Redlands
I am an active community leader in SE Denver and bring expertise to the CAPS project from a Garden Leader and Master Community Gardener’s perspective. My background is in publishing, writing, teaching and community organizing. On the research team, I enjoy working closely with study participants, other Garden Leaders and the staff at Denver Urban Gardens. I grow much of my own family’s food, and I love golden beets.


American Cancer Society

Our funder, ACS, has allowed us to study this important work. They have helped shape the CAPS study to support the investigation of gardening as an intervention for risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

University of Colorado Boulder

CU Boulder’s Environmental Sciences department is the home of the CAPS study.

University of Colorado Denver Anschutz

CU Anschutz acts as the hub for data modeling and analysis.

Michigan State University

MSU contributes to the development, assessment, and direction of the nutrition component of the study.

Colorado State University

CSU contributes assessment and formulation of the physical activity component of the study.

University of South Carolina

University of South Carolina’s school of Public Health is supporting CAPS by overseeing the dietary data collection component.