Paula Schnese, Founder
Paula grew up in a family of nine siblings in a small Wisconsin town surrounded by farms. With so many growing children to nurture, she learned at a young age the value of locally produced, healthy, fresh foods. Longing to spread her wings as she grew older, Paula set her sights on California, specifically Santa Barbara where she earned her degree professional photography. Following graduation, she moved to the Bay Area where she established a successful commercial photography studio.
Living in California, surrounded by the abundance of healthy, flavorful and local food choices, only increased Paula’s interest in health and nutrition. In 1992, she read John Robbins’ book, Diet for a New America. Embracing Robbins’ connections between food, health, diet and environmentalism, Paula immediately became a vegetarian, an eating style she has maintained. Nurturing body and soul had become her mantra.
Following the birth of her 3rd child, she formally closed her studio in order to focus on nurturing her children. Living near Berkeley at the time, she had access to a variety of natural food stores where she could get the foods she wanted for her family. However, moving to Benicia in 2013, she immediately noticed a food void and decided to do something about it! (Read “Our Story.”)
Paula uses her “outside the box” thinking and organizing skills as a photographer and her analytical bookkeeping skills (more recently she manages the accounts at her husband’s law firm) to lead this grass roots effort to establish a food co-op to the Benicia/Vallejo area. Passionate about the food co-op, Paula is patient and determined, envisioning Cultivate Community Food Co-op’s grand opening when the it reaches 1200 owner members.
In Paula’s free time, which she doesn’t have too much of since starting CCFC, she enjoys practicing Qi-Gong, playing her fiddle, sailing with her husband and doing pretty much anything with her close family.
Mark Agombar, Steering Committee Member
Mark Agombar, a South Africa native, moved to the United Kingdom when he was 21. He met his wife Maxine, a California native, while working in London. The pair then moved back to the Bay Area (Maxine’s home) to put down roots and be closer to family. Mark was in the construction industry for over 10 years before recently deciding to start his own Handyman/Contractor business. His favorite things in life are his wife, their dog Roxy, surfing, building things, exploring, and good food. Mark prides himself on being a bit of a Renaissance man and is looking forward to putting his variety of skills to use in order to help open a food co-op full of healthy, delicious foods for his local community.
Maxine Agombar, Steering Committee Member
Maxine Agombar is a loving wife, fur-mama to an adopted German Sheppard/Beagle Roxy and a Vallejo/Benicia native. Professionally she is a licensed Realtor® as well as a certified plant-based chef. In her spare time Maxine enjoys going on local hikes and road trips, practicing yoga and meditation, reading and writing, and of course, venturing out to try new foods!!!
She recently moved back to the Vallejo area after volunteering abroad and living in Southern California for several years. Maxine and her husband Mark were searching for ways to get involved within the local community when they discovered Cultivate Community Food Co-op. They are both thrilled to be part of the Steering Committee and are looking forward to helping launch Solano County’s first food co-op.
Kim Barragan, Steering Committee Member
My name is Kim Barragan and I am very excited to have the opportunity to be bringing a food co-op to the Benicia/Vallejo area soon!
I first became aware of the need for clean, whole food about 20 years ago when my young daughter developed intolerances to a number of foods. At that time I began the long road to educating myself about all the ingredients our foods contained besides just the food itself. I was shocked. I saw the same reactions to food in many of my Kindergarten students over the years as well. This was very different from the way I grew up. Not one of my childhood friends had food allergies or intolerances!
As time passed I realized that so many of my children’s high school and college friends also suffered from illnesses related to their food. And yet, when they lived and traveled in Europe, these illnesses went away! I kept reading and learning as much as I could. I found that many chemicals in our American foods are banned in Europe. I came to the conclusion that the solution to this problem is to provide clean, locally-sourced food to everyone in our communities, free of chemicals and unnecessary additives. I look forward to buying healthy foods, drinks, and home goods in our own hometown!
Steve Souza, Steering Committee Member
Hi, my name is Steve Souza. My family has lived in Vallejo for 5 generations. I’ve had a passion for clean food since I was 18. It was at that time I met a chemist who studied artificial food coloring. He told me about all the different food dyes and how they were constantly needing replacement due to high toxicity levels. I kept thinking it wasn’t worth it to fool people with colors. Then I thought, why not just eat food, real food!