Reflections and Insights for the New Year

Last month, Robin, Gabrielle, and I (Program Leaders for Growing Food and Sustainability in Middleton, WI) attended the annual Grand Aspirations January Gathering in Roger’s Park, Chicago. (Though it tried, we did not let the polar vortex stop us.) Basically, January Gathering is a time for program leaders from all over the Midwest (Middleton, Milwaukee, Twin Cities, Highland Park-Detroit, Chicago, and Lexington) to come together to share skills and knowledge that help us run awesome programs, like green infrastructure projects, youth garden camps, and youth-run worker cooperatives.

We also get to hang out and make revolutionary frirends! Anthony (program leader in Chicago) taught us how to make a gif at the No Talent Show.

We also get to hang out and make revolutionary friends! Anthony (program leader for Lets Go Chicago) taught us how to make a gif at the No Talent Show.

This was Gabrielle and my third January Gathering (hard to believe!), so we were thrilled to have Robin attend for her first time as a new program leader. (Unfortunately our fourth program leader, Emilee, was too sick to make the trek with us, but as you can imagine, she has heard ALL about it.) Gabrielle and I both remember how transformative our first gathering was and hoped Robin would come away feeling empowered and excited for the year ahead. Read her reflection below to hear how the gathering impacted her:

January Gathering grounds and energizes programs. January Gathering is a time to reflect and to look back over the year to search for success and evaluate failure in order to find solutions. To begin, it is important to look at the core values of Growing Food and Sustainability and Grand Aspirations: Justice, sustainability, prosperity, and community. Looking back at our core values, there were some that we were making progress toward, and others we had hoped to do better. Evaluating our progress allowed us to become grounded, to look forward and make important changes, such as improving our intern curriculum. To improve your program, you have to improve yourself. The gathering allows time to remember why we do it. When walking into a training session there is energy that fills your body. You feel hope and joy fill your soul. While in sessions you begin to grow as you self reflect. In Grand Aspirations energy and passion are recovered to make a change. You finally can feel one with yourself and a serene sense of freedom comes over you. When sessions are finished, you feel empowered and you begin to realize that it is not just about your program. It is about every program around the country and the amazing work we are doing as a whole. The work we do today will eventually change the world by solving the problems, one garden, one solution at a time. One garden may seem too small to have an impact, but when we all come together and work towards the same goal, something much greater is born.

Even though it was my third January Gathering and fifth gathering in total (including two National August Gatherings), I came away with tons of new insights and perspectives on our work including…

  • Leverage existing institutional resource flows to grow the green economy. Or in other words, we need to focus on creating new, sustainable systems that meet needs within our community.
  • It’s all about the ripple effect. If you don’t have the ripple effect, it’s not enough.
  • “Morph the system while winning within it” – Lynn Hinkle
  • Anti-oppression needs to be central to every part of our work. Every time we make a big decision or build a new project, we need to have anti-oppression at the center of our conversation.
  • Growing food with kids is sweet and cute, but the work we are doing is also “deadly serious”.
  • The systems we’re trying to change are huge and intimidating (the industrial food system), but are also very intimate (the food I can grow for my neighbors).

Since we’ve been back, we’ve had some great discussions reflecting on the history of our program and where we are going from here. We’re all itching for spring and are eager to put our plans into action!

Look how excited we are to get to work!

Look how excited we are to get to work!

Stay warm, Natalie and Robin

Ring in the New Year! January Gatherings Got Me Pumped!


A quick note from the National Gatherings Team — we wanted to let you all know how excited we are about the programming that this January Gathering is boasting, and we wanted to bring you into the know.

As always, our January Gathering is being modulated to meet the growth needs of our many teams, team members and regionalities! Our three gatherings, Oakland, Chicago, and D.C., will each have specifically designed curricula to explore old and new topics — we will continue developing our anti-oppression programming, our trainings on how to train, our budgeting and fundraising sessions and our personal development sessions.

THE NEW AND EXCITING SESSIONS ARE: a totally revised and revamped media training that will more intentionally link media to local needs AND a session on fractal leadership model development. There is room for more sessions, too, so if you have something to suggest, let us know! Anthony from the Agenda Committee can take your comment or question at

The food is going to be good // the connections are going to grow our network stronger // the snow in each city will be beautiful // the possibilities are growing!

We can’t wait to see you, new teams and old! The second best time of the year is here — January Gathering is coming!

January Gathering is Coming

Over D.C., Into Pittsburgh, Towards a New Country!

As we celebrate a government that is open, let’s take a second to remember that it’s ridiculous that the shutdown even happened. Let’s take a second as well to consider that the government more often than not is working against us even when it’s working. As Power Shift 2013 arrives in Pittsburgh today and tomorrow, let’s remember why we’re here, not D.C.

In 2009, even in 2011, it made sense to be in D.C. There was a climate bill on the table, we mustered the largest single-issue lobby day in history. Hell, Hurricane Sandy hadn’t happened. Fukushima hadn’t been dumping 300 metric tons of radioactive waste per day into the Pacific for two years. Things were looking up!

Then Barack Obama has a press conference saying natural gas is clean energy. Then Keystone XL becomes a bargaining tool in the budget negotiations, as if it is at all negotiable! Then, we hear about TPP, the Trans Pacific Partnership, referred to as NAFTA on steriods, secretly negotiated by corporations and governments and up for a vote in just a few months.

Yeah, I’m over D.C.

Grand Aspirations as a whole is mobilizing in Pittsburgh with other activists from around the country because we just don’t have time anymore. We just can’t wait any longer for the stodgy and corrupt Congresspeople to start giving a damn about everything from the American indigenous populations to the Gulf of Mexico. We just don’t have time anymore to negotiate sub-par energy bills and pollution standards. We need to STOP. We need to ORGANIZE. We need to DISOBEY. We need to BUILD SOMETHING NEW.

Power Shift is a challenge because it is not the end, it is the means. Many of us organizing the conference have been pouring effort into what will happen there because we want to structure the next steps, not just have a great conference. The Green Economy Working Group, a function of the Energy Action Coalition, has the goal of setting up 100 new Green Economy projects after the concert, and I’m hella pumped to say that these are on the way! The network is in place, the flyers are printed. We’re ready for Pittsburgh.

We’re not going to be lobbying, we’re going to be planning. We’re not going to be marching on a deaf White House with an ambivalent climate traitor inside, we’re going to mobilize against fracking at the heart of its dirty soul. We’re going to Pittsburgh because, to lift a term from undercover climate activist Winnie the Pooh, we could give less than one bother about Congress at this point.

I’ll be at the Green Economy Hub. Let’s hug and congratulate each other on being a part of the most important people’s movement in history: the movement to save our planet and each other from the stained and greedy fingers of corporation and government alike.

See you there!
-Anthony Peregrine Betori

Guest Blog: TPP and the Climate Struggle!

Imagine this: you spend years organizing with your community to stop the destructive practice of fracking that is poisoning your water supply. The power of the people pulls through and you win! Your local government passes a moratorium on fracking. Time to celebrate, right?

But wait– you just got news that a foreign oil and gas company is suing your government for $250 million dollars for violating their “right” to frack under an international agreement that was signed 20 years ago.

Sound completely outrageous? Last month, Lone Pine, an American oil and gas company, filed an official lawsuit against the government of Canada for passing a moratorium on fracking under the St. Lawrence river in Quebec.  Lone Pine is pointing to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that gives transnational corporations the power to sue NAFTA governments should they pass policies that violate their potential profits.

Yes, you read that correctly. In the name of “free trade,” transnational corporations are being elevated to the status of nation-states through binding international free trade agreements. These agreements rewrite laws and regulations that act as “trade irritants”– such as environmental protections, labor laws, food safety standards, or financial regulations. And if any participating country attempts to move forward with policies in the public interest, corporations can sue for hundreds of millions of dollars if they violate their “right” to make profit.

And right now, the Obama administration is seeking to extend this power to 30,000 more companies under a new potential free trade agreement, The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP includes 12 countries and would encompass 40% of the global economy, making it the most ambitious trade agreement in U.S. history. While 600 corporations have been given official “trade advisor status”, the public has no access to the content of these negotiations. Congress has had no say either, even as they rewrite important laws and protections that our legislators have passed in the public interest. The TPP will bring a wave of new corporate attacks including weakened environmental regulation, extreme increases in dirty energy exports like fracking, and work to undermine our movements by making it difficult to enact new regulations in the future.

The enemy is clever and stealthy. They have devised ingenious ways to quietly pass far-reaching, devastating policies through the back door and destroy what little democratic power we hold now. The TPP is the perfect example. Many of us didn’t see it coming, and worse, many still do not know what is upon us. But it’s not too late– we can still stop the TPP. There is still hope– we hold a tremendous amount of power.  It is times like these that require mass coordination and mobilization on an international scale. Not only so we can beat back global monsters like the TPP, but so that we may be move past positions of defense and take the power to determine our own future. While we work on local levels in our communities, we must also coordinate and communicate with our other brothers and sisters across the country that are fighting the same fight.

This month, join me at Powershift, where 10,000 young organizers from across the country will come together to connect and coordinate. I’ll be there to discuss current efforts to stop free trade agreements like the TPP, and learn from others how we can all work together. With globalized enemies, we need globalized resistance. Let us come together to celebrate our movement and find new ways to amplify our power through unity. Will I see you there?


Natalie Yoon is the National Organizer for United Students for Fair Trade. They recently launched their Topple the TPP campaign. Learn how to support the campaign here, and email Natalie at for more ways to get involved and where to find her at Powershift!

Our First Two Years and Growing Strong

By: Gabrielle Hinahara
Location: Middleton, WI

Around this time two years ago, my sister Natalie and I hatched the idea for Growing Food and Sustainability. It’s amazing to see how far our program has come since then, when it was just words and a vague vision in our minds.

Our first year taught us so much: we kept a garden alive in a record drought, learned that 9 weeks of continuous summer camp is too much, discovered how to form a close-knit team in three months, and found out that working 55+ hours per week all summer ends up burning you out before the fall harvest. We met amazing kids, ate delicious produce, got a darker tan than ever before, and tried so many new things. It was exhausting, exciting, hard, inspiring, and we knew we wanted to give it a go for a second season.

8Campers Last Year Continue reading

Soulardarity Taking it to the Next Level in Detroit

All good things must come to an end, and the Community Organizing grant from Grand Aspirations is no exception. But to quote another piece of folk wisdom, as one thing ends another begins, and that Soulardarity is very nearly prepared to launch into a fundraising campaign for a community-owned city-wide infrastructure project (and, hopefully, pay salaries) is evidence of this statement’s truth.

Brandon Knight, discussing a potential solar investment opportunity with these chickens

Brandon Knight, discussing a potential solar investment opportunity with these chickens

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DC Summer of Solutions Introduces its New Program!

Greetings friends! This is Josephine and Jeremiah from the DC program, Cultivating Intergenerational Leaders.  We are a new program that is working on creating a program that will engage middle and high school youth, college students, and senior citizens around issues of food justice. Earlier this month, we hosted the January Gathering, where program leaders from other cities such as Arleta, CA, Reno, NV and the state of West Virginia came together to participate in a training to prepare us to organize and host a Summer of Solutions program in our home communities.  This training was held at the Steinbruck Center at the Luther Place Memorial Church, which works to provide youth, students, and adults with the tools to address the root causes of poverty.

Those five days helped to give us the tools that we need to better prepare for our summer programs and to connect with other people who are working on similar projects.  I particularly appreciated the opportunity to provide input on the anti-oppression workshop as well as the information gained from the more technical workshops such as the accounting training. Continue reading

Local Solutionary Stories

Eli Shepherd’s Story

As is the tradition, many folks like to use the beginning of the year to reflect on the past year, and also to look forward, to set, if you will, their Grand Aspirations for the year ahead. As a 2013 program leader with the Iowa City Summer of Solutions program, I am just too excited to keep my Grand Aspirations for the program from the rest of the world.

I stumbled into Summer of Solutions in June of 2012- rather, I came across a Facebook post soliciting “solutionaries,” and subsequently walked over to a church basement in downtown Iowa City in June of 2012- and at first had no idea what to think. There was one really excited person who greeted me at the door, one person who I later discovered was also in high school, several people who attended the University of Iowa, several people who were studying engineering, and enough chairs and pumpkin muffins for the whole lot of us. By the end of our training week I knew I had found a home but it wasn’t until early August that I became truly invested in the work.

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Lace up your trainers…January Gatherings are fast approaching!

Grand Aspirations’ January Gatherings are 5-days of intensive training to give program leaders the tools to run successful programs in their communities.  This year, we are hosting three January Gatherings in program locations across the country!

  • Washington, D.C. from December 28th-January 1st
  • Hapeville, Georgia from January 9th-13th
  • Chicago, Illinois from January 17th-21st

January Gatherings are an extremely important and effective part of the leadership development training that Grand Aspirations provides to program leaders.  In addition to covering topics from anti-oppression to project development, participants will also have the opportunity to learn from (and become friends with!) the other amazing program leaders running projects in other locations.  This is really the grand kick-off to our new year of projects, and we couldn’t be more excited!

Curious what past program leaders have said about January Gatherings?  Check-out last year’s blog post from the Middleton Summer of Solutions team as they reflected on their experience.

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