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

Ideas All Around

Greetings to you all out there in blogging land!  I hope that all is going well for you this February.  In Middleton, things have been going extremely well!

January 17th through February 8th has been a glorious rush of ideas and planning for us.  This all began when we arrived at the United Church of Rogers Park in Chicago.  This was the location of one of Grand Aspiration’s January Gatherings this year, where all the leaders of programs throughout the Midwest (and this year from Hartford, CT, too) gathered to learn, teach, and enjoy each other’s company.  Though I have been involved in Growing Food and Sustainability for over a year, this was my first January Gathering and it was quite an experience.  The week contained trainings on everything from the abstract early in the week (the green economy, and the larger systems organizing our world) to the concrete towards the end of the week (such as the best way to message and frame the work that we are doing). I also helped to facilitate a community organizing training, which was a relatively new and informative experience for me, as I had never facilitated a training for such a large group of people before.  Towards the end of the week, we had some time to get together as a team and begin to create plans and share our ideas for our summer, and everything that goes into making it possible.  It was a process that was slightly overwhelming, but in the end yielded many great ideas and much excitement for the semester ahead.

1Facilitating the Community Organizing Training Continue reading

January Gathering 2013: A Tale of Three Cities

Our journey begins on December 28th in our nation’s capital. A dozen young Solutionaries from all ends of the country are convening at the Steinbruck Center in downtown DC. From Arleta, California and Reno, Nevada in the west to West Virginia in the east, these intrepid travelers join up with hosts from the new Washington DC Summer of Solutions program to learn the skills they will need to empower other young people through their programs and produce real green economy solutions. It is the beginning of the first of the 2013 January Gathering trainings (yes, even in late December), where we will work together to transform our minds and get prepared to run incredible programs this summer.


Solutionaries at the DC January Gathering map their feelings of interconnectedness at the end of the week.

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Reflections on January Gathering

As I walked out of the house where all my new friends were and I passed the church where I had spent 22 of 24 hours the last five days, a sadness clutched my heart. I had spent so much energy in the warm and welcoming walls of that building. I had learned about some of the most powerful tools anyone my age could have. I had forged friendships that would last a lifetime. I couldn’t help but feel that each step I took was taking me away from all that.

I was headed for a lonely train ride to a lonely bus ride back home, where I’d be hours away from anyone I’d shared these days with. It was hard to keep positive with that in mind.

As I sat on the train and I gazed out the window, I saw dozens of buildings, and something slowly dawned on me. I began to grow fearful. While I was at this Gathering, my thoughts had revolved around all the things I could do. As I looked out, I realized how much I would not be able to do. In this city alone, there were millions of people affected by the complex social and personal problems we had been identifying. There were surely hundreds of people trying to help the way we were. I realized how difficult it would be to unite all these solution-seeking individuals, and how little they could do to disrupt these issues which affect all of humanity. Continue reading

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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