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

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Coming back for a second Summer of Solutions

By: David Mack
Location: Chicago, IL

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David Mack (center) talking with the LETS GO team in summer 2012

Hello everyone! My name is David Mack. I am from Evanston, but have lived in Rogers Park all of my life. I just finished my freshman year on June 12. I’m one of the youngest to join Summer of Solutions at the age of 13 (I am 14 now). I am doing my second year here. I like this program because it gives me the chance to make a change in my town. I mean, who wouldn’t want to make their home a better place if they were given the chance? I was given the chance, and now I’m making my home a better place. Continue reading

Welcome to the Children’s Garden!

Location: Chicago, IL
By: Desi

Hello, friends!

Kids sharing their vegetables with the community

Kids sharing their vegetables with the community

Well, maybe we’re not friends yet–let me introduce myself! My name is Desi, I live in Chicago, I’m a grad student/writer/amateur gardener, and I love cheese. This is my first year at Summer of Solutions, and I’m proud to be one of the teachers of the Children’s Garden Class.

Before this program, I was aware of the nutrition deficit that many Americans deal with. A growing number of Americans don’t know what a healthy diet looks like, and even those who do often lack the funds to follow one. But even as aware as I was of the problem, I had never thought much about a solution. And I’m not sure why. Especially because what we are doing this summer–growing food locally and educating the community on how to do the same–seems like such an obvious answer. But now that I’m in-the-know, I’m super excited to pass on my knowledge and skills to a great group of kids. Continue reading

As Chicago thaws, things are heating up for LETS GO Chicago

LETS GO Chicago members have been quite busy throughout the late winter and early spring and we are excited to tell you why. As Chicago thaws, the Rogers Park solutionaries are revving up for their fourth season of gardening, community building, youth empowerment and more. We have been preparing for our spring garden since early March by planting seedlings in our new greenhouse in West Rogers Park. Through a new partnership with the Westwood Manor Nursing Home, we are breathing life into the 18 by 32 foot space with the help of nursing home residents. The greenhouse is allowing us to select a wider range of crop varieties while providing a valuable learning experience for all involved.

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The greenhouse at Westwood Manor

Come mid-May, we will also be adding a community garden to this open space on the nursing home grounds:

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Future site of a community garden

Continue reading

LETS GO Chicago announces Summer of Solutions 2013

Cross-posted from LetsGoChicago.org

A stiff breeze off the lakefront may have chilled our vegetation until the spring, but
an exciting fervor for planting and growing has been brewing in our solutionary
meetings with new and evolving plans for the future!

Our three main programs have reaped great success and lessons for us this past
year.

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Students showing off pickles made in the fall children’s garden class

The children’s garden remains an active staple in the ‘playground’ of LETS GO
Chicago. We maintain a fruitful partnership with the United Church of Rogers Park to help elementary school students to dig in and learn in our victory garden. Their textbooks are the raised beds in front of Koinonia house, an intentional community that is part of our home base, where they learn to identify, cultivate, know and love the land. This summer was jam packed with all kinds of fun games and activities with new kids and instructors. This fall we continued the fun pickling cucumbers and painting pumpkins ahead of the first frost. Just like perennials, the children’s garden will blossom once again in the Spring bringing with it new adventures and lessons. Continue reading

Through the lens of a Yard Sharer… Food, fire, magic, and community: Our work on reclaiming Place

Cross-posted from Letsgochicago.org

By Molly Costello

With the arrival of November and all its triumphant color, calm, and hints of frost, so comes the end of our second season as Yard Sharers. We celebrated the closing of another beautiful growing season with a bonfire, soup, and hot chocolate at our friend and land lender Bob’s house. This year we were able to expand our Rogers Park Yard Sharing Network from 1 to 6 back yards and expand our gardener population from one learning program (us) to around 25 new growers.

But as things wind down in our gardens, our work on the network picks up inside! To date, we have spent most of our yard share work time outside building and maintaining the network’s material infrastructure. In line with our vision of making this network flourish and grow, however, we understand our need to develop more of the organizational elements of the network. Therefore, Nell and I have been busy working on financial goals and re-writing land-use-agreements in hope to have a sound model to share with new Summer of Solutions programs come January. Continue reading

Building POWER and Growing Food in Rogers Park

This is the third post in a series of introductions by Sustainable Community Organizers working in the Midwest. This post is by Lookman Muhammed from the Chicago Summer of Solutions program.

Lookman Muhammed at the greenhouse

My name is Lookman Muhammed. I’m originally from Nigeria, I’ve been residing in Chicago, IL in the Rogers Park neighborhood for 15 years since the age of 3. I initially began working with Summer of Solutions LETS GO Chicago based at the United Church of Rogers Park on the north side of Chicago under Peter Hoy. From the month of May 2012 up until August I worked building rain gardens, advocating for more sustainable ways to live, and educating the community on how to grow food and become sustainable.

At first I looked at this as simply a job where I can make money to provide for myself and my unemployed mother. But after these long months of being around nothing but people who were so passionate about urban agriculture and changing the Rogers Park community for the better It rubbed off on me and I started loving this job much more than I did in the beginning of working with Summer of Solutions. I completed the summer program and learned about the many possibilities that exist if we can spread this idea of sustainability throughout the country. The many jobs that can be brought to the U.S. and the possibility of ending hunger appealed to me the most because of the growing poverty I’ve witnessed in Chicago over the years.

Continue reading