Andrew Van Gorp 31 July, 2017.

Andrew Van Gorp was born and raised in Glen Ellyn IL. He is a community organizer, activist, artist, and Founder of Sustain DuPage.

*Video at bottom of this page.

(987 words)

Content Note: indigenous oppression

Many people are often curious about our Victory Garden Mission Project. You could say the Victory Garden is…unique.

“The goal is to empower DuPagers with the ability to grow and cook their own food as well as to strengthen community bonds around local foodways” we tell eager listeners. In a sustainability mindset, the thinking goes: what’s the point of being able to grow your own food if you can’t cook it- and vice versa? In nerd language, we’re trying to increase the agricultural and nutritional literacy of DuPage County as well as the richness of social trust that exists here.

“How does it work?” many people ask. We tell them that volunteers show up and we sometimes do one-on-one mentorships in the garden, but mostly we practice group learning.

“Group learning? You mean there’s not just one teacher?” I was first introduced to this teaching/learning style in Northern Wisconsin. At first, most people find it antithetical to how we’re used to being taught. After all, in most classrooms across the country- there’s just one teacher. In group learning, anyone who has something to contribute to the group can feel empowered to share their knowledge and take pride when their community members genuinely thank them for what knowledge they are able to give. Pack mentality- we all rise together!

“Well, who gets all the produce?” is usually the next question. Most people’s eyes are a little interrogative when they ask that, which is understandable. I think when we say that 1/3 of the Victory Garden’s mission is to improve the nutritional literacy of DuPage, and another 1/3 is to strengthen community bonds around local food ways- it just doesn’t click for most people. So we happily rephrase in a shorter answer, “we plant the food together, we water the food together, we weed the food together, we harvest the food together, we cook the food together, and we eat the food together!”

In more than a handful of interactions we have had a few people who tsk tsk our eating that which we have grown. Some people have even said, “you really should be donating that to the food pantry.” My stomach clenches when this happens. I always find it very assuming for someone to assert that I myself am not potentially a recipient of emergency nutrition assistance. After all, I’m currently living in my mother’s house, making less than a living wage- so the food that comes out of the garden is a god-send for me in addition to all of our volunteers. In fact, many of our volunteers are working multiple jobs, paying off debilitating student loan debt, and making less than a living wage. They work incredibly hard to grow food at the Victory Garden and we are incredibly proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish as volunteers. In addition, we applaud community groups who volunteer their time to grow food for local food pantries, providing a crucially needed service! I usually try to explain when faced with this statement of disapproval that Sustain DuPage volunteers can witness to how our work strengthens DuPage’s struggling community- creating a more secure future for us all. We find our work in the garden to be critical, valuable, and rewarding!

In future years, we also hope to demonstrate to the community the feasibility of having an enjoyable professional life as an organic farmer in DuPage County. We are currently researching the potential for starting a CSA program, providing crucial job skills for volunteers and interns as well as a direly needed stream of capital for Sustain DuPage, which operates solely from community donations and volunteer hours. Perhaps we might even be able to hire staff this way at some point in the future, creating long-term sustainability jobs.

A few weeks ago, one of our volunteers asked if a local group could take a small portion of the Victory Garden for their own use. Sometimes questions have a unique ability of exposing beliefs, perspectives, and deep truths. I understood from this question that I was not doing as good of a job as I thought I was in communicating how our Victory Garden works. After all, we’d been calling it our “community garden” for about a year now. I realized that when most people hear the term “community garden” they think of a piece of land that has been divided up into plots, where the food grown is not shared freely- but kept from being shared.  So, by that understanding, our Victory Garden is not a community garden at all! Our garden is undivided and unplotted- it’s wholly shared. Allow me to explain why.

In school, within my major I had a focus on Native American Studies. In one of our classes we read William Cronin’s Changes in the Land. This book explores how Colonial European models of land ownership decimated the cultures and people of Native America. The Colonial model of land ownership operates from a scarcity mindset- that there won’t be enough for everyone and thus, land must be divided and protected from the other. One of the highest priorities of the United States Government during the original period of conquest in North America was to destroy the pillar of Native identity that was communal land ownership. (Some communities were literally starved until they acquiesced to the concession of communal land ownership rights). Communal land ownership is a threat to colonial rule (and neo-colonial rule), because it allows for self-sustenance, the efficient use of resources, and a gift economy- protecting citizens from exploitation. All of these are threats to Colonialism/Capitalism which relies on corporate-dependence, inefficiency/redundancy/waste, and privatization/self-priority. 

The Sustain DuPage Victory Garden is undivided. It is truly communally operated and communally shared. The best way to describe the garden in one word is Usufruct, since in deed we do not own rights to the property, but rather it was gifted to us by the Theosophical Society for our use. Usufruct is an old term which boils to a definition of: a property owner allowing people to use the land and reap the benefits, without the food growers actually owning the land on paper.

I hope that clears up a few mysteries about our Victory Garden. However, we at Sustain DuPage have learned that current trends show that less and less people in society like to read. The truth is, we as a society are transitioning to visual mediums of communication. That’s just what we prefer. But this message from Sustain DuPage is too crucially important to be lost to the internet- so, in addition to this article, I decided to create a video in an attempt to explain our garden’s unique operation. If you have read this, thank you! I hope you enjoy the video below!

 

Sustain DuPage can’t operate without your support. Find out here all the ways you can involve yourself!

 

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