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!

 

Sally Jungblut 23 July, 2017.

Sally Jungblut, born and raised in Lombard IL, is currently enrolled as a Biomimicry Master’s student at Arizona State University. She has worked in many different communities in as an environmental educator, volunteer, artist and solid waste coordinator. Sally is currently working with Biomimicry Chicago on their Deep Roots Initiative to inform the Chicago community about their environment and a future in sustainability.

(605 words)

Biomimicry – the word does not fall off the tongue easily. Even though I’ve been studying this subject for over a year, whenever I pronounce that word I still feel my tongue trip just a little. It’s not a word you’re
expecting either. When people have asked me what I’m studying they’ll lean in as I say, “Biomimicry,” to which the instant reply is, “What?” Once it’s explained though, it’s very easy to relate to because it’s all something we’ve done through our entire history…in a sense.

Let’s break down the word. ‘Bio’ – the brain instantly refers to biology or something living. Biology is the science of life on Earth and how it continues to dazzle us with new and amazing properties every day. It’s what you see when you look outside or touch when you go to the grocery store. It’s our story of how we came to be and how we are able to continue to live. “-Mimicry” or to mimic: to imitate or mirror. I do not know any kid that hasn’t gone through one phase of imitating an animal noise. I can’t speak for kids all over the world, but every kid I’ve encountered always knows “Old McDonald had a Farm.” In fact, as we grow from infant to toddler, toddler to child, child to pre-teen and so on and so forth we’re constantly imitating what we see and learn. As a kid
you’re imitating animals or your older sibling; as teenagers you try to emulate people you look up to or think are ‘cool’. So as it turns out, mimicry is an integral part of our life as biology is.

So if we put the two together “Bio-mimicry” we can understand that we are emulating the processes of nature. We are imitating what we see. Now you might say, “Haven’t we always done that?” and it’s true, we have. Since the beginning, we as humans have taken and used nature as our template or inspiration. When gardening, you use a rake to loosen up the soil which helps get rid of unwanted plants. What is the rake tool if not a claw based off a
badger who uses its claws to dig a home for itself? Scuba divers use fin-like extensions on their feet for mobility underwater. Fins that fish and other aquatic life use to move as well. Biomimicry is an age old process – something that we’ve all used throughout our lives, but we’ve never given true thought to
how it actually works in nature. Nature is a test lab. It has a certain amount of variables, a diverse set of players and an exact, even calculating manner in which it operates. The first signs of biological life began 3.8 billion years ago. That means that within 3.8 billion years nature has experimented, trialed and tested organisms through many different climates and changes until we’ve arrived here at this time. We are the latest in evolutionary chain. Those organisms that couldn’t adapt went extinct. We’ve survived because in nature we have succeeded. Yes, humans are awesome – but we’re not the only ones who have succeeded and that’s something worth pointing out. All living things that we live with are champions too and so we have to realize why they are champions and what we could learn from them.

Biomimicry is our chance to look at where we came from, who we are and who we want to become. It’s our chance to learn from the 3.8 billion years of trial and error so that we lead more sustainable lives. This is it. It’s time to mimic.

 

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

Andrew Van Gorp 15 July, 2017.

(523 words)

I first met Karen Vanek at the Resiliency Institute a few years ago at a workshop on vegan eating. We struck up a conversation quickly- and I still remember talking about the DuPage deer cull and how excited we both were dreaming up an idea that the Forest Preserve could sell culled deer meat in DuPage as jerky or sausage with all profits going directly back toward DuPage conservation efforts. (Perhaps sold at Kline Creek Farm?) Looking back, it’s pretty hysterical that we held an in-depth conversation about sustainable meat-eating at a workshop meant to encourage veganism. “The rest is history” as they say.

Through the years Karen has inspired me with her unique insight into quirky and esoteric knowledges. We have had the funkiest conversations, and I always have enjoyed that Karen is never afraid to turn a commonly-accepted worldview on its head- questioning everything we think we know. When we needed more Sustain DuPage Board Members, Karen stepped up to the plate.

In her time as Sustain DuPage Board Member, Karen has helped put on the successful First Annual DuPage County Environmental Commission & Committee Symposium, tabled many events, participated in workshops, taken down the minutes at meetings, and started conversations about a permaculture pilot project at our Victory Garden.

That’s why it’s hard for me to reconcile the fact that Karen is moving away. John Muir famously wrote, “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” As Karen leaves DuPage to start an exciting new chapter in her kick*ss life, I feel saudade. Of course I’m happy for her new adventure- and I know she will excel at whatever she does wherever she goes in life- but truly, I’m sad for our community’s loss.

I’m constantly railing about the importance of community- how without a community support system people are more likely to act out aggressively, suffer from depression and anxiety and drug abuse (and the list goes on!) but today I find myself weirdly resentful of just how tight-knit the Sustain DuPage community has become. Because, loss hurts. Loss hurts a lot! When I think of Karen living a few states away, it makes me want to cry. And, to be honest, as I’m typing this, I’m crying a little. 

Karen has a sharp mind, a caring heart, a passion for sustainability justice. I find my heart has become fully hitched to Karen’s friendship and support. I will always treasure the beautiful memories I’ve shared with Karen, and her shoes will be hard to fill.

But fill them we must. The movement Karen has helped to build here will continue on. The eco-movement, the pro-earth movement, the environmental movement, the sustainability justice movement- whatever you want to call it- it’s bigger than any one of us. It is an ancient struggle and it will surely continue to be waged long after we have all walked on from this life. As Karen moves East, we will be looking for a new Board Member.

If you are interested in filling this crucially important role in our community, please read this article to see if you are ready to apply!

Karen, you can move away, but we will always know you to be a DuPager Abroad. 😉

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

the storytellers

Beth Weiner

 

 

 

 

Beth Weiner 13 June, 2017.

Beth is a guest writer for Sustain DuPage from the Lil’ Green Warrior blog- check out her awesome work!

(617 words)

If a tree gets infected with Emerald Ash Borer and nobody is there to tell people that the ash trees are endangered, do they still die?

If baby oak trees get outcompeted for resources by honeysuckle and buckthorn, but nobody rallies the troops to fight them, do they still fade away?

If roadways intersect habitat, causing fragmentation and destruction, but nobody is there to explain why we see roadkill, do those lost animal lives mean nothing?

If the community meets, and shares stories and lore, and culture and ways of life are taught, but there is no one to document and pass it down, does it die out?

If the stars disappear, and nobody is there to tell the stories of their beauty and to inspire others to bring them back, were they ever really there?

Words shape our reality. Stories shape our truth. If there is no one to tell the truth, how do we know things at all?

In many ancient cultures, the role of the storyteller, and the role of the artist, was a special one, often sacred. This is because art and stories told of ancestors, of tradition, of religion, and of culture. They didn’t have facebook, they didn’t have Instagram, they didn’t have photographs, and before written language, the only way to pass on stories, culture, and heritage, was through verbal storytelling and other art forms such as music, drawing, weaving, painting, and more.

We are the shapers of truth, my fellow artists. Now, in a time of global upheaval and turmoil (though to be honest, what time is not a time of upheaval and turmoil? All times are fraught with such things, it seems), six media corporations control most of the news. This means that the truth, the reality, that most people see and experience in the world, is painted by six large corporations driven by profit. Even local media is often controlled by corrupt governments.

It is for such a time, then, that the Sustain DuPage Artists Collective exists. The Sustain DuPage Artist Collective seeks, through community and art (of all mediums), to provide a sounding board for artists to showcase their work and help fundraise for environmental issues. Each year, the collective will hold an exhibition of work around a sustainability topic that Sustain DuPage as a whole is seeking to make a difference on. This is an all-hands-on-deck call to you, you beautiful artist, or any artists you know who seek to quench their fiery inner desire to affect positive social change through their work, and gain a community of like-minded artists.

This year, the Collective is focusing on the importance of the stars. Sustain DuPage’s EC3 is engaged in a quest to pass a Starry Skies ordinance that will clear up light pollution in DuPage and bring back a clear night sky full of stars. How do the stars inspire you? Join us and share!

Though the exhibition itself will be focused on stories and art inspired by the stars, the Collective still welcomes work and artists who are inspired by other aspects of sustainability and is in no way closed only to pieces and artists focused on the stars.

If you would like to get involved or learn more, there are several ways to do so. You can contact Andrew Van Gorp, Sustain DuPage’s founder and president, to learn more about the next meeting of the artist’s collective and other ways to get involved.

Or, if you are a writer, consider contributing a piece of writing to the Sustain DuPage blog. Contact Andrew for that as well! We are constantly seeking new contributors who have something to say about sustainability or environmental topics in DuPage county.

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

 

 

grandfather tree oak people sitting nature connection

 

Beth Weiner

 

 

 

Beth Weiner 16 March, 2017.

Beth is a guest writer for Sustain DuPage from the Lil’ Green Warrior blog- check out her awesome work!

( 967 words)

The morning is frigid. You knew it would be. You roll out of bed and look at your clock- 8:00 a.m., on the dot. You roll to one side, and the sun is streaming through the window. You’d never know it was 20 degrees out there. You curse yourself silently for volunteering to do outdoor work in Churchill Woods on a frigid March morning. Your word is good though, and so you can’t back out now, especially since there’s a text from Andrew Van Gorp, the head of Sustain DuPage, a person who you respect deeply, blinking on your phone.

So you’re awake. You guzzle coffee, grasping it firmly between your cupped hand as you sip in the morning. You pull on the five layers of clothing you’ve laid out for this morning. The last thing to come on is the hiking boots, the steel-toed wonders you bought last year. You love wearing them, because it makes you feel strong. Like you can change the world. Today, that’s what you’re planning to do. Even if it’s in a small way.

You pile into the car and enter the address that was on the meetup group into your GPS. 22 minutes. Why is it so darn far? You hope you’re going to the right place. You drive, and drive, and drive…why do these streets not look right? You pull into the parking lot, and there’s no one there. Great. Just your luck! Of course you’re in the wrong parking lot. Oh well. You pull out and type in the name of the preserve. “Churchill Woods.” Only four minutes away….that’s not bad.

As you pull in, you can see a line of people behind a car, signing waivers. Wow, there’s actually quite a few people here. That’s great news, because it means you’ll get a lot of work done, but you don’t know ANY of them, because you’re new. It’s also not the greatest thing for you personally, because you’re a bit of an introvert. Oh well, the social atmosphere is really only a plus. You’re here to make a difference.

You fill out a waiver and follow the group, grabbing a pair of loppers. Andrew is explaining to the group how to identify buckthorn, an awful invasive species that grows like a weed, which crowds out light from the roots of the native oak trees. It’s also pointy on the ends, meaning it stabs your clothes. You’re not really dressed properly either, and it’s way colder than you thought it would be. You’ll be cutting away buckthorn and hauling it into piles so that the native oaks and other native species can thrive.

It’s quiet here. It’s quiet, and sunny, and peaceful, despite the group of 20-40 people hacking away at buckthorn. A few conversations pop up, but most people are minding themselves or their nearest neighbor, hard at work in comfortable silence.

The sun streams through the trees, and the peaceful pace of the work is meditative. You would never know that just over the ridge is a busy street. You’re immersed in the peace of the forest preserve. You’re home.

This is Churchill Woods, and you’re here with Sustain DuPage, a local nonprofit that is dedicated to creating a greener, healthier, and more sustainable DuPage County. Churchill Woods Protectors is one of their five mission projects. These five mission projects are designed to touch upon the three pillars of sustainability- people, the environment, and the economy. How does Churchill Woods do this? From a societal perspective, you are empowered with new knowledge about how to care for the environment. You are also surrounded by a community of like-minded individuals and you build a common bond through your hard work. From an environmental perspective, you begin to heal some of the man-made destruction that has been brought onto the natural woodlands here. According to Sustain DuPage’s website, these disturbances include, but aren’t limited to habitat fragmentation, fire suppression, salt pollution, soil erosion, flooding, petroleum pollution…and the list goes on. You may not have contributed directly to these damages, but it feels good to be helping restore the natural habitat by giving native species a chance. Finally, forest preserves actually help boost our economy. The more natural areas we have near our homes and in our communities, the higher our property values.

Churchill Woods is a popular fishing, picnicking, and hiking spot. It is beautiful. As you hack away at buckthorn, your fingers begin to numb, but you don’t really care. Your phone alarm goes off, and unfortunately, you have to go. You scan the woods for your fearless leader, Andrew, who seems to be oblivious to anything except the buckthorn he’s herbiciding so that pesky stuff doesn’t come back. You wave at him and he waves back with a jaunty, perky smile, with a signature bit of sass. You walk with him to the parking lot and talk about how Churchill Woods needs more accessibility for pedestrians  and individuals with physical disabilities. A project for a later date.

He gives you a hug as you tell him you have to go. You feel a bond with the people that you work towards a common cause with. Your fingers are numb, but your heart is warm. For one day, you’ve made a bit of a difference among the sunny oaks of Churchill Woods. The work is far from done, but seeing the glade of buckthorn you’ve cleared is immensely gratifying- at least until next time.

Later that day, you get a text from Andrew- 

Yes, yes, I did. The woods are their own beautiful reward.

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

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