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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Sustain DuPage volunteer Beth Weiner in our Victory Garden for a short interview! Beth shares her unique intersectional experience being a woman and environmental activist in DuPage County. We’re so thankful that she donates her time, passion, and skills to our nonprofit! (7:06 min) Check it out! 

Transcript

Hi, I’m Beth Weiner, and the thing that I want people to know about this garden is, it is a wonderful community of people who care about their community and about this planet. You will gain amazing friendships, community connections, skills, and a place to just go and be away from the chaos of life and just feel boosted and supported. Whether you’re looking for gardening skills, whether you’re looking for friendships, you’ll find it here.

Andrew: WooooOOOooo! Ok, so like, what got you into eco stuff?

Beth: So, it’s actually a funny story because it started out when I was a Girl Scout, wayyyyy back when. Um, all the other girls in my troop were very interested in like, going camping and everything too, but they all wanted to like cabin-camp, and like still have like- NOT go outside. They’d be like very into the girly-girl aspects of the sewing and all that and I was the girl like, JUMPING into the river and like getting all of them muddy and disgusting and dirty and they would get angry. And I just really loved being in the outdoors um, and as I got older, and as I got into school, um, I pursued other interests and I kind of forgot about it because the Girl Scout troop disbanded and there weren’t a lot of outlets for young women who were interested in the outdoors. Um, and when I went off to college, I was interested in studying biology, um, it didn’t work out because I was really bad at chemistry, so I thought there were other ways and other skills and volunteering that I could do to still make an impact.

Andrew: Mm. What does it mean to you to be a part of agriculture as an American?

Beth: So I never really connected those two words in my brain before now, which is probably part of the problem. So, I think we live very much in a post-industrial world where people are not connected to the land. They don’t posses the same Land Ethic that they used to have because on a large scale, things like this garden and places like this garden don’t exist to empower people with skills to, you know, work the land and reap- and the benefits of the land and feel that sense of place. So I think that’s part of the problem, is that um, we don’t think of the word “American” as being tied to the land, um,  and I think that’s a huge disconnect that I’m only beginning to address by learning some of these gardening skills.

Andrew: Are you a farmer?

Beth: I am here!

Andrew: OooOOOoooh! Good Answerrrr! What do you believe our role as Millennials is in the Food Justice Movement?

Beth: So I think a lot of people in our generation are very passionate, um, and are kind of waking up to the idea that we are inheriting a world that is not just. And, it rightfully makes us upset. And I think it is our job to channel that frustration into a constructive and educational movement which will empower people to fight for what they believe in, instead of feeling like there is nothing that they can do.

Andrew: Mm. Is your Womanhood important to you?

Beth: Mhm.

Andrew: Do you find, um, special significance in a garden setting, as like, specifically speaking to like, your Womanhood?

Beth: Sure. So, I think of the Earth as, um, Mother. Um, and I think that the way the Earth gives life is very tied to the way that the Feminine gives life. So for me, a lot of it resonates in what I think about as the Divine Feminine and the Life-giving powers of the World. Um, and those- that wisdom that I think in a very Patriarchal-led society we’ve gotten very far away from, and so it’s incredibly empowering to make that connection, here in the garden.

Andrew: Aaaaaand, right now, literally the ‘gahden’ is filled with ladies. Does that mean a lot to you?

Beth: Absolutely.

Andrew: I think it’s really cool that our garden has, naturally like, just kind of magnetized like all these strong female leaders.

Beth: Yeah! Lindsayyyyy looking at you! Strong female leader! In one of my classes in college, it was an independent study with, um, a female professor, and it focused on um, ties in literature between the environment and the [sic] Feminism, and also relating that to post-colonialism [sic] and the othering of, um,  minorities and women and the way that, um, Patriarchal society demonizes that and is that tied to the way that we treat the Planet? Is the way that we treat the Planet, like a garbage can basically, tied to the way that we treat women in our society?

Andrew: Would you say it is?

Beth: I think so. Because of the feminizing- the way that we use female words to describe the Planet, um, I think it kind of gives society an ‘in’ to kind of abuse it [sic].

Andrew: Brutal.

Beth: Yeah.

Andrew: How do we change that?

Beth: We have to build connections like this. You know, we have to connect people and realize that this is important on a very personal level, because unless it affects you, and your experience, you’re not going to change it- or someone you love. I think there’s a lot of psychology- and I think a psychologist would have a really good answer for that- and I would love to see, um, psychologists getting involved in the environmental movement, and helping work towards changing people’s attitudes. Because we grow up with pre-conceived notions about the world, and I think it takes- really on a fundamental, like *brainstem* level, changing the way we think.

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