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!

 

 

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!

Beth Weiner

 

 

 

 

Beth Weiner 31 May, 2017.

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

(603 words)

Dusk has fallen over DuPage. The sky is dimming, but it is still light as mosquitos come out to play anywhere there is standing water, which, after the recent spring rains, is quite a few puddles lining the streets and potholes as cars splash their way through the roads on their way home.

Commuters are pouring out of their nine to five gigs, rushing to get home to their families for a hug and a kiss, cursing the bad roads and the dusky damp weather. It is not raining now- a miracle after the past few days. Some commuters, however, rush, not to their houses, but to a different kind of home and community: The Sustain DuPage victory garden.

They rush to join the few who have already congregated on the grounds of the Theosophical Society, mixing soil and planting potatoes in earnest. The garden has more than doubled in size this year, thanks to a gracious and welcome donation of extra space to grow from the Wheaton Theosophical Society. With this generous donation, however, comes a whole lot of work! But this community is up to it.

As they gather, hugs and squeals of joy are exchanged, welcoming people back to the garden. “I haven’t seen you!” “How are you?” “What can I do to help?” “Thank goodness the weather is good tonight!” The air is mixed with equal parts joy, family, dedication, peace, and a slight sense of urgency.

You should hear Andrew VanGorp, Sustain DuPage’s founder, talk about the plans for the garden. The passion and excitement in his voice is palpable as he walks newcomers through the plot, outlining his plans. Lindsay Zimmerman, Garden Director, spouts wisdom and assigns newcomers to tasks with a mix of leadership and welcome that instantly make everyone feel at home, and as though their contributions are welcome, whether they are pulling weeds, hauling soil, or planting. She is the garden’s wise matriarch, and seems to hold the fabric of the community together with a calming sense of urgency—she sees where people fit, and directs them accordingly. She and Andrew hold the fabric of this community together like needle and thread, sewing a lovely tapestry of plants and people.

What is the Sustain DuPage Victory Garden? Victory Gardens are not a new concept. During World War II, the United States government encouraged everyday citizens to grow food in an effort to bolster the war effort. Today, we find ourselves similarly endangered by the pressing threat of Climate Change. Part of having a sustainable community is having a sustainable food source, and teaching people how to grow their own food, and cook their own food, rather than relying on a trip to the grocery story and big companies to provide their food supply.

The Sustain DuPage Victory Garden seeks to empower individuals with a vital skill of growing their own food and cooking it. It builds nutritional literacy, along with community and resiliency against climate change.  Everyone provides skill and labor according to what they are able to give, and in return, they receive cooking and gardening skills, and food, according to what they need. On top of that, they gain community, fellowship, friends, and laughter. Join us on Thursdays, from 5 pm-8 pm. You can find more information on the Victory Garden Facebook page!

We’re looking for contributors! Want to write about sustainability in your community here in DuPage county? Want to be a featured local artist or sustainable business? Contact Andrew Van Gorp, Sustain DuPage Founder and President, by clicking here, or Beth Weiner, Sustain DuPage Volunteer Director of Communications by clicking here.

 

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

We set out to improve DuPage County’s Agricultural and Nutritional Literacy, and we did just that. In our 200 sq. ft. garden, we made some really special memories. 

We’ve been given the go-ahead to expand the garden next year, and we are ECSTATIC. We have so many ideas planned. Make sure you sign up for our main E-Newsletter to receive updates about Victory Garden events!

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