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!

 

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!