INTERVIEW// Manu

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Photo provided by Manu

Let’s Build Garden City!‘s huge citywide workshop series How to Make A Million While Selling Your Crops in the Hood is the gift that keeps giving! Here’s our Q&A with Grow-Op Chicago member & artist Manu! Stay tuned for more gem-filled interviews with farmers in your area! See you next Spring ^_^

 

THE Q&A

What advice do you have for students starting out?

I would definitely say the first thing is Collaboration. With the free time & ability to move around that a student might have, link up with people or organizations who have already been doing work. Not necessarily to commit to sticking with them forever but just to kind of get into the industry, start developing friendships, you know?

How did you get started out?

My nutritional anthropology professor asked me to be a part of a research team, mostly made up of grad students. The study was measuring the impact that Dekalb County Community Gardens had on the level of food security or insecurity in Dekalb County. So I was like “Yeah, that sounds really really awesome.” Dekalb, IL has a pretty big Latinx population. I was asked as part of the research team to use the training I was getting in anthropological methods to interview people – it was mostly people of color .

What are some local resources you think students should know about?

AUA (Advocates for Urban Agriculture). I’m friends with a few of them there and enjoy
what they do. Their main focus is to get resources out to people who are interested in
urban agriculture.  They have a new resource guide you can get for free online through their website, you can also buy a hardcopy. I recently finished translating
it into Spanish. There’s a lot of accessible resources that even a student could learn from.

So definitely AUA, specifically their resource guide. Through AUA they also have this really really cool mapping website. CUAMP, the Chicago Urban Agriculture Mapping Project. You basically go on this website and type in your address and it’ll show you the different community gardens, urban farms, and places where people grow near you.

I do Grow-Op Chicago, with Matthew Gladly and others. Our goal is to connect people. That’s why I love CUAMP  because it makes that work so much easier.

I also was going to talk about Steve who runs OTIS farms in Back of the Yards.

Down the street from Breathing Room Space?

Yeah! Steve is just wonderful, he has a lot of knowledge. He’s currently staying at Breathing Room, so you could go there and find him.

Do you have any advice for students just looking for a fun service learning project to do?

If you’re not into touching dirt you don’t have to. *laughs* There’s so much that goes on outside of the actual garden that is essential for having any sort of profitable success or just success as far as impact.  There’s a lot you can do without having to actually be placing the seeds down.

What’s the secret to students treating each other right?

First of all developing an overall sense of self-awareness- how your presence is affecting a space that you’re interacting with and the people you’re interacting with. Not in a judgmental way but in a literal “how is my presence here affecting what’s going on.”

And at that point being aware of what’s already happening wherever you are. And then taking into consideration the other people you might be interacting with have feelings, goals, passions, and hopefully have other people’s best intentions in mind. Which isn’t always true but still when you meet someone, they are sentient. They have a whole history and paradigm they’re experiencing things from.

And then after that we can talk about communication. Different culture doesn’t necessarily have to be in another country. Even in Chicago there’s so many different cultures, there’s ethnic cultures to social cultures. People are different. We all have a similar condition but people are approaching it in so many ways. Being aware of that.

But I think it first has to come from inside. Because if you’re not understanding how you’re impacting where you’re at it’s going to be very difficult to understand why people are acting the way they are.

Earlier you mentioned “anthropological imagination,” do you want to talk about that more?

Yeah! Another friend of mine who I met first through them being my professor in college is Mark Schuller. He’s an anthropologist that’s been writing about this concept. Imagination often takes on a meaning of “child’s play;”  it’s very stigmatized, like “imagination isn’t real” or  like it’s just what little kids do or something. But really how I’m understanding “anthropological imagination” is it’s taking a very holistic multidisciplinary approach to how we can process, address, or ideally solve contemporary world issues.

I’ve been thinking a lot about using that concept and applying it to people not having equitable access to food, you know, where they’re living. I’ve been thinking a lot about that and like not even how to research something like that, even though that is really important, but how to engage as an advocate for urban agriculture within communities. Whether it’s my own community or a community I’m involved in through another growing initiative. It’s like using anthropological imagination to become aware of what’s been happening in this community,  what is happening now, and, like, where do people in this community wanna go?

And really forgetting about these -ologies, you know?

Thank you!

 


 

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OLD ESSAY// #LTAB2015, observations and feelings

 

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note: this was originally posted on my personal tumblr 7 months ago during the 2015 Louder Than Bomb competition. my current recommendation is more workshops centered around community/writing etc included in next year’s festival (hopefully at least as an extension of the Queeriosity program 🙂 ). I look forward to continuing the discussion and thank everyone who makes LTAB possible! – +, 10/26/2015

In my experience, poets on the Louder Than A Bomb stage tend to perform provocative pieces about being great writers, free thinkers, and cultural revolutionaries; eager to break free of oppressive molds and affirm their truest self. With respect to the urgency of that spirit, I speak:

When I was in high school I pretty much only wrote “slam pieces” during the school year. Not just “slam pieces” but LTAB pieces.

In 2007 the Morgan Park High School team I was on made it to finals. I think we came in fourth. My piece was/is called “Price of Retribution.” In it I spoke to a Catholic priest who had abused a child and on behalf of the child who grew up to eventually speak out. I don’t remember my scores, they weren’t great. I’m proud forever, but I can admit now that on that Finals stage a good amount of my performance style was keyed up to make it seem like I was more emotional than I actually felt. Not for the audience, not even on behalf of my subjects, but for the scores.

Yesterday I went to LTAB semifinals. I went to the 4-6 PM bout and was a VIP judge for 7-9PM.

I left several times during the first semis bout. I was disturbed by the consistently upsetting content. I had to call a friend for help. To calm down and also to ask how I was supposed to judge in this setting. My friend asked me -my- criteria, I chose out of what they offered: word choice and complexity of approach to the subject matter.

In my experience, homogeneity has increased exponentially as the slam artform has gained in popularity and prestige. Fellow competitors (and current organizers) have talked about this trend for years behind doors and occasionally through satirical performance.

I gave 7s in my bout when I judged yesterday and people yelled and booed and ridiculed me the entire time. I can tell you, as objectively as I can, that those pieces of art entered into competition with one another were indistinguishable in terms of content, performance style, and diction. Within the bout itself and especially in relation to the hundreds of #LTAB poems I’ve seen in years past.

Louder Than A Bomb has become a themed slam. And a mold to fit or be rejected from. And when I thought that that was all these children, these judges, or these slams were good for I wasn’t thinking hard enough about what kids are actually capable of.

LTAB being presumed as the most authentic voice of these children is inaccurate. And dangerous, not least when it comes to the dis-ability of someone to dissent from affirming that concept.

If I see an [ethnic background] poet onstage and they are using their 20 or so lines in the group piece to yell about how they are more than the stereotype of [ethnic background], at this point of the culture on some level it can feel like they have unwittingly re-become a different kind of caricature for a different kind of audience’s gaze.  Is that still as powerful as they can be, as an artist or human? As liberated?  What other ways do they write? And when they “lose” with this specific presentation of self, in this specific format of a format of a format, and have been made to feel like this their most authentic outlet…Well, IDK.

My definitive question is, is LTAB now encouraging children to tell us only what we want to hear, how we want to hear it? And worse, are we tokenizing pain- actually encouraging insincerity as the norm? If not, then why is the slam the way it is? And what can we, as a community of thinkers, competitors, and co-creators do to shift to something more expansive and inclusive?

I made tweets criticizing the first slam and it embroiled me in some serious conflict with a few organizers of the event during.

My initial tweets read:
rly disappointed in & unenthused by this #LTAB semis. it feels formulaic, uninspired. “every piece” is quivering voices, generic complaints

and all the scores are like 8.5s.  realized what a specific event this is (has become) #ltab

The organizers feel that I was belittling the children.  Given the sensitive, passionate nature of my self, the children, the organizers, and the cause itself I hope you can empathize with how difficult and tenuous this is. I am trying to be direct. And kind. I do not intend to be destructive. Ever.  Forgive me, please. I offer this essay to give background to my truest, most complex thoughts.

“The point is not the points, the point is the poetry.”