INTERVIEW// Laurie Ouding


Photo provided by L. Ouding

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 Food Matters, LLC. founder & nurse Laurie Ouding! Stay tuned for more gem-filled interviews with farmers in your area! See you next Spring ^_^


Would you like to introduce yourself?

My name is Laurie Ouding. I’m a pediatric nurse at Rush, I’m also a legal consultant nurse for a law firm and I have a legal consulting business along with the urban agriculture stuff that I’m doing. I am also an Associate Board member at Advocates for Urban Agriculture.

What are you up to in 2020? Tell us about Food Matters, LLC!

The Food Matters space is a new construction project that’s pretty big. A shared community kitchen so we can teach people, and a 3,000 sq ft greenhouse so we can show people: This is how you grow food year-round. The indoor farmer’s market [will have] food available everyday all year. Fresh produce grown here but in collaboration with all the local farmers in the community and the Chicago area.

So there’s access. We’re addressing the access problem. There’s [also] going to be a rooftop garden with an event space.

What advice do you have for students starting out?
My advice is for students to connect to people who are Doing It. People like LBGC!, Advocates for Urban Agriculture,  the University of Illinois Ext. Group. Spending time with people who are  farming so you can see what the work is actually like.

Also: learning the whole food cycle. What it takes when you grow something. The planting of it, the harvesting of it, and then what happens? Is the farmer selling it to a grocery store and what does that look like?

If they learn the whole thing they can find their niche.

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

AUA is probably my go-to. Bronzeville actually has Bronzeville Neighborhood Farm which is like a block and a half from me. And the guy that runs that, Johnny, is great. I’ve volunteered over there with AUA and so, like today, they have a spinach sale going on in their hoophouse. That’s a great resource.

Perry Farm, I think in Woodlawn, they have a great program that works with Sweetwater Foundation. They have a farm and farmer’s market onsite but they also have a Woodworking program and they do other classes out there. They’re
doing an amazing job of helping people in their own community.

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

You could really do it inexpensively if you wanted to. You could do aquaponics: get a small fish tank! There’s a lot of science involved and math involved and learning but I think it’s in a good way where they get excited about that.

It’s really rewarding when you take these seeds and you grow it into something that you’re now eating. You have ownership of that. And I think that kids nowadays, they don’t necessarily get that opportunity to have that power in their life. To have something that they have taken care of, they’re responsible for. And then at the end you have this great product that you can now feed somebody.

I think that can be really rewarding and pretty simple.

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

As a pediatric nurse I have patients from babies to even 30 year olds sometimes. And I think you have to meet people where they are. I’m not gonna talk to a 15 year old the same way that I talk to a 2 year old *laughs* So meeting that person where they are and trying to find out what they’re looking for.

If people see that you care and see that as an example then you create a space where that’s the norm.

And setting ground rules at the beginning. If you have a group of kids and say “This is a space where we’re gonna talk about what you feel like we need to have in our community”…but the ground rules are, like, We Have To Listen To Each Other, We have to respect each other’s platform that they  want to be on. If you’re going to give criticism, make sure it’s constructive, etc..

RSVP & donate to support new student gardens in 2020! 

INTERVIEW// Eric Rodriguez

Eric Rodriguez

photo provided by E. Rodriguez

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 Urban Canopy co-founder & farmer Eric Rodriguez! Stay tuned for more gem-filled interviews with farmers in your area! See you next Spring ^_^


What are you up to in 2020?

I’m going to be homestead gardening in Florida until March. We’re really excited about planting fruit trees and getting avocados. I saw avocados that were like THIS big and shaped like a zucchini!

Image result for long neck avocado

It’d be great to get people to come see the horses, too.

IMAN (Inner-City Muslim Action Network) is gonna be opening up a kitchen [in Chicago] that’s an education space for the community to come in and learn how we cook the stuff that we’re growing at the gardens & offered at the markets. Even some of the stuff that’s offered at the corner stores that people might not even see or know was there.

Tell us about IMAN’s Green ReEntry Program? It’s for people coming out of incarceration?

Yeah and then they go on a track to either carpentry, electrical work, or heating venting & air-conditioning. They pick a track and they’re able to have 8-12 months of immersed hands-on stuff. With soft-skill learning days- so they can learn how to cook and make their own breakfast, lunch, &, dinner for them and their families.

So hopefully that kitchen gets going by the summertime.

When did you start doing agricultural work?

My very first project was working at the Plant Chicago. In that warehouse space [aka Bubbly Dynamics] they were building aquaponics systems and I was on my way out of UIC (University of Illinois at Chicago). For my senior design class we went to the Plant to try to scope out projects and we found out they were doing this vertical wall that they wanted to grow, like lettuce & leafy greens out of.

And then I got connected to the Urban Canopy, one of the businesses that rented space out of the Plant. When I first started we were doing like 3 little farmer’s markets and had 10 compost club members.

What’s some advice you have for students starting out as a professional in the agriculture industry?

A lot of the training I got was through the Urban Canopy, little by little. I learned the value of writing things down. And trying to gather as much information as possible so that next year when we’re in the same situation we’re not like ‘What did we do last year? I think we had a good plan but what was it…?’

Because I got to spend 5 years there and see it grow, when I was leaving we had like a THOUSAND compost club members. We had like a hundred CSA members, we were doing like 15 farmer’s markets.

Do you have any other words of encouragement for someone looking for a service learning project to do?

This is a new time we have opportunity to grow, literally & metaphorically. Young people might see it as the biggest employer [in their neighborhood] is selling drugs…but there’s big employers in food, too. Who doesn’t eat food? People are pulling back on supporting bigger chains and supporting local projects.

How To... photo

RSVP & donate to support new student gardens in 2020! 🌻




Click here to find out everything you need to know ahead of the 2019-2020 school year! See you this weekend supporting student gardens at Pledge Day in Pullman/Roseland & Beverly/Morgan Park. Please RSVP for the Garden City Back-to-School Parade on the 31st if you haven’t yet, too. 🙂




#lbgc2019 🍆