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 ^_^
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?
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