40 Acres and Beyond: Black Communities, Food Sovereignty and Climate Change

“Raise Awareness and a Garden – Part 2” was a panel discussion organized and facilitated by Eric Kofi Xola Malone and the Chicago Wisdom Project in April 2015, at the South Side Food Forest on Chicago’s South Side. It was a follow-up to a similar event organized the year before, to deepen the public discussion around food sovereignty, land use, Black farmers and climate change. Panelists included: Diallo Kenyatta (Empowering Youth Through Travel/Bloom Cooperative Enterprises), Safia Rashid (Your Bountiful Harvest), Theodore Richards (Wisdom Project), Michael Tekhen (Healthy Food Hub), Gregory Bratton (Gregory Urban Farming, I Grow Chicago), Kenya Vera Sample and Julian Sample (Soilutions). Following is an excerpted transcript of the complex and layered dialogue that unfolded over the course of several hours. For an unedited video recording of the entire panel presentation and audience discussion, please see the AREA #15 Media Project

Eric Kofi Malone, Chicago Wisdom Project

[…] The purpose of today’s event was that we wanted to get a group of people together who are very knowledgeable, very practical, who do excellent work in their communities—service in their communities—around the idea of gardening, farming, and things of that nature […] There’re a lot of people doing a lot of different, powerful things, but we don’t always talk, we don’t always collaborate. So I said, let’s make a space where these powerful people can come together to share their knowledge, share their know-how, but at the same time invite everyone who’s here in the broader community out, to get them invested in their particular projects, their particular programs. We didn’t want this to be a space where people just come, hear all this great information and go home happy. We want it to feel like everyone in this room and beyond can come back and do more work, whether it be directly working with us out in our permaculture area, or whether it be with someone else in one of these different organizations. So without further ado, I’m gonna allow everyone to introduce themselves.

Diallo Kenyatta, Bloom Cooperative Enterprises

My name is Diallo Kenyatta. I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, and the first project I got started on was a farmland in Bonners Springs, KA where the Moorish Science Temple had secured farmland back in the ‘70’s to grow and it was neglected. And so I started working with an organization, Black United Front, and we went out there and cleared a portion of the 17 acres and started from there, and grew from there. Growing up in the Midwest, there was always a lot of land, a lot of space to grow wherever, and most people I knew had a garden long before anyone talked about it—it was second nature. I’m relatively new to a condensed, concentrated, urban core area, a large metropolitan area, so I’m actually relearning agriculture and permaculture within a large metropolitan and urban context, and I’m trying to bring some of those ideas of land stewardship, land preservation and whatnot. […] To me, everything is politics, and everything is political – and so I’m working to tie food sovereignty, local food production, to larger issues of economic, social, political empowerment and also with the coming challenges of global warming and climate disruption, and massive food consolidation by multinational corporations. All of these issues overlap. And one of the keys to people sustaining their personal and community-based power and sovereignty is producing their own food, having their own understanding of their local climate, and being able to have full bellies from which to energize us for larger struggles outside of ourselves. So I’m happy to be on this panel on which I’m well outclassed, but I’m still happy to be here with the community and look forward to engaging with everyone.

Theodore Richards, Chicago Wisdom Project

My name is Theodore Richards and I’m the founder of the Chicago Wisdom Project. For us, we’re really trying to look critically at the stories that young people bring and are faced with – from mass media to our education system – and take a look at those narratives and how they can reimagine those narratives of themselves – rather than as being deficient in some way, as being empowered to teach their peers and to teach the world. As Diallo said, I think the question of food, and how we relate to our food, and where our food comes from is one of the biggest questions humanity has at this time in history. And I also think that re-learning how we relate to the process of getting our food, to our local ecology, to nature itself is one of the huge ways that we can change the narrative that people have. So we’re really looking at growing food and learning to farm, permaculture gardening, learning all of those things, and also sharing food and sharing space as a way of reimagining the story that we have about ourselves. I’m mostly just here to listen and learn what other people are doing in relation to growing food. […]

Safia Rashid, Your Bountiful Harvest Family Farm

I am Safia Rashid and I am the owner of Your Bountiful Harvest Family Farm, a quarter-acre farm on 44th and Federal. I guess I should give you a little bit of my background. I actually started in my apartment. That’s where I started growing, that’s how I learned. And I figured, hey, let me just feed my family, you know? I was tired, learning about the GMOs and the pesticides and the herbicides and the everything in between. And I said, man, I need to learn how to grow for my family, because I don’t want to feed them this stuff that’s out here. But as I realized how much I loved it and how much other people didn’t know, I wanted to share that with other people, so I decided to go into a program called Windy City Harvest through the Chicago Botanic Gardens. It’s a 9-month program and also includes an internship, so after I graduated I ended up joining a business class and I won an incubator farmer site through Windy City Harvest. That doesn’t mean I got the land for free, but I actually had to pay for it. A lot of people got that confused, like, did you get that for free, you’re just farming for free? Nah, I actually had to pay some bills. But in between those two times I also volunteered with the Healthy Food Hub, the Black Oaks Center, just trying to get my skills up, trying to be mentored by people like Mama Kenya and Baba Julian (here today). Because I’m real practical with things and I like to be very hands-on, anything that I teach, I really want you to like, get in there. So anybody that comes to my farm, you’re gonna be learning how to grow vegetables, flowers, fruits, herbs…  I’ve been in business for three years, but this year I’m gonna do a little hiatus this summer because my husband is gonna be doing research in Ghana, so I’m actually trying to talk to some people now about learning some different indigenous ways of farming in Ghana and bringing that information back, and I know that connects with a lot of what you all are doing […]

Gregory Bratton, Gregory Urban Farming and I Grow Chicago

My name is Gregory Bratton and I’m the executive director of the intergenerational growing project I Grow Chicago. I’ve been doing what I’m doing ten years. My expertise is eliminating the threat of contamination. Not the contamination itself, but eliminating the threat. That would have to be a workshop ‘cause it’d take me an hour to explain it to you. I work with anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 children through summer programs for eight weeks. […] I have 69 gardens, community gardens in the city of Chicago. Another expertise of ours: we’ll teach you how to grow on any surface. If you can get air on the moon, I can teach you how to grow on the moon. That’s serious.

Curious that you said on the guide notes about other expertise: we created what we call heat substitution, where we create our own heat subsidy underground. Whereas the hours of heat that we get from on top, when it cools off, we release that same amount of heat signature from the bottom. So we’re growing sugar cane, we’re growing anything you can grow in the southern hemisphere, we’re teaching you how to grow it here, in the northern hemisphere. Those who’ve been to the Garfield Conservatory know it’s not impossible, but we’re bringing it more residential […] we’re teaching this year how to grow 25lbs of catfish either in your garage or in your basement, as well as your light herbs, and you don’t have to feed these fish. We’re also teaching… what else are we teaching? I was talking to my wife, because she’s teaching how to grow 4lb sweet potatoes through the winter, she’s teaching how to grow potatoes in a garbage bag, 25lbs of potatoes in a garbage bag. We’re teaching vertical gardening. We’re also introducing our backyard gardeners’ network, which is about 380 people strong, started with 12 people at our workshops, 3 years ago. So we’re introducing backyard gardeners to backyard chickens, where we’re letting people adopt two hens and maybe a rooster, wheras if you get an egg a day from each hen, that’s 60 eggs a month. And as I said, I’m Gregory Bratton and I’m a master gardener.

Kenya Vera Sample, Soilutions

My name is Kenya Vera Sample, and I’m very happy to be here with the esteemed panel. We share a lot of information behind the scenes, and we’re very close […] Our organization is Soilutions, that’s like solutions spelled with soil.  We’re an urban, community, agriculture, and sustainability program. We have three main focuses of education, economics, and environment. So I can cover a few of those things real quickly. Julian and I had started in ’08, right before our house had burned down, so gardening has been something that’s very therapeutic and kind of carried me through and blossomed during a time that was very hard for us. We were traveling almost daily down to Pembroke where we started farming on 11 acres with Nakai Miller, a biodynamist, where he was teaching us – and every day was like graduating – how to convert sand into pure, organic humus, organic soil. So that was the beauty of how we got turned on to farming. We have six children, Julian and I together. Our eldest is sixteen and our youngest is three, so we thought this was an excellent way to educate our children, to have something free for them to do, to teach them the skills, also to teach them what sweating hard work was really about, you know, so that’s kind of where we started. It started of course long before that, just influences of people in our lives – my grandfather, my friend who is a botanist, she studied at DePaul, so all of those influences really brought us here today. Especially, the biggest thing we’ve grown is our family, the children […]

Julian Sample, Soilutions

OK, I’m Julian Sample. My wife covered a lot of ground so I’ll be short. We have tried to take the comprehensive approach to how we engage the community.  So we have tried to strike on many fronts: education, entrepreneurship, and the environment.   We also not only wanted to focus to on the fact that to a large degree our people are dependent on other groups to feed ourselves.  We want to push that fact. But as well as that, we want our people to be empowered, to take that fact and turn that into a positive for our people. So I believe that Agriculture presents an opportunity for both feeding our people but also in creating an entire new class, what we are calling agro-preneurs . And I think one of the best ways to do that is to be an example […]

Michael Tekken Strode, Healthy Food Hub

I’m here on behalf of the Healthy Food Hub and Black Oaks Center for Sustainable Renewable Living. The mission of the Healthy Food Hub is to create a just, holistic, local food system to transform urban and rural communities through education, entrepreneurship and access to healthy, affordable food. Essentially, we want to create a pipeline between Pembroke Township and Chicago to ensure that farmers know where their demand is and so the consumers can dictate where their supply is from. In essence, we’re trying to construct a collaborative enterprise around those elements of production, aggregation and distribution of food.

Question:

What is the importance in developing a local food economy – how do we work together cooperatively?

Diallo Kenyatta

The importance, I think, of a local food economy is that it builds community. What I’ve learned in my studies is that often, you know, this is a popular theme in American culture, that “The end is near” […] And so when you have Apocalyptic culture you have 2 responses: you have people that delve deep into the whole survivalist thing, and then you have other people that basically tune that out, and say, you know, Walmart will always be there fully stocked with everything I need. Most of us fall somewhere in between these two extremes. And often when people say, decade after decade, generation after generation, “the end is near “, many of us kinda live with that in the background, some of us have that idea.

But what I’ve found is when systems do collapse, they don’t tend to break down,

they erode over time. And people who endure the collapse, and are able to make that transition to the new society or new system or way of being, are not those who build bunkers and isolate themselves and erect gun towers, but the people who have community, you know, and people who have systems in place, people who have connections. So the best thing to do is a local food economy, something that’s so intimate, so tied to culture, so tied to our, not only survival, but our sense of ourselves, and the way we prepare our food, the rituals we have around food, the music and the memories we have around food. When we do that on a local level, when our children understand that food comes from the soil, they will fight to defend the soil, and work to defend and sustain the soil, versus thinking the food comes from Walmart, and then they imagine: ok, that’s what we have to defend; we have to make sure Walmart can conduct business, and make maximum profit, so they can keep feeding us. […]

Question from audience

How do you then work cooperatively, to strengthen communities??

Diallo Kenyatta:

Brother Julian touched on that. You lead by example.  You know, I love debating. I love to delve deep and dissect ideology and history. But the number one thing that most people respond to is output in programs. Versus telling someone: we need to produce local food, give them some delicious food to eat, and tell them where it came from. The best way to do that is for the few of us who know, not to berate people who don’t know, or try to evangelize those who don’t know, but simply create viable models. Put our ideology and ideas into action, to show that they are viable and workable ideas. And people will migrate to them, and it can have that type of effect. So I think just by doing the work. You know, and then letting that, to use this term metastasize in a positive way, or to spread in all directions in a positive way.

Theodore Richards

[…] We think of the economy as kind of the primary thing. But, actually, economy and ecology, which both come from the word for home, are interconnected. And, economy has to be a subset of the ecology. So we have to start thinking of our economy as part of the way in which we depend on, and the way which we are interconnected, to the local ecology. And to begin to think also, about human beings as relating to each other in communities that are ecological by nature. Meaning we all play different roles, we are all interconnected and reliant on each other.

I think your point was really good about thinking about facing crisis and doing so by building community rather than bunkering down and isolating ourselves.

Because if you look at the economy we have now, it’s built upon creating fear through loneliness and isolation: thinking of ourselves as consumers first, rather than thinking of ourselves as part of communities. Really if we look at human history, almost all of human history, except for the last couple of years, we’ve lived in small communities and been dependent on local ecologies for our food. The notion that we get all our food from Walmart, or some other such place, through industrial processes, this is a very, very small aberration in recent history. And so, I think really, I think the way we grow food, share food, cook food, the whole process of food, is part of what makes us human. So it’s fundamentally important. But I am interested in learning more strategies about how to do that in a practical way.

Safia Rashid

It’s a dire situation right now. We are looking at where most of our food is going: to feed animals and biofuels. You know, people are starving. We are looking at the fact that there’s pesticides and herbicides on everything.  We are looking at the fact that 70%-80% of our food is genetically modified. We’re looking at our soils being eroded. I mean basically, if we intend to survive, we have to start building locally. OK? So it’s really not an option: about whether or not we do this, or if we can do this. We have to start doing it now. And again I’m just gonna reiterate, with starting to work with various organizations and community members, that are, you know, prepared to start doing it. And I would like to say: “if you build it they will come”.

But having been in business for 3 years, having worked on a farm, knowing that a lot of people that’s at this table, probably, are like, missing volunteers, lack of people who can kinda take over so we can get a break… I don’t know if I am as optimistic about “If you build and they will come”. I think it’s going to take education. It’s going to take people understanding how dire our situation is. Really understanding what’s happening before we do it.

But the same time, I am optimistic we have all these people at the table, some people I think are missing, some of us that have actually gotten together through various community organizations.  [… ] Over in Englewood the City of Chicago is doing Farmers for Chicago. So Basically, from Englewood to about Washington Park, they’re gonna make that whole area an agricultural district. Did everybody know that? So these are some of the things that’s out there. So we have some larger nonprofits that say: Hey, we need some farmers that’s actually on the ground. Can you come in and consult us on what needs to happen for this area? Hopefully we can get this as a model around the city.  And so those are some of the things that we’ve been talking amongst ourselves […]

Gregory Bratton

My approach has been totally different, because it takes a village to raise a child. I’ve always believed in that, because I was born in Arkansas. And my father was wherever; my mother, we had a small farm. So what I do with the children, I bring it down low enough on the shelf where they can reach it. Because I have been to many, many workshops, and have watched people, and they don’t understand it. I mean, they’re not professors. If they were professors they wouldn’t be at the work site.  OK? So you have to break it down. Whereas you have to understand your home first. When you say home, that’s your community. But you have to network outside your community to become a neighborhood; once you become a neighborhood, you’re within the city itself. […]

Also you have to understand, too, we lost 2 generations, within the last 10 years.  By losing those generations of mothers, fathers, aunties, sisters, uncles, brothers, who passed down this knowledge, we got caught up in what I call the drug transfusion. When they didn’t take the time, or have the time, to teach this little one how to grow a tomato.

When I first came to Chicago, I won my first award 10 days after I came to Chicago. I was 17. I was lonesome.  But down south we grew greens, big amazon greens, in tractor tires. There was no tractor tires here. I lived at 44th and Lake Park. I seen a lot of tires up by the railroad tracks, so I started planting greens in them. People didn’t understand.

Having a green thumb is a myth. It’s all about green knowledge: knowing when, where, why, and why not. […] It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see: tires are reservoirs. You water it once a month. They grow like up to here. (gestures). A lady saw me do that, she said: you need to go to school, they aren’t going to allow you to do keep doing that, you have no credentials. So after I graduated from Forestville, I went to Davenport,  Iowa, and went to college up there. But they had a better process for me, at Governors State University, night classes. So for 18 months I drove up there to night classes. And every day, I was working on this garden and that garden […]

 As far as the community is concerned, you have to bring their awareness; a lot of them just don’t have the awareness. My workshops bring it down. Like one of my greatest workshops, I had 300 students: parents, and grandparents, uncles.

I had mothers with babies strapped to them. Wanted to know how to grow potatoes on their back porch in a garbage bag. At the end of seven weeks, all of them right there on 59th and Wabash, and they cut open their bags.  And they were stunned.  Now they’re growing their own food.  […]

It’s all about knowing: what, where, when, and why not. This is what I’m saying. Bring all that you do to a level where the community can accept it. Such as this meeting, I’m not putting you down right now. But if some of the community members had come from my neighborhood, they would have walked out. They don’t understand what this young man was saying. They would feel that you would be teasing them. Or they would feel embarrassed by it.  “Why am I here? I don’t understand nothing.” […]

Kenya Vera Sample:

For me, what I’m gonna say is me and Julian, we couldn’t be afraid to be learners. You get to an age in life where once you have your degree and all this you feel like, “I kinda got it.” So, you need to hit the reset button and open yourself up to all the things that you can learn from. That’s where we began and start to support those institutions; that was really my most powerful message for today. We talk about what we need to do as individuals, but there are great institutions that we can really funnel ourselves into. I’m speaking of Dr. Carter and Jifunza Wright with the Healthy Food Hub, and Black Oaks Center […] They have a Healthy Food Hub on 75th St and Yates that they have been struggling so many years to get this up and going. Julian and I were some of the first local farmers, within a mile and half to sell them food that we were growing. So, there’s all these institutions. So, Julian and I are really focused on our resources and what resources we have to share. Another great resource and institution in our community is Baba Marcus Kline’s Freedom Home Academy. They’re doing great things with their educational system there. We really need to be supportive even if we don’t have children that are school age […]

Gregory Bratton

You seem to neglect one person, Orrin Williams.

Kenya Vera Sample:

… Orrin, he’s the reason why we’re here today. … Emmanuel Pratt is another one. [with] Orrin Williams, they have a house at… 70th and Ferry? They have an amazing house there. I think it’s called the Green House and they’re doing aquaponics. The tanks that they’re using were donated from Freedom Home Academy.

Another great resource is the League Council. Agriculture isn’t the only thing that we have that is green. Julian and I, when I was pregnant with that little baby back there; we took a class for free and with a stipend and bus cards and lunch on how to install solar panels. Yes, I’m that chick that can handle an inverter box. So, we also took an energy auditing course there for free. That taught us how to prepare our homes and how to insulate our homes. Since there are so many things on the table that are working against us like energy taxes in the future. If your home is not efficient enough and you’re wasting they’re gonna start taxing you. We have to be thinking about all these things and free resources. It’s about identifying your resources, not being afraid to be a learner and giving back to those resources.

Julian Sample

I’ll be quick on the collaborative side, I think the more individuals get involved in agriculture and create their enterprises, we’re gonna start figuring out how to be efficient in our collaborations just by our nature. Let me tell a story real quick—my grandmother’s people are from Mississippi. Our family had a mill. So a lot of people in the area grew sorghum and sugarcane. The deal is that everybody can’t do the same thing or somebody can’t cover all the bases. So, my family would gather individuals who would grow those items and they could run their canes through the press. For every five gallons that were produced my family kept one and gave four to whoever brought their products to the mill. That’s just one way to collaborate. That’s how collaboration was happening 70/80 years ago.

Now, today, we worked the African Fest last year and bought some of the products we used for the pizzas from Sister Safia as well as Erica Allen from Growing Power. Another way to collaborate is to sell food to the Healthy Food Hub. We have our enterprise going where we’re growing food. So, why not try to integrate what we’re doing with people who are doing something similar […]

Diallo Kenyatta:

I’d like to speak to your issue about our community especially some of the poor because of our lack of…

Gregory Bratton

Poor or low-income?

Diallo Kenyatta:

Low income

Gregory Bratton

They don’t like that word. If they was here right now they’d got up and walked out on you.

Diallo Kenyatta

Well, it’s my community too and I agree with you. I understand that because…

Gregory Bratton

You got to understand these people.

Diallo Kenyatta

Well, I am these people. Just to give my own background, when I was born my mother was 17 years old. I was her 2nd child. My mother was a high school dropout. My father was in the penitentiary. She struggled with addiction. I grew up in public housing all my life, food stamps. So, I’m well aware. I grew up poor. I never had an issue with the word. I can use another word, but what I do want to speak to is our community people being bored or if you speak over their heads they’ll get frustrated. At the turn of the century, in the era of reconstruction, we did all the agriculture in this country. We had all the agricultural know-how. In the short era of reconstruction we lost over a trillion dollars of agricultural wealth and land. We were out maneuvered using public policy, using research and study, people have come into our community and managed to capture our wisdom and mobilize our resources for their profit because of our lack or unwillingness oftentimes to sit down and do the boring work, the scholarly work, the intellectual work. […] They call us lazy, but we know, we did the work, we built this country on our backs. But then people come in who have done little to no work, they did none of the labor, but they did the intellectual or the scholarly work and they outmaneuver us. They write policies, they construct policies. They create structures and contracts and organizations that come and rob us of our stuff. So, we have to be willing to if not do the intellectual work ourselves, to respect our scholarship class, respect our educated people, people in our community who maybe don’t have dirty fingernails like the rest of us, but they know how to maneuver and navigate the system on our behalf or collaborate as we were speaking about collaboration.

[…]  last year, when we held this event, we held it at one of our cooperative enterprises. The Quantum Studio was one of two cooperative enterprises that we opened last year. And we had to close that one down where we held the event last year because everybody said, “I’m ready to get to work. Let’s get it in. Let’s work.” But when it came time to do taxes, when it came time to engage the city, nobody wanted to do that boring work because the boring work is often… you know the devil is in the details, and that’s where we lose. So, I think that they’re not mutually exclusive…. And I’m not gonna apologize about my vocabulary or how I articulate myself to anyone—or my formal academic credentials or my street credentials, I don’t apologize for them. I’ve worked to earn them and I will advance them and I’ll teach my children to articulate themselves. And anyone who wants to come to me and say, “Hey, I don’t understand what you’re saying.” I’ll take all the time necessary to explain it to them, but I don’t think we need to create this divergence between workers and thinkers. I think we need workers who think and thinkers who work.

Question

What motivates you to keep going?

Kenya Vera Sample:

[…] what really motivates me is to see the pride of the children. That beaming, you know, when they start off and they hold up a tomato and say, “What kind of apple is this?” Right? And by the end of the summer you see them walking through the alley with a bag of groceries to mom. You’re kinda like, dang, that is good. Here you have a 10 year-old providing food for his household. And you have to keep that with children, giving them that sense of pride and rebuilding that…

Julian Sample

Well, I’ll try to speak to it from a spiritual perspective … Most of the existence of human beings has been in an interaction or engagement with nature. We’re missing that. I believe that nature, once you really give yourself to that, something magical happens. It is hard work, but for some reason the experience of being engaged with the land calls you back. Also, it’s a necessary thing. As I mentioned the level of dependency is unacceptable. What we’re eating, once you educate yourself, you realize it’s unacceptable. All we have to do is look at some real stats and data on our people dying from diseases. So I think that it’s mutually beneficial because it’s gonna make you feel like a more balanced and complete person, as well as, put us in a better position as far as being self-sustaining.

Michael Tekken

I don’t know how to do everything, but I know where everything is being done. A word that I used consistently this past summer on some projects that I worked on was mycelium. It was really about making sure we’re paying attention to these overlaps and these intersections and ways that all of these pockets of work can be in communication with one another. So, what the Healthy Food Hub is about as a construct is certainly having these food producers have an outlet where they can sell their food. It’s about having a place where consumers can have, not only a place to purchase produce and engage in commerce, but also have conversations around food. And the collaborations and intersections that happen with people all over food was critical to the work of the Healthy Food Hub. So, every day that I get up, I think about knowing where the work is being done and finding ways that all those pockets of work can interact and intersect with one another; even if I have to be the cable between them. Making sure that I’m going to be that thread that moves between those different networks and make sure that they’re aware of the work that’s going on in these other places.

Kenya Vera Sample

Just to elaborate on Baba Mike, who knows what mycelium is? Ok, we need a little explanation.

Michael Tekken

Mycelium is the fibrous root that grows out of the mushroom and grows beneath forest floors. Any mushroom has mycelial roots that grows. So if it’s growing on a tree it’s growing mycelial roots into that tree, it’s the way that the mushroom feeds, but also it’s the way that the mushroom does its work. So, it might be if it’s in a forest floor it’s distributing resources between these different organisms between which it’s interacting. If it’s in a tree, it’s decomposing that tree. So it’s the way that the mushroom does its work, you know, whatever that work might be.

Kenya Vera Sample:

[…] mushrooms are basically the communication of the forest.  If one tree dies, it sends down something to the mycelium, sends it out to other trees and then the carbon it releases and gives to other trees that are new trees […] Everything about mushrooms is about community. They also have other great components where they can digest plastic and convert it back into an organic substance! They are the decomposers of the earth. Mushrooms are the largest organism on the planet. The honey mushroom in Oregon is 2200 acres. What makes me kinda sad is that as I talk about these things I hear about how far we’ve come from our roots. I was talking about mushrooms in a coffee shop and a woman said, “My grandmother used to go out to Harvey and Hazel Crest and they were covered in mushrooms!” And today I couldn’t even fathom that that would be possible, but you have to understand that all those mycelium connections are being destroyed by us. When people tell you to turn your soil over and they do tilling you’re destroying the mycelium in the earth. So, a little less tilling would probably be my end of things. The mycelium is very important because it promotes the organic life and the conversion of soil.

You can join the Illinois Association of Mycology, which leads into so many other things because that looks at the environment and economics in another way that we didn’t really get to talk about, but people are making a lot of money in food foraging. Anybody familiar with food foraging? A few of us-I’ll give you an example-we did a dandelion project with our children and Julian has the numbers. He’s the number guy. What was the dandelion? [Julian Sample: $20]

$20 per pound of wild dandelion. So you can go out, forage, dig up all the dandelions out of the woods there and I’m sure they’d be happy about it, but at the same time you could charge for every pound, $20 and above depending on the market. So, Illinois Mycology Association, they do a lot of food foraging where you go out and identify things in the woods that are here. Teaches us about sustainability, about survivalists, where if we did run out of food I really wouldn’t be that worried because Julian and I know that we’re already gonna kill all the deer at 127th Cemetery. We already got them pegged out. Don’t let Jewels close down. Then really truly I would survive on red clover, white clover, chicory; I could just walk around and eat all day. Pinecones.

Safia Rashid

She’s saying, know your weeds. Know your trees. Know your mushrooms. There’s maps that are out here. There’s maps that show you where you can go for certain types of nuts in the city. Where to go for the berries, the apples, and people are like, “I saw XYZ here. Come over here.” […]

Michael Tekken

It’s no comparison to first hand knowledge, but if anybody has a chance to visit the website fallingfruit.org that’s a foraging resource where you can learn about where different elements have been placed within the city. It’s a crowd-source website, which means that people go in and plug in where they find things. A lot of mushrooms pop up during the early part of the year, so make sure you get in on that, chicken of the woods. All right

Diallo Kenyatta

[…] somebody had come to us while we were basically getting free food from our local park. We just started a conversation and I said to them, “Do you notice how the birds, the squirrels and maybe even the rats at night come and everyone eats from this tree and there’s still abundance there?” There’s more than anyone could ever consume from this one tree. So the scarcity they impose on us is artificial. Nobody is regulating that food and there’s more food than you could ask for, but then the food that’s regulated and fenced in and commodified is always more and more expensive.

Kenya Vera Sample:

And it’s worse food for you.

Diallo Kenyatta

Right, but this nutritious, natural food everything eats from it. You don’t have to spray it or run off the creatures or the birds. The birds will come right there and pick from the higher areas. The squirrels will get the lighter outer branches and there’s still enough food for us on the stronger and lower branches for people. So, when you’re foraging for food you’re actually contributing to the ecosystem. You’re part of the ecosystem instead of just extracting from it.

Safia Rashid

Certain plants, if you’re pulling from it, it actually makes it grow in abundance. So, you actually get more. As you learn about certain plants and herbs, etc. you’ll find that, yeah, you’re actually helping the ecosystem. So, pulling that plant actually may make it bloom even more. It’s a lot, but you’ll learn it as you do it. So, like I said, if you’re working with someone, it’s practical. You don’t have to go and spend money. There are people out here that need your help and that will talk to you slowly or fast, whatever it is that you need. There’s some people who will say, “Safia, explain that to me again.” And there’s some people where I say, “Instead of explaining let’s just see how things go.” Like, as it goes from seed to plant or fruit, let’s see what happens. Let’s see what happens when it decomposes. So, we just go through the whole cycle, but sometimes it’s just a matter of you going out there with someone who knows a little something or maybe a lot of something and just pointing things out you may not have noticed. And sometimes you notice it on your own.

Kenya Vera Sample

I’d like to just add on the resources. The guide we used for the food foraging would be Peterson’s Guide to the North American Wild Edible Plants, the dictionary for food foraging. He has a guide for each region, but that Peterson’s Guide; you don’t want to go on a camping trip without it.

Audience member:

I’m just thinking you’re dangerous to the medical establishment, the pharmaceutical, hospitals. What you guys are doing is powerful because you’re lessening disease. First of all, basically, you made me respect food on a different level. Not just eating it, but growing it. So, next time I’m looking at a vegetable I’ll be like, “Who grew you?” Talk to you, like, for real. And before I’m in the store with my mom and she’s talking to the vegetable. I’m like, really lady? Come on. But I get it. I’m not a grower, but how can I support you. Where can I go to buy your food?

Kenya Vera Sample

Blake and the Healthy Food Hub started a program several years ago… where you can learn how to be a farmer on a rotating apprenticeship.

Michael Tekken

Healthy Food Hub, 2423 E. 75th. That is the Quarry Event Center. We’re there every Saturday from 11AM-4PM. What we operate is a space where people can come and have more of these conversations around food. Currently, we’re running our spring detox program where folks are going through their community cleanse. So, we’re talking through the process of doing a community cleanse. What is it that you might want to be taking into your body? What fluids might you want to be drinking? What food might you want to be consuming? So, all of these things, these are conversations that we can have around food so that we can find ourselves in a different place a year from now then when we might find ourselves now… It’s connected to the Black Oaks Center, which is in Pembroke Township, which is a place where people can also gather to learn the other processes of sustainability. So, it’s not just about food, but it’s about sustainable agriculture, it’s about sustainable building, it’s about learning about biofuels, it’s about learning about alternative energy sources and it’s about learning to live off-the-grid. The Black Oaks Center is entirely unplugged for the purpose that people need to understand what does it feel like when you disconnect from the power grid. How does it feel to be out there in the dark outside of the space of this perpetually lit urban jungle? What does it feel like? So, that’s what Black Oaks Center represents. Black Oaks Center, Healthy Food Hub, two spaces open for you all to engage in. Please do.

Diallo Kenyatta

I just want to express my appreciation for everyone who came out. I see a lot of familiar faces so I know we’ll be building and engaging in the future. It’s one more thing I’d like to inject. I don’t think we have enough time. That’s the issue of global warming, climate disruption, peak resources and things of that nature. So, even as we grow, it’s super important to build local food as we are and begin to study resilient plant species and resilient plant strains that can endure extended cold snaps and nonlinear weather because the weather is becoming less predictable. Just as corporations see this as an opportunity, because we’re coming into the era of massive crop failures. We’re coming into the area of very high speculation on crops right downtown where they have that temple to that Greek goddess of agriculture, the commodities trade… They are planning on making billions and trillions of dollars off of food scarcity and increasing the price of food that they are driving up unnaturally. That’s why China is going to Africa to secure 75-year leases on land to grow food to feed their large population. So, this is not just about us trying to diss corporate food. There are a lot of conflicting interests at play. So, as we begin to adapt and navigate this new climate we really have to understand that it’s really more than just about us wanting to eat healthy, but it’s about us wanting to make this transition to an era where the lights are not always on, we turn the tap and water will not always be there. So, that we don’t disintegrate and then they make more profit from privatized security, privatized prison, GMO and patented food species. They will see that we are prepared. We don’t have to get ready because we stay ready. I just would like for everybody, if they don’t get a chance to talk to you about climate change and how that would affect our access to food, the quality of our food, and where our food comes from, as well as, who gets to dictate what we get to eat, the quality of what we eat and how much we have to pay for what we eat because I believe the most pressing issue we are facing is global warming. The media is not telling us about it and we can’t get in front of this problem by recycling aluminum foil. It’s much bigger than that.

Kenya Vera Sample

So many things are happening around us. We don’t really understand why they’re happening. What position do we have? I’ll give you an example. When I lived in Louisiana right before Katrina. I was just so amazed… What that city had to offer, the culture, what was so important? I couldn’t even understand it in college, until I left. And after Katrina, I realized that was a great port that black people run in this country. So, we have given up a port there, but we shouldn’t be so upset about it because guess what? Gary IN is what? A great port, but nobody don’t want to be in Gary. It’s too dirty, but why are they telling us all that? It’s scaring us away from us really seeing. With the food it’s the same way. They scare us. “Oh, don’t eat that. That dog peed on it.” There’s nothing that soap can’t handle. You can’t scare me because I already know. So, why are all the black people being exited out of Chicago? We’re a port and we’re a port sitting on what? Fresh water. Who else in the world is sitting on this much fresh water? … Fred Carter had us asset mapping. What skills do we have? How can we contribute to each other? So, we have to understand the position. We can’t be afraid. “Oh, I live in the city.” You live in the city with one of the largest freshwater resources in the entire planet. Why would you move away from here?

Safia Rashid:

People are scrambling for water and there’s water right here.

Kenya Vera Sample

You gotta understand. Don’t let nobody tell you nothing. Don’t let them tell you that you’re gonna starve when there’s no more foods in Jewels and you got food up and down every railroad track and alley in the city. You’re not going to starve, but you still gotta know […]

Michael Tekken

I’ll just drop in on that point. I was listening to an NPR interview. I forget the astronaut’s name, but he did the David Bowie video in any case. He was talking about how astronauts overcome certain fears about launching in a craft. They say, we repeated so often, so frequently that when you reached a point where you should have fear it’s like automatic trigger. This is a similar thing that martial artists do. This is something that you practice in Wing Chun. This is something that you practice in martial arts. The point is to get to the period where all of your responses are automatic. So, the only way that this information is gonna be applicable to us, to that early discussion about practice or theory. Practice becomes theory and then theory reinforces practice, right? So, practice, theory. Theory, practice. The cycle continues. And making a few mistakes. And when you make those few mistakes, what you do is you write down the mistake that was made. Then you analyze, where did I go wrong? Where did this process go wrong? I probably shoulda plucked that flower off there a bit earlier so it coulda fruited a bit more, right? So, what is the practice that I did that can reinforce the theory about how I can do this better? … Pembroke Township, they had a training there maybe 2 years ago that I attended with Baba Fred and Dr. J and even when they are telling you about disaster preparedness, the class said that you should have 2 weeks worth of food in the event of a disaster. Ready.gov was like, two weeks is how long it’s gonna take a truck to get to you. There’s not gonna be any disaster that takes longer than two weeks to manage. So, therefore, the conversation we need to have around practice and theory, is we need to understand that the timeline they have established may not be the timelines that work for us in terms of what we need to accomplish.

So knowing about those old practices, those traditional practices, canning, drying, dehydrating, and nixtamalization, the making of hominy and such. All of these traditional food practices are things that we need to be engaged in the process of doing before there’s a need to have them. So, it should not be a strange thing to have 6 months worth of jars on your shelf, of goods that you’ve jarred and prepared. But the way that you get to that point is that before there’s a need for it you’re practicing it so it’s automatic when you need it.

Audience member:

So there’s no room for mistakes?

Michael Tekken

There’s always room for mistakes because there’s always elements that you do not know. The good part about what was said about the Chicago Wisdom Project, the practice of collaboration and circles is that the elements that I may not know, you know. You fill in the gap. So, in a sense, that collaborative element that we were speaking of earlier, the ability to intersect and collaborate and be collective about it; that is what helps us to overcome mistakes a lot faster. So we have to have that element of collaboration. We have to have that level of vulnerability and openness. We have to be able to make a mistake and admit that we made a mistake. It’s ok because the Food Hub 6 years in … we’re still making mistakes. But the ability to admit that we made a mistake, the ability to correct ourselves on the mistake, the ability to guide ourselves back toward a path that has fewer mistakes and the ability to allow new knowledge to come in when someone says, “You know what this is something you all might want to take a look at. “ That’s what allows us to correct those mistakes and to reach our goal […]. The only way we reach that is by taking advice from folks who are engaged in it with us.