Agriculture | Food

Healing and Funding Chicago’s Food System

Black and brown farmers collectives earn recognition through a newly launched grassroots funding model

Siena Fite

A line grew out the door of B’Gabs Goodies on a Friday evening in late October, as around seventy-five people filed into the intimate Hyde Park eatery for the the second iteration of a grassroots funding event called Food Fun(d)ing Friday. As I waited in line with my friend, we overheard the chatter of friends who hadn’t seen each other in years, and who had encouraged each other to come together to this event.  

The fundraiser was organized by the Urban Stewards Action Network (USAN), a working group of the Chicago Food Policy Action Council (CFPAC) that describes itself as “a food system–shifting network focused on Black and Brown relationship building to cultivate connections and provide peer-based mutual support.” The idea behind Food Fun(d)ing Fridays is to provide micro-grants to Black- and brown-led organizations through community fundraising events, allowing various groups to foster individual projects or address needs in their collectives. Community members contribute by purchasing event tickets and, after the group presentations, voting on how to distribute the pooled money to the different groups.

The second Food Fun(d)ing Friday, the “Harvest Edition,” was designed to highlight local Black and brown farmers collectives. At this event, Brenda Rodriguez, CFPAC’s Community Partnership Manager, described “surprise as the biggest feeling throughout the night.” Two days before the event, registration jumped from ten to seventy-five guests, Rodriguez said. Thanks to word-of-mouth among community members, it was a packed room.

A total of four cooperatively-run food and farm groups—Catatumbo Collective, Your Bountiful Harvest, Getting Grown, and Semillas de Justicia, the garden run by the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO)—would present their work, growth, and goals in the community space. Another Chicago-based collective, the ¡Comunicaté! Translation and Interpretation Collective, a group run by femmes and gender-nonconforming people, provided high-quality English-to-Spanish interpretation throughout the event.

There was a whir of constant interactions throughout B’Gabs as everyone shared a welcoming space with old and new faces. I found myself flowing through various conversations without realizing when I started talking to someone new. Belonging and acceptance of folks, languages, and food solidarity came together in welcoming and recognizing the four “emerging urban farming and food projects in Chicago” in their community presentations.     

The four urban farming and food cooperatives that USAN spotlighted at this Fun(d)ing Friday are based on the South Side. Each presentation introduced the collective’s background, their growth throughout the past year, and their major plans with the fun(d)raising award. A semi-circle surrounded the presenters as audience members sat on the floor, and even underneath the edges of tables, to listen to their approaches and stories as closely as possible.   

The first group to present, Catatumbo Cooperative Farm, is a workers cooperative run by three womxn and gender-nonconforming immigrant individuals of color. Working from the basis that “the food system is built on a legacy of exploitation and genocide,” they aim to provide culturally relevant produce honoring their heritage of farmers and campesinos.  

After a short break where conversations blended into music and dancing, and food was passed among friends, Getting Grown Collective began their presentation by asking the audience to join them in three collective breaths. As an intergenerational collective, they hold onto the hope of “prepping the next generations for an unpredictable future as actors of imagination and cultivators.” They discussed their Elevated Garden, a community garden in Englewood, which offers free fresh and organic produce, and their latest project, “Stem Style Garden,” a space where community can relax or support with just their presence.

As the following group to present, La Villita–based Semillas de Justicia Community Garden contributed to the night’s theme of fostering paths for community growth. The international and intergenerational garden collective has transformed a former brown field into a half-acre community garden over the course of eight years, working through rain, heat, and sun to sustain community events ranging from Mother’s Day to Día de los Muertos.

The final group to present, Your Bountiful Harvest, is a Grand Boulevard–based family farm led by Safia Rashid. It’s a sustainable farm that sells seedlings at farmers markets and provides hands-on workshops and consultations to other farmers and gardeners. They hope to continue to offer “farm business opportunities” so that “people can learn to grow their own food and take ownership of their local food system.”

Unlike most fundraisers, Rodriguez explained, this funding event focused on creating “an experience where folks are engaging with new models of entrepreneurship that are within a collaborative collective, where folks are supported for and by one another. It’s an event, that very early on through planning, that there would be no winners or losers, only community.” Through an online voting system, audience members would pull out their phones, or borrow phones, to vote for their favorite group. Every single group would walk away with recognition and funds: the group with the most votes would receive $1000, the second $750, the third $500, and the fourth $250.

So when, after the vote, two groups tied for second place, Getting Grown and the Semillas de Justica Community Garden, instead of breaking the tie, CFPAC awarded both groups with the second place fun(d)ing award of $750.

With this award, Getting Grown will purchase printing equipment, informational materials, food, and other items for their community gardens. LVEJO’s Semillas de Justica Community Garden will build a roofed structure to provide a place to rest and gather in a central location in their community space. In third place, Your Bountiful Harvest will put the money toward building a hoophouse, a type of greenhouse, and buying seeds and compost. Catatumbo Cooperative Farm won first place and plan on using their award to purchase seeds and tools for the upcoming growing season.  

Everyone in the room was celebrating and recognizing one another’s excitement as well as the possibility of working towards food justice. “It was seeing a healing space where folks in the community were and are healing to action,” Rodriguez added.      

The night wouldn’t have been possible without close interactions between community members: once-strangers connecting as friends, individuals buying tickets to directly benefit the fun(d)ing, and community members learning from their own and other communities. It’s seeing support from the giving side—folks who care about the cause—who came to be with this theme and frame to build to organize solidarity through community fun(d)raising and distribution of community grassroots advocacy,” explained Rodriguez.

During our conversation, Grace Esparza, part of the Interpretation Collective, shared that, through interpretive services, “you break the expectations folks have and hold with being constantly ignored, their language needs not met, and languages not being valued in settings and society. Interpretation is visibility.”

It was a night where community members and cooperatives mutually grew by bringing their struggles and hopes into one space, a sustaining environment where folks are able to be as they are, around others who encouraged and shared. “It’s seeing this event as a connector to bring networks together,” Rodriguez said. “But also, as a community exchange, to discuss food sovereignty, justice, and solidarity.”

Food Fun(d)ing Friday: Winter Edition will be held on Friday, January 25. For more information, visit chicagofoodpolicy.com.

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Jocelyn Vega is a first-generation chicana learning life by living with others. She last wrote for the Weekly about her and her grandmother’s favorite places in Gage Park in our 2018 Best of the South Side issue.

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