Earlier this month, Robin, Gabrielle, and I attended the annual Grand Aspirations January Gathering in Roger’s Park, Chicago. (Though it tried, we did not let the polar vortex stop us.) Basically, January Gathering is a time for program leaders from all over the Midwest (Middleton, Milwaukee, Twin Cities, Highland Park-Detroit, Chicago, and Lexington) to come together to share skills and knowledge that help us run awesome programs, like green infrastructure projects, youth garden camps, and youth-run worker cooperatives.
This was Gabrielle and my third January Gathering (hard to believe!), so we were thrilled to have Robin attend for her first time as a new program leader. (Unfortunately our fourth program leader, Emilee, was too sick to make the trek with us, but as you can imagine, she has heard ALL about it.) Gabrielle and I both remember how transformative our first gathering was and hoped Robin would come away feeling empowered and excited for the year ahead. Read her reflection below to hear how the gathering impacted her:
January Gathering grounds and energizes programs. January Gathering is a time to reflect and to look back over the year to search for success and evaluate failure in order to find solutions. To begin, it is important to look at the core values of Growing Food and Sustainability and Grand Aspirations: Justice, sustainability, prosperity, and community. Looking back at our core values, there were some that we were making progress toward, and others we had hoped to do better. Evaluating our progress allowed us to become grounded, to look forward and make important changes, such as improving our intern curriculum. To improve your program, you have to improve yourself. The gathering allows time to remember why we do it. When walking into a training session there is energy that fills your body. You feel hope and joy fill your soul. While in sessions you begin to grow as you self reflect. In Grand Aspirations energy and passion are recovered to make a change. You finally can feel one with yourself and a serene sense of freedom comes over you. When sessions are finished, you feel empowered and you begin to realize that it is not just about your program. It is about every program around the country and the amazing work we are doing as a whole. The work we do today will eventually change the world by solving the problems, one garden, one solution at a time. One garden may seem too small to have an impact, but when we all come together and work towards the same goal, something much greater is born.
Even though it was my third January Gathering and fifth gathering in total (including two National August Gatherings), I came away with tons of new insights and perspectives on our work including…
- Leverage existing institutional resource flows to grow the green economy. Or in other words, we need to focus on creating new, sustainable systems that meet needs within our community.
- It’s all about the ripple effect. If you don’t have the ripple effect, it’s not enough.
- “Morph the system while winning within it” – Lynn Hinkle
- Anti-oppression needs to be central to every part of our work. Every time we make a big decision or build a new project, we need to have anti-oppression at the center of our conversation.
- Growing food with kids is sweet and cute, but the work we are doing is also “deadly serious”.
- The systems we’re trying to change are huge and intimidating (the industrial food system), but are also very intimate (the food I can grow for my neighbors).
Since we’ve been back, we’ve had some great discussions reflecting on the history of our program and where we are going from here. We’re all itching for spring and are eager to put our plans into action!
Stay warm, Natalie and Robin