This article was written by Winston Cho.
Windy City Harvest intern Pamela Clemons gazes over the Chicago skyline, content with her day’s work tending the plants at the McCormick rooftop garden. Pamela’s only been at WCH since June, but she already feels as if she’s found her calling, beautifying her community with urban agriculture.
The WCH Apprenticeship annually enrolls 15 to 20 students in a nine-month classroom and hands-on certificate course in sustainable urban agriculture that is accredited by the Illinois Community College Board for 31 continuing education credits. The certificate includes a 14-week paid internship at Windy City Harvest farms. The apprenticeship program utilizes Roots of Success as one of its teaching methods in environmental literacy.
“There’s so much opportunity in the green industry,” Pamela says. “That’s why I’m saying it’s such a question mark. It’s such a wonderful question mark. Because there’s so much I can do. So much to contribute to my community, and I really want to do that. I want to make it more beautiful than what it is.”
But before giving Pamela the tools to effect change in her community, WCH instilled in her the reason why change was needed through Roots of Success. Pamela was amazed at how much she didn’t know, but even more so, she was amazed at the contributions and perspectives that everybody brought to the class from their respective communities.
“We’re learning about food deserts. We’re learning about resources, dumps in certain areas that are done and communities being uninformed. It was an ah-hah moment,” Pamela says. “We just did not realize some of the disparities. It’s been amazing to take part in the class.”
Pamela works three sites for three bosses at WCH and is “absolutely loving it.” Her responsibilities include weeding, watering, beautifying, and harvesting a wide variety of plants from an edible flower like Nasturtium to herbs like Lilac, Lavendar, Thyme, and Parsley.
She also carries her gardening expertise over to a community garden adjacent to a farm that she works at. The site, one of her worst, is just a five minute walk away from where she lives in Bronzeville, and she’s dedicated herself to educating residents about urban agriculture. She’s already taken 11 or 12 residents under her wing and is teaching them about food and food safety.
“I think 99.9% of the residents that have a plot have never tasted Swiss chard,” Pamela says. “We got plenty of Swiss chard here, and I was able to interest one of the residents in some. I gave her a transplant, and we planted it together, and it’s growing now. Even if it’s just interesting them in that way and providing them with recipes that they would otherwise have not considered with some of the vegetables they are not familiar with, that’s education to me.”
To Pamela, sharing what she’s learned at WCH is key toward making impactful and lasting change in her community. Urban agriculture may be her passion, but everything Pamela does is for the sake of her community.
“I strongly feel that community development around food economy is very important, and it’s a message that a lot of people have not gotten. But it’s becoming more of a forefront issue. And so I wanted to make a difference in my community and that’s happened in a very dynamic way because of my internship.”