VOICES OF MAC-ASB: LEARNING AT INNOVATIVE SITES

Every week, members and partners of the Michigan Active Citizens Alternative Spring Break (MAC-ASB) community will share their stories through our blog, which is a series of narratives inspired by the experiences, memories, and meanings made and shared through ASB trips. This week, we bring an experience from site leader Lindsay Lore.

I applied for my first MAC-ASB trip last year. With my love of joining new things and service learning I was excited about the possibility of ASB as soon as I learned what it was. What was unique about my trip was that it was a trip through my learning community, the Michigan Community Scholars Program, or MCSP, which is a living-learning community focused on social justice. I was even more excited that my whole trip would be made up of people who were also in MCSP and that we would get to learn together. My group was made up of our two fun site leaders, and people that I was excited to get to know better.

Soon after we were accepted, we learned (through a very elaborate PowerPoint that included photo-shopped images of my site leaders riding across a bridge in a U-M van) that our group would be traveling to work in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with a non-profit called Growing Power. Founded by retired NBA player Will Allen, Growing Power is one of the leading sustainable urban farms in the world. They are based in Milwaukee and have other farms scattered throughout the United States. Not only is Growing Power amazing for being as sustainable as possible, but they also make sure that the healthy food they grow is available (both with location and with price) to the people living within Milwaukee’s food dessert. This points to something that I think is incredible and hugely important to realize about all MAC-ASB trips: they are intersectional. They may fit neatly under one category (in this case Environmental Justice), but they intersect with many other important social issues at the same time.

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Before heading to Milwaukee, we prepared by having weekly meetings that we used to explore our topic, learn about Growing Power, and bond as a group. Within those four months leading up to our spring break trip, we learned a lot about food desserts, how financial inequality impacts nutrition, and innovative ways that people are helping (by creating non-profits like Growing Power, for instance).

Countless meetings, a group grocery shopping event, and an ASB kickoff after and we hit the road. Working at Growing Power was not always what we had expected, but I personally learned more from that trip than I can ever truly realize. Our first day, some of us were given the job of combining wood chips and compost into a huge pile. To be honest, moving all of that stuff was very heavy, the smell could have been a whole lot better, and Milwaukee in March is not so warm. However, we kept working through all the imperfections and worked as a team to make our job easier and more efficient. It was fun to think of innovative ways to keep the work going smoothly.

Even more innovative was Will Allen and Growing Power. Since they are based in the city, they have to think of new ways to use every bit of space available. They created a stacking technique that allowed them to use vertical space to grow plants without sacrificing the quality of the plants. They created their own hydroponics system that then contributed nutrients to the plants they were growing. They used safe weeds and plants, not artificial food or unhealthy corn, to feed their goats and chickens. And the wood chips and compost that we were combining (all left-overs from local businesses) were heating up the coil that keeps the hydroponics system warm. The chemical breakdown of the materials when combined creates heat and at the center of that pile we were adding on to (where the coil is), it can reach about 170 degrees.

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Throughout the week, we got to help with a lot of different parts of their business. There was manure shoveling and stall mucking. We removed a lot of weeds from plants. We cleaned up the hoop houses and spread wood chips under pots so that they didn’t sink into the ground. We also combined some compost and packaged it to be sold in their store. On the first day we also helped cover the plants with sheets of plastic to keep them warm through the snow storm we received on Tuesday. Probably the most exciting job we got, however, was feeding the goats (both grown goats and their kids) and the chickens.

Outside of the work we were doing at Growing Power, we had some fun excursions. On our way into Milwaukee, we left early and explored Chicago’s stores, a park, and Chinatown. Among our Milwaukee trips we visited the Milwaukee Public Market and their art museum. One day, while we learned about the Slow Food Movement at University of Wisconsin’s campus, we toured their campus, visited their government buildings, and got some Milwaukee ice cream. And on our last night together, we shared “the largest pizza in Milwaukee.”

I learned a lot from my trip. I learned a lot about food justice and environmental justice. I enjoyed visiting Growing Power and seeing the amazing way in which one person had created something that had made such a huge difference to so many people. I met some great people and made some new friends because of the trip, one of which convinced me to apply to be a site leader. I also learned a lot from my site leaders that I now use to guide my own group, that will be traveling to New York City this year to work with God’s Love We Deliver, which prepares and delivers food for people living with auto-immune diseases. Overall, I am so happy that I went on this MAC-ASB trip. It has helped me learn so much and has inspired me to continue growing through future MAC-ASB experiences.

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