“The Loud Grade Produce Squad is a new, Chicago-based 501 (c)(3), not-for-profit, organization dedicated to educating community groups, businesses and individuals about the benefit of local, organic food production and WVO Biodiesel. Our mission is to educate while constructing projects that are self sustaining and environmentally positive. We approach each project through the principles of permaculture and sustainable development.”
I had the pleasure to meet with William Pool, co-founder of The Loud Grade Produce Squad. I spoke with him regarding the development of the space and his background. On a snowy March day I toured the LGPS founding location in Uptown on the rooftop garden at Weiss Hospital. Their other locations throughout Chicago include; Homan and 16th, Delano Elementary, and the Institute of Cultural Affairs. Their international projects include Chile and, coming soon, Haiti.
William’s family roots are Indiana. He grew up in Chicago, specifically the Evanston and Rogers Park neighborhoods. However, Pool always had a foot in the country. He escaped the city to enjoy the pleasure of his aunt and uncle’s farm. Those precious childhood moments developed his passion for agriculture.
While attending college, Pool studied political science, the politics of agriculture and food systems. When Pool moved back to Chicago he farmed in his own backyard and began to volunteer at the Talking Farm in Evanston, IL . Jared Schenkier, a co founder of LGPS, was doing projects around uptown at that time. The Weiss Hospital approached the alderman, Helen Shiller, to find someone to lead the rooftop garden project on top of Weiss hospital in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. It was only natural to select Schenkier to obtain the space. Schenkier approached Pool regarding the project. Pool was excited to participate, and for two years they worked together to develop the space. They were lucky to be working in construction at the time, including working on private gardens and Homewood Square community. That experience made the development of the garden a natural transition. From the positive responses they received, the team realized that they could start an organization focused on access to nutritious food, education, and social justice.
Pool is passionate about helping people. When he begins working on an open space in a neighborhood he believes it is important to be respectful of the community. His goal is not to beautify or gentrify the neighborhood by making it aesthetically pleasing. It is purely centered on connecting those who live in the community to the garden. Pool believes it is important to avoid imposing in on a neighborhood because he wants the community to feel as if the space is completely their own.
When Pool begins a project in a vacant location, his presence intrigues the neighbors. While working on a new garden, community members approach him with questions. It is this moment that Pool finds the most satisfaction in his work.
Pool is best described as a people person. His goal is to connect communities through agriculture. His down to earth personality attracts people to become involved. He wants his work to relate to their lives rather than be an added burden. Pool will not open a space unless he knows that it will be kept. His philosophy is to please to neighbors and to put a full force effort into all his work. It is important to understand the neighborhood before starting a garden. These spaces are already alive with people congregating, and it is not his wish to impose. Pool stated “The most important thing is being out, hands dirty kicking ass on a block where there is a vacant lot where people need access to food. Being natural, approachable, communicating with people. Nothing works better then that.”
Pool grew up with many international people which gave him the desire to travel and understand various cultures. His travels throughout South America and South Africa taught him that community gardens are an important factor in bringing communities together. Food is a common necessity for all cultures. Therefore, farming serves as a language that can link people together internationally.
The name Loud Grade comes from terminology used by Pool’s target demographics – children. The term refers to high quality, and he uses this name to intrigue kids who would not normally be interested. He is devoted to the children of Chicago. Pool treats kids as his equal, and I imagine him as a big brother or friend to the groups he works with. Pool works with Chicago Public School students in all LGPS locations. I asked what kind of involvement the children have with the farm and if they can eat the food. He replied saying they can help with all aspects of the farm and of course they eat the food, even too much at times. Pool laughed as he remembered one of his favorite stories working with children, saying it was one the greatest memories he had with them. A day when the school group was assisting in collecting greens from the garden, there was a large bucket full of muddy water, kale, mustards and other mixed greens. A little girl ate half of the bucket before anyone even noticed. He said the girl must have been was so hungry and malnourished that she needed these scraps. It was a beautiful moment because she found the nutrition within his farm that she couldn’t get at home.
The children have the opportunity to work on the farm. Teenagers are employed by LGPS to tend to the projects. Pool is proud that he can provide jobs to these teenagers.
Financially, the group supports itself through the classes they provide, and sales made to local grocery stores and restaurants. He is proud to say that they have sustained themselves without grants. The hospital purchases some of the vegetables for their food court, but not much. It is not easy to incorporate their produce into the hospital’s meals, but this is something they will continue to work towards.
LGPS produces kale, spinach, mustards, leafy greens, peppers, eggplant and grows beans as a recovery crop. They also maintain a chicken coup and keep bee hives that produce honey. Pool is also passionate about LGPS creating their own bio fuel from waste. He refers to WVO (waste vegetable oil) as the golden child of bio fuels. His belief is that crops should not be grown for fuel because when growing for fuel you are not growing for food. WVO is already used from food, therefore you get twice the bang for your buck by being able to reuse and create a fuel.
The website http://loudgradeproducesquad.org/ holds information on how to get involved, how to buy, more insight on the spaces and cultural exchange. Loud Grade Produce Squad has only been around for a year and already offers so much to the community. William Pool is a pioneer for educating communities on sustainable farming and I am excited to see what he does next.
Article by: Stephanie De Re