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Meet Trailblazer Marnie Ware

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marnie Ware.

Marnie, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I’ve been a science teacher at Prosser Career Academy for 15 years. About 5 years ago, when our science budget was basically non-existent, I got the idea to use the un-used, fenced-in soccer field on the north property as an extended classroom garden where we could grow plants and do composting on a large scale. I gained permission from CPS to use the site as a school garden in November of 2013. On May 31st, 2014 we had our first “build day”, in which about 200 students family members, neighbors and friends came to help. There was an overwhelmingly positive response from the community from the beginning.

While it was me who had the initial inspiration to do this, without this flood of people from my school and the surrounding community, none of it would exist. For example, my now retired colleague Frank Lagodny built all of the initial wooden structures with his building construction students.

Then, I met a man named Jim Lichon who lives right across the street from Prosser. Jim had been doing serious urban farming in his backyard for over a decade, raising chickens very successfully and keeping bees. I had no idea at all that he was doing this until I started the garden. Jim is now the head community gardener there, and we collaborate all the time. Thus, he is responsible for so many of the wonderful things in the garden like our beehives and quarter acre free-range chicken area. We learn from each other constantly. There are also 3 other adults who are heavily involved in the garden planning. They are profiled along with Jim and myself on the Chicago Farm Lab website.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Even with all of the strength of our idea and the community support, the road has not been smooth. Whenever your project involves some kind of creative re-use of land, I suspect this is always the case, as changing anything is tied to a huge tangle of bureaucratic red-tape.

For example, it took almost a year and many emails, phone calls and meetings to even get permission to use the soccer field. Since then, I have learned a lot about how hard it can be to even find the NAME of the person needed to make the decisions that will lead to what you envision.

Thus, there are two pieces of advice I would give to other women trying to create any kind of change like this; First, understand that even though our society may SEEM somewhat ordered and functional, very few people really know what the heck is going on or how things work beyond their own area of expertise or locus of control. It may sound naive for me to admit this, but before I started dealing with these issues in terms of urban agriculture, I had a lot more faith that there was some kind of clear-cut hierarchy and procedure in place. This is not so. You have to be a kind of “detective”, and be willing and patient enough to navigate through a labyrinth of names and policies and unclear communication from people who are not going to be able to help you before you get what you need. So, be persistent. The only way you will be able to not get discouraged is if you realize that the project is more important than you or your frustrations and emotions. This leads me to my second piece of advice; Do not ever show your anger when you get frustrated. This doesn’t mean that you can’t be forceful or direct, it just means that you should always conduct yourself in a professional way, using logic and giving people the benefit of the doubt that they have pressures and obligations on their end you are not aware of. Be patient, kind and logical in your arguments always.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Chicago Farm Lab – what should we know?
As a biology and environmental science teacher, my role in the garden has always been to use it as a 2- acre, interactive science lab. I specialize in finding ways to incorporate the garden into my curriculum in authentic and meaningful ways. For example, when I teach about cell respiration and photosynthesis, I can bring kids to the garden and they can be actual farmers. I would argue that farmers are the most important scientists in our society. An example of this way of teaching is that I grew sweet potato slips (seedlings) with my IB biology students in different controlled experiments in the spring, and then we planted them out in the garden and harvested them in late October. Our Chef from culinary arts invited 2nd graders from a nearby elementary school over for lunch and his students made vegetarian roasted sweet potato burritos for them. Before they ate, the kids watched a presentation from my biology students about their experiments with the sweet potatoes. The really beautiful thing about this was that older students were the teachers for younger students, and we adults got to step back. The students had center stage. Plus the meal was incredible. More recently last year we grew a beautiful crop of tri-colored corn (the kind you grind into cornmeal). My students grew it from seed, harvested it, and then their families all came to help grind it with their Molinas. Then, culinary students (some of whom were the same students that grew the corn) made the most delicious cornmeal muffins I have ever tasted. I could go on.

So much of the media coverage is focused on the challenges facing women today, but what about the opportunities? Do you feel there are any opportunities that women are particularly well positioned for?
I think that the challenges facing women today are obviously the same ones that have always faced us. The recent outrage at these persistent problems presents us with an opportunity to seek more decision-making power in government at all levels. Both men and women MUST support that. Only then will more of the values that women tend to stand for such as human and environmental rights begin to take hold in the law. Only when women are calling the shots will society begin to heal itself from the thousands of years of male-dominated influence. I see the recent trends of rising global nationalism and men behaving very badly as the last desperate gasp of a way of inhabiting planet earth that simply cannot continue. As these powerful and toxic humans grow old and die, they are making women and minorities around the world very, very angry. Anger and outrage against injustice can be an incredible motivator if you let it. Political will to change and the motivation to do so have been injected with new urgency. This is the good that will come from all of the bad.

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Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Charlott Ware

    August 1, 2018 at 5:44 pm

    Marnie Iam so incredibly proud of you for your vision, creativity, and commitment to bring that vision to fruition. You are making a big change perhaps leading to the “tipping point” of having everyone working toward similar goals.

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