Rooted In Community Takes Chicago: 2019 Winter Leadership Retreat

Rooted In Community (RIC) had their leadership team retreat this weekend in Chicago, Illinois. Hosted by Sam Vergara who works for Windy City Harvest who is an organization that is apart of the Chicago Botanical Gardens. My journey started Friday morning February 15th, 2019 as I left DC for Chicago. Once I got to O’Hare I was there for a few hours as I waited the arrival of my sister Bevelyn who was coming from North Carolina who works for the Food Youth Initiative. Once she arrived we made our way over to our Air B & B were we met Sam’s friend Charlie who told us he was having a Grandfather aka Peyote ceremony this weekend as well. After he showed us around the house Bev and I ordered some food and then watched little kids try food from all over the world on YouTube. Sam came over a few hours later and brought vegan quesadilla & we had hot toddies and caught up with everyone. Around 8 our brother’s Wade from Grub in Olympia & Travis from New Mexico arrived. Once our sister Irene from Food What in Santa Cruz, CA got picked up by Sam’s wife Laura they came by and then left to go to Sam’s house were Travis & Irene were staying. A lot later that night our brother Noah who will be working at Soul Fire Firm come May and John & Keely who work for the Food Project arrived.

The next day those at the Air B & B walked over to the Farm on Ogden which is one of the locations of the Windy City Harvest Farms. Sam gave us a tour of the farm which was so dope! It had aquaponics, a green house, a produce stand, and beautiful commercial kitchen and so much good produce like aloe, basil, greens and much more.

After our tour we traveled in a 15 passenger van over to the community college were we did our day one envisioning happened. We ate vegan tamales for breakfast & then started our day. Myself and Irene did an opening ceremony were we gave thanks to the Indigenous ancestors of the Potawatomi & the Chippewa & the ancestors of those who migrated to this land. We then passed around some sage, palo santo & incense while we each went around & called out our ancestors and what we wanted to get out of this weekend. After breakfast & our opening ceremony we went straight into our work for the day. First on deck was our budget and financing were we talked about numbers, grants and such with Keely & Ari from Philly. Next after that was getting to know each other more and our time commitments we can allow to RIC with Noah & Wade. We each got 5 mins to go around & tell our work styles, a little about our personal life and our jobs. Each got more elaborate and beautiful and we even told our signs to do our charts with.


Lunch came next as we ordered in from a Puerto Rican place which was really good. After lunch came a very helpful talk on decision-making strategies. We learned about different kinds of decision-making like anarchy, consensus, democratic, presidential or monarchy, military, and representative. Through out RIC we have used many different ways of making decisions from representative to consensus and even a little bit of anarchy sometimes. Through this conversation we were able to find a way that works with everyone to be able to make a decision for how we choose things like how we add new people onto the team or choose a location for our summer summits. We chose a 1, 2, 3 model of 1 being a definite yes, 2 being I might need clarification or have questions & I don’t want to blog it, and 3 being a no I am blocking it.

Once we were done with the conversation we cleaned up the space and left to go back to the Botanical Gardens before some of us went back to the Air B & B and some of us went shopping. While shopping was happening we ordered Deep Dish Pizza and had some after people got back. This was my first piece of Deep Dish and it was pretty good. I won’t say it’s my new favorite pizza but it’s pretty great.


Sunday we all made our way back over to the Botanical Gardens and had some Congee a RIC staple for breakfast. After congee was had we did a quick opening energizer were everyone went around a said what they got out of Saturday and what they wanted to get out of today and then do a quick dance which was fun. To start we went over some platform usage and what platforms work best for us. We learned about Team Drive & Asana a web and mobile application designed to help teams organize, track, and manage their work. I am actually really happy we will be using this platform to organize our tasks so we know when people are done with each task.

After that we got into the meat and potatoes of the weekend and talked about the RIC regional model. We started with Irene from Food What?! in Santa Cruz, CA who has participated in a regional gathering of Bay Area organizations who hosted by Pie Ranch. Alameda Point Collective is taking on the regional gathering this year as Pie Ranch has been doing this for so long & need a hosting break. They will hosting it this year on July 12th. We thought about how to incorporate RIC’s identity into our regional gatherings. So we split up into different groups and talked about RIC as larger entity and RIC from a regional view-point. Some great conversations were had by both groups and we came up with talk around membership, youth and regional members of the leadership team. This led to what the regional gatherings would look like and working with groups on the ground working on issues related to food and farming like water issues, housing, violence, ect. all with a focus on youth. After a lot of great conversation we stopped for lunch/dinner and cooked the first meal in the Botanical Gardens new commercial kitchen. We made scallion pancakes which I was apart of cooking and they were delicious and pretty easy to make. We also had soup, noodles & salad with fresh greens from the garden on site. Lunch was a lot of fun to make and turned out amazing. 

Once our bellies were full we went back into our work. That was when Beatriz Beckford too us all to school and told us about how we were over thinking the regional model a little and that it didn’t have to be so nitty-gritty but let RIC be its own thing that the people have control over how they use it. That regions don’t have to have a big gathering to match the national summits but could be as easy and simple as a picnic together. B, Travis and myself expressed how going to a every other year model for the national gatherings would leave a void in our summers. We know that is peak time for most groups to have their youth on site so with the regional model it feels like we want to fill that with some type of gathering. But for us to not feel we have to duplicate the national summit at a regional level. Which I think took a lot of pressure off a lot of people. We then went over our roles in our containers and then did our closing ceremony. For our closing Travis had us in a circle as we lit some palo santo and said what they got out of this weekend and what they love about RIC. While we were doing our ceremony I was drumming while Travis played his flutes and Irene shook a shaker. When I was drumming something just came out of me and I started to dance in place while we were playing. It was beautiful. We cleaned up before leaving and then headed on over to Sam’s place to chill before we left. 

Sam’s house which he just bought with his beautiful wife Laura was amazing. He has a beautiful three-tier altar to this living & dead ancestors as well as anime, manga, comic and cartoons everywhere. It was very cute and very Sam and I loved it. We all chilled at his house for a few hours sharing seeds, stories, drinks & ganja. Even Irene, Bevelyn & myself helped to do an awesome little blessing for his new house and said some prayers for protection and good vibes in the house. After a while of hanging out John, Noah, Keely & myself said our goodbyes and made our way back to the Air B & B were John and myself had some left over deep dish and then went to bed. The next morning we all got ready to leave Chicago and went our separate ways. 

This RIC retreat was a lot of fun and it was great being in Chicago for the first time. Some highlights for me would be being with everyone as we don’t get to see each other much during the year outside of our gatherings. I also loved learning about decision-making processes that I can also use in my everyday life. Oh and of course the food was amazing! From the vegan quesadilla to the tamales, deep dish and making scallion pancakes. Also just strengthening my love for RIC and the youth we serve.

Organizations/People That Are

Apart of the RIC Leadership Team: 

The Food Project

John Wang & Keely Curliss:

Windy City Harvest

Sam Vergara:

Grow the Future

Travis McKenzie:

Food Youth Initiative

Bevelyn Ukah:


Wade Uyeda:

Food What?!

Irene O’Connell :


Ari Rosenberg:

Noah McDonald

Beatriz Beckford:

Ayisah Yusuf:

Well Till Next Time…

“R-OO-T-E-D What? Rooted In Community”   




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