When I started my work at The Yellow Tractor Project (TYTP), an organization that responds to the American food industry by empowering people to grow their own produce in TYTP-branded vegetable garden beds, I knew I was interested in Chicago’s local food scene. My personal experience with dietary restrictions has illuminated the fact that good food is not always accessible, so enabling access to fresh foods comes as a natural passion. I believe that food should nourish us, that everyday people should have access to organic and locally sourced foods, and that governmental food regulations should primarily protect people instead of profits.
Before my internship, I was particularly interested in urban farming as a means of working toward food justice. In contrast to TYTP, whose gardens are geographically sporadic and largely unconnected from one another’s communities, an urban farm could deeply impact a single community. In a low-income neighborhood, a farm could serve as pleasant green space, a place of employment, and a source of fresh food. What attracted me most to the role of the urban farm was its potential to impact so many facets of everyday life. Beyond providing physical nourishment for people, the farm’s subsidiary effects could drastically improve the well being of a community on a social and relational level.
As I finish my last week at TYTP, my interest in food justice and multifaceted approaches to solving problems has only increased. However, my work with TYTP’s hybrid profit/non-profit business model has shown me that my interests are not limited to the urban farm. I have realized that social enterprises also employ creative problem solving to address multiple issues related to food justice.
For me, this was a significant realization. As a person who is passionate about all endeavors related to people, I had begun to conceptualize the world of work as a strict dichotomy. On one end of the spectrum are the soulless, corporate professionals who have enough money to go to the Bahamas when they need a break, and on the other end are the noble steeds of the nonprofits that love their jobs but wish they didn’t have to pinch pennies. Though remnants of that false dichotomy persist within my worldview, my internship at TYTP has opened my eyes to a middle ground where work is both economically successful and meaningful. This line of work appeals to my seemingly polarized values and interests by requiring a combination of business savvy strategy and an agenda for social change.
In the strictest sense, my internship has not narrowed down my post-grad plans; however, it has broadened my world to include work for which I am well suited. As I plan for next year, I am grateful for experience and excited to pursue opportunities in the world of social enterprise.