By Tina Porter
When I can’t give money, I try to find ways to give something else—like amplification.
Fresher Together and Chef Fresh’s Airstream and a Dream campaign are one of my current obsessions. From the GoFundMe campaign page, here is the best description of what Fresh’s dream is:
Fresher Together is a collaborative food project for healing, economic development, training and retreat. I look forward to sharing more info about this new project very soon including the launch of the website. Fresher Together Farms will focus on mushrooms, culinary and medicinal herbs, and foundational flavorful alliums and other produce items and aromatics (i.e. garlic, shallots, onions, leeks, ginger, etc). This farm plans to be a chance for economic development and skill training and development for those in community that need it most. The farm will not only grow food but develop value added products that also allow an opportunity for culinary and product training in addition to farming. We look forward to drastically minimizing waste by not only offering fresh and dried products, but also drinks, tea blends, sauces, and other items.
But here’s what you may not know about Chef Fresh: they are a self-described math and science nerd who graduated from Northwestern with a degree in biomedical engineering, but always knew food was what was pulling them forward. (BTW: Fresh uses both she/her and they/them pronouns so understand that I am using all here on purpose.)
She remembers being on her grandfather’s farm as a kid and going out to help with the hogs, but also looking out over the land and seeing all the colors and knowing the land and what it grew was calling her. When she told her elders about her desire to farm, they tried to dissuade her–it’s hard work, they reminded her. She graduated from college (where she often found herself orienting her roles and responsibilities around the creation of nourishing food for the people around her), and worked as she was trained to, but that call kept whispering.
Eventually, a mentor urged Fresh to move forward with this love and they entered culinary school. After culinary school, they took jobs in the restaurants on the “new” Google and Facebook campuses. It was great work, but Chef Fresh was getting frustrated with the amount of money they were paying for rent for a living space they were hardly in. Enter the beginning of a dream: a VW van and the urge to live in a small, sustainable space. When that dream died a short time later in a fire at the side of a Northern California freeway (the van), Fresh decided that if she was going to start over with nothing (all of her belongings were also in the van), she wanted to do it back in Chicago where she had support systems in place.
In Chicago, Chef Fresh began working in the nonprofit sector, bringing healthy food and cooking to largely underserved communities or “food access work.” They recently left a job where they turned old CTA buses into mobile grocery stores (I mean, PEOPLE! Old buses into grocery stores! Genius!), and continues to work with an urban farming collective on the South Side of Chicago.
When I first met Fresh in 2015, we talked a lot about getting access to land (that’s JJ, Fresh, and me in December 2015 cementing our friendship in funky handmade Christmas hats, you know, like you do).
They wanted to farm, to grow fresh food, share it with the community, and teach about the healing qualities of fresh food. Fast forward to last November, when Fresh shared their GoFundMe campaign for “An Airstream and a Dream.”
The Airstream is a big part of the dream for Fresh. It allows them to live on some land they have been given access to in order to start the growing process. The land is in Michigan and the work will require Fresh to be there full-time, especially during the planting and growing season.
I asked Fresh about their choice to use GoFundMe to campaign for help in accessing their dream. “It’s about being accountable—who am I accountable to? Is it a bank or is it my community?” For Fresh, having friends, family, and friends-they-haven’t-met-yet invest in the dream is a means for them to be held to account for the work they are doing. “People tell me they don’t have much to give, and I tell them to give what they can. Part of the accountability that I like is showing people all you can do with even the smallest amount of money—two dollars, three dollars. I can make something with that,” Fresh said. This is important to Fresh, nurturing not only the mushrooms, but the seed money for her dream.
This is not a big ask, but it can be. You can support Fresh in any way you find possible, but here’s one more thing to consider: part of the dream Fresh has is to create a system that starts with growing fresh food (especially mushrooms) on some land in Michigan while living frugally in the Airstream, but then connects people to the land and the food with healing retreats, and then spins out means of sharing the food (and its healing powers) with people in marginalized communities.
If farming isn’t the thing that gets your debit card out, how about economic development? How about job training and skill-building development? Fresh wants to help people do nourishing work that involves all of this.
Fresh is especially concerned with developing job and skill opportunities for queer folk, people of color, and transgender and gender-nonconforming people who may be having trouble finding work. The dream includes creating spaces where people can heal, learn, and nourish their bodies and their futures. Learning about the skills of farming may lead to learning about creating a value-added product which may lead to learning how to market.
I distill it like this: they are looking to create an incubator for their community around the power of fresh food to create healing in people, communities, and systems. This is a big dream. One that I am happy to have given to in money and attention. I hope you are inspired to do the same. Because I love them and the work they do. I’m pretty sure you will, too.
In case you missed it, you can DONATE HERE.
Tina Porter is a writer who lives in Northwest Indiana with her husband, some adult children (temporarily) and way too many cats. She writes, knits, makes things from less than perfect other things, and generally likes to hang out with people who are not assholes. Thank goodness, there are so many.