Julian Green, a rising University of Chicago fourth year, is spending their summer supporting the farm at Gary Comer Youth Center in Greater Grand Crossing through the University’s 10-week Summer Links program, which pairs undergraduate students with internships at local community-based organizations and explores social issues impacting the city of Chicago. An Environmental and Urban Studies major and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies minor who grew up on Chicago’s South Side, Green (who uses they/them pronouns) says the internship channels their passions into meaningful impact.
“Working on an urban farm is the perfect intersection between my interests,” Green says. “And working on an urban farm that’s dedicated to addressing food insecurity on the South Side? I feel constantly stimulated by the work that I’m doing.”
With UChicago’s campus just down the road from the farm site, Green’s supervisor Sandra Reno says partnering with the University is an important way to raise the organization’s profile and mission, as well as introduce its work to those who might be able to use or support its services.
“University students often don’t really explore the city and see the problems that the city has, so it’s also just a way to get young people from the University involved on the South Side,” Reno said.
In Green’s case, getting more involved on the South Side is a way to stay connected and give back to their own community.
“I feel like I’m serving my younger self because I grew up right around the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood and drove past the farm every day,” Green says.
Throughout the internship, Green planted, pruned, and picked strawberries, corn, zucchini, and more, and helped prepare harvests for the center’s biweekly Farmers Market, which offers fresh produce to community members at a sliding scale. After participating in UChicago’s College Bridge program as a high school student, Green chose UChicago for its academic energy and as a way to stay close to home. Green says they were drawn to the Office of Civic Engagement-led Summer Links program, which operates within the University Community Service Center, because it offered a chance to work outside and build up professional experience in the environmental sector while still engaging with the local community.
“Julian has been awesome from the first day that they got here, they just jumped right into the crew,” Reno says.
Weeding and prepping the planting beds aren’t the most popular tasks at the farm but they’re still Green’s favorite assignments.
“Yes, it’s physically draining but I really like seeing before and afters of my work. It’s so satisfying to see that translate into a plant that’s now growing and we’re harvesting off of it, it’s like, ‘I just did that, and somebody is going to eat this food, and I had a part in that,’ so that makes me feel really good,” Green says.
Still deciding what career path to pursue after graduation, Green is looking forward to translating their new-found farming skills to something that will make a meaningful community impact and allow for plenty of time in the sunshine.