This guest post is by RU senior Emily Rhea, a SUST major who has interned during the Fall 2015 semester at The Plant in Chicago. Here, Emily reflects back on her work at this sustainable food production powerhouse the last few months.
I have spent many exciting and interesting days at The Plant this semester. Waking early every Tuesday and Saturday morning was not always easy, but once I won the battle with my sleepy eyes I was always eager to arrive and get to work. There are many wonderful things about days at The Plant, but the sheer unpredictability of the events on any given day and the opportunity presented just by being in the company of dreamers and doers all make for a magical place.
As with many non-profits, much of the work that gets done at the Plant is by volunteers. The people who really love the atmosphere stick around and when they become busy they may leave for a while, but they nearly always come back. This makes for a very homey and family dynamic as the people who are there are there because they want to be. This also means that on any given day it is uncertain who will be around, which gave me the opportunity to meet and work with many different individuals. Every person I had the chance to talk to and get to know has his or her own reasons for being drawn to The Plant and particular interests in sustainability.
I got to know people like Alex, who focuses on reusing original materials from the meat-packing days of the facility as well as reconstructing spaces for new tenants. He made a beautiful desk, chest, and shelves out of the wood from the rail system that once carried pork throughout the facility. Susana rides her bike for the sake of her sanity; a lawyer during the week and a temporary tattoo-covered Plant volunteer by weekend. Or Jonathon, who has his own company picking up compost from residents via bicycle. And Bell, who quit the “good” job he had and started his own mushroom farming business, The Fruiting Mushrooms LLC, in the basement of The Plant.
The general feel at the Plant embodied by founder John Edel, who dreamed up the whole concept of The Plant and through intelligent design and lots of hard work has been able to make the dream a reality. His ambition has attracted others who love to play and experiment and dream up ideas and make them come to happen — never exactly as planned, of course.
Plans are merely general guidelines, as there is no direct framework for progress and lessons must be learned and plans modified as information is gathered from every experiment. There is nothing more inspiring, though, than talking to everyone about their ideas of how they want to modify a room or make new door or create a wall installation; and then have the chance to see the progress as it turns from an intangible concept into a physical reality. While the finished product is a success and worth celebrating, it is possibly most rewarding to see and participate in the process as problems arise and must be solved. All the hiccups are little ribbons of accomplishment garnishing the finished product.
My time at The Plant has been nothing but rewarding. Just having the ability to pick the brains of so many intelligent and friendly people has been a wonderful opportunity. Every time I found interest in a project I was welcomed into the process. I have already learned so much and I have no intention to stop now. Though my internship is over, my heart will never be far from The Plant and like all the others, I will always come back.
Submitted 9 Dec 2015 by Emily Rhea