My name is Alexa Smith, and I am a rising senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This summer I was fortunate enough to work at Plant Chicago as a Farmer’s Market Intern.
For me, my journey with Plant Chicago began earlier this year when Rock Evans came to give a presentation to one of my student organizations at school—Illinois Enactus. Enactus is an international 501c3 non-profit that aims to educate and empower a generation of social entrepreneurs, and my particular chapter contains several enterprises aiming to reduce waste in our own community. For example, one of our projects—Symmetry—has developed an alternative to wood from excess cellulose produced during the kombucha brewing process. Another project—Phoenix—runs a program for high school students to create their own upcycled clothing brand using resources and materials that we provide.
Around the time that Rock came to deliver their presentation, my passion for the circular economy was peaking. In fact, during their visit I was in the middle of writing my book, An Economic Eclipse: Shifting Toward a Sustainable Future by Eliminating Waste. The book—now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and several other online book retailers—is about the use of business & social entrepreneurship to unify individuals and institutions on the three core principles of the circular economy: reducing waste, conserving resources, and regenerating our environment.
Although my book was an extremely enriching research venture, which led me to interview and highlight several circular entrepreneurs, activists, engineers, and sustainability professionals, I was still seeking community-oriented, hands-on engagement in circularity—particularly in my local area. Enter the Plant Chicago internship.
Since Rock’s presentation, I had been in close contact with them, and when I heard about the summer opportunities available I was ecstatic to hop aboard. As a Farmer’s Market Intern, my formal duties were to assist in set-up and takedown of the market, connect with local businesses & attend to their market-related needs, engage the community with the market via outreach, and support tracking for our various grant-related metrics.
Before this internship, I had never worked for a non-profit before, so to say that I learned a lot would be an understatement. It took a couple of weeks for me to acclimate to the complexities of grant funding and ensuring that the vendors understood their responsibilities in facilitating smooth tracking, but eventually my supervisor Kathleen and I had devised a system that seemed to work well. Additionally, I learned a lot about urban agriculture, hydroponics, and composting techniques that were novel to me—even coming from a university that specializes in agriculture.
My absolute favorite part of my experience, however, was being able to connect with local businesses in the Back of the Yards area actively seeking to construct a circular food system. Meeting with the vendors each week, having conversations about their work, and making genuine connections were probably my favorite parts of the job. From Oscar at The Chunky Scone to Jazz at Piel Bella to Dulce at Cedillo’s Fresh Produce, these vendors are the heart and soul of the community, and I was honored to be able to interact with them.
As a circular economy and zero waste activist, I am sure that I will continue to cross paths with Plant Chicago and all the amazing vendors who make up the market! Until then, my best wishes go out to everyone who contributes to the operations of this wonderful organization!