Humans of Sweet Water...Meet Taryn Randle

Humans of Sweet Water...Meet Taryn Randle. Taryn has been part of the SWF Family since 2017. Taryn was born and raised on the South side of Chicago and is a force of change within the community. Taryn has dedicated time and energy to connecting young people to the earth and one another. Sweet Water Foundation is excited to welcome Taryn as the newest member of the SWF Core Team and is grateful for the skills and experience Taryn brings as a farmer, teacher, learner, connector, and Solutionary. Read on to learn more about Taryn.

Tell us about a little bit about your background
I was born and raised on the South side of Chicago. I started off with a very serious career in basketball. I played at Loyola University while studying journalism. After I graduated, I moved to Los Angeles, California for a significant period. California is where I got my hands into the soil. I was on a farm in Northern California and experienced living off the grid and surviving off the food that was grown there. I was inspired by what it felt like and wanted to share it with my little cousins, my brother, and other folks that I knew would be into it but that couldn’t get to California.

I found my way back to Chicago in 2017 to do work on the ground with my parents. I learned there were two vacant lots right next to each other on the block my mother grew up on, and I got permission to put a community garden there. Originally, I came home only to start that project, but the move ended up becoming a permanent thing.

When I moved back to Chicago, I helped found Getting Grown Collective. We are a collective of about 20 black and brown folks that care about how our neighborhoods are developed and our call to action is through agriculture. We’re trying to be connected to anybody that has vacant lots and vacant homes in order to provide support and help make their projects possible. We don't have the infrastructure to expand outside of Englewood yet, but, ideally, the Getting Grown Collective will expand to other communities.

How did you find Sweet Water Foundation?
My friends DC, who runs the Bronzeville Community Garden, and Seneca, a land lover, reader, and resource for many farmers, told me about Sweet Water Foundation when I came back to Chicago in 2017. We rode bikes over here one night. No one was here because it was after hours, but we sat on the living benches outside and just chilled. This was before the Thought Barn was raised up, but it still was eye-catching.

I just was like, “whoa.” Looking at the benches seeing a mural and a house and knowing that all of these things are connected. At the time, I was still back and forth to California, but I would continue to come through whenever I had a moment.

What's your role at Sweet Water Foundation?
I'm really excited to be a part of the Sweet Water team. I've been wanting to spend more time here since I found SWF in 2017. My role at SWF is primarily maintaining the farm and gardens. I've learned a system for organizing myself and the farm, which is not something I've ever had the space to be able to learn how to do. I’ve never done a crop plan in a spreadsheet before because I have never grown in this capacity. I was working in community and school gardens which are small scale compared to the farm. Once the season shifts in the fall and winter, I'm interested in expanding my skills on the carpentry side. I also bring my experience doing agriculture related things with children and youth to the team.

Can you tell us about your work with young people and why they are so important to you?
I'm a Garden Educator with Gardeneers, which means I'm running gardens at a few schools in collaboration with young people who go to those schools. I think that the future heavily depends on young people having a state of mind that can connect to the ground, that can connect to the planet, and that knows how to grow food. I think it’s really important for young people to know how to sustain themselves because that's what the future is going to hold at a certain point given the way we're living. Maybe it's not the young people I'm working with right now that will have to deal with that, but maybe their grandchildren or great-grandchildren will have to sustain themselves outside of the current system in which we are living.

I want young people to have exposure to people that they can relate to. I blend in with them - both generationally and because I look like them. I’m from the South side of Chicago and have points of connecting with them that my coworkers at Gardeneers don't necessarily have. It's become important for me to hold a position there that is tapping into as many young people as possible and making them feel like this is something they could actually do as they get older. It doesn't really take that much though because they really are into agriculture. I think we all are naturally into it - we are just so far removed from it as a people.

I’m also trying to connect them to elders because that's an important dialogue that's missing.  I try to make connections between the elders I know and the young people I work with. I'm connected to a lot of people who are no longer living in Englewood, but who live in Chicago, and who are very active and engaged. All I have to do is make a call and say “Hey, there's a student who’s trying to be an engineer, a doctor, a lawyer, a farmer - can you nurture them?” I don't have the capacity and energy to do it all, but I try to make those connections.

Getting Grown Collective has a mission of battling gentrification by encouraging people that are from the neighborhoods that have resources to come back and invest - money, time, and love. Ideally, we hope to evolve to a place where we can support folks gaining ownership of land and real property.  

How do you feel about gentrification?
It makes me feel sad for people who aren't able to fight that fight. I live on the block my mom grew up on and, from conversations with my mom and other folks that grew up on the block, I understand how things have changed in Englewood. The vacancies and also how it is not predominantly black anymore. The thing I see the most is just things being taken away. Since the two years I’ve been on the block, things have disappeared. Two houses have been knocked down and a couple of others on the block over.

The only way you can honestly battle gentrification is with ownership, but how many people can do that, while also maintaining - feeding yourself and keeping your sanity - on a day to day basis. Gentrification is happening all over the world, specifically in black and brown communities. It’s nothing new - we've been moving. But that communicates to me that resiliency has been developed. We had to learn how to have a nomadic spirit. We should not accept being displaced, but, understand the system we’re living in and know this has been in motion for decades.

My reaction to something that's been in motion for decades is to think into the future - what will things be like years from now, and what are we doing to strategize against more and more things being taken away from us? I think it’s important to learn how to build your own things, how to feed yourself, and how to work together. I am inspired to activate and prepare for the future. At the end of the day, if we can build each other up, if we can listen to each other, and if we can work together, then that “blightedness” that we talk about becomes a whole other conversation. It becomes very powerful because you have people who aren’t focused on monetary gain. We have a lot to work with, we just haven’t been and this is an opportunity for us to do that.

It MUST include young people because they are the future.

What does the word “Solutionary” mean to you?
I heard the term Solutionary during a Radical [Re]Construction Workshop Series conversation at The Commons. Solutionary to me means someone who is intentional about finding a solution to a problem. The term really hit home for me because I have found myself in very radical crowds and spaces and I'm hearing the term “revolutionary” a lot. I don't necessarily feel like I'm at that stage just yet. I have a lot of growing to do, a lot of knowledge to gain, and a lot of strategies to learn before I can call myself a revolutionary. But, I'm absolutely going to find solutions no matter what is going on. It could be something simple like, “What are we going to eat?” or  “We have all of these plants that need to get into the ground right now - let's go to work.” I’m not an expert at anything, but I know people that are and how to get the answers and support that I need if there’s something that I can’t handle. That's where that term Solutionary comes into play for me.

Solutionary to me means someone who is intentional about finding a solution to a problem.
— Taryn Randle

Is there anything else you want to add?
I really identify with SWF - that’s why I’m here. Just thinking about “There Grows The Neighborhood.”  We have to grow it. We have to be the catalyst to the change we want to experience. SWF is a place that embodies that. There is a certain energy people bring when they come into this space - with purpose and with intention. You do what you have to do, and then rest, and then you come back and you do it again. And I think that's a beautiful motion to create and to share with people. That's why there are so many people that keep coming to Sweet Water, and that know about it, because there's an understanding that nobody here is playing games. Yeah, the gardening is cute and the pictures are lovely, but this is legitimately about having conversations about what a future can look like, and then acting out those conversations. And sharing them with young people and hoping they take the bait.

If you could describe Sweet Water Foundation in one word, what would it be?

OTHERWORLDLY

Courtney Hug