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Linking passion, community, and resilience for well-being

Also published on the Indiana University Healthy IU website, which you can find here.

A demonstration plot at Christ Lutheran Church in Valparaiso, representing the joint project with Living Green Gardens (Portage/Gary) and Casa Adobe (Costa Rica).

“…once people start talking to each other, the ideas begin to flow… It’s a moment for connections… There’s every reason to despair, but there’s also reason enough to hope that some alternative exists… You [can’t] say your future is inevitable – and once you understand that a change is possible, you have no choice but to get to work!”

— Bill McKibben, in the Foreword to Building a healthy economy from the bottom up: Harnessing real-world experience for transformative change by Anthony Flaccavento (University Press of Kentucky, 2016)


I met Libré Booker in our Dream Big cohort at IUN shortly after the start of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Angela Reese from Healthy IU Work + Life had started the program to help IU faculty and staff achieve their dreams and be happier, more productive, more connected employees. While each of us in the IU Northwest cohort has most certainly gained confidence and achieved some of our original goals, the connections we made with each other have led to some of the most important outcomes of the program.

As a group we started sharing our passions, at a time when things “out there” in the world seemed pretty bleak. We made coasters over Zoom by learning a painting technique taught by a cohort colleague. We learned how to make chocolate truffles and salsa verde from other colleagues. We laughed, enjoyed each other’s company, and reveled in our new learning. Creating something new out of commonly found ingredients was one of the lasting take-aways from the process.

In our Zoom meetings, we heard about struggles that everyone was having, and we shared fears and uncertainties. I remember the day that one member of the group said, “Hearing you all be vulnerable inspired me to address my own fears, and now I have received an award for my writing, something I never expected!”

For me, joining the Dream Big cohort was particularly special. As an adjunct faculty who is relatively new to The Region and new to IUN, I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to get to know some people from campus (even though no one was actually on campus). I had come back to the area after nearly a decade of living in Costa Rica, where I accompanied U.S. study abroad students learning about social justice and sustainability issues. Some of my favorite parts of that job were the visits to community organizations and organic farms, where I got to meet people who believe that a better world is possible, and who are doing their part to bring it about.

When Libré Booker started talking about her dream, a gardening project called Living Green Garden, and her dream to teach people about gardening and promote community gardens in marginalized neighborhoods, my jaw dropped. I didn’t know exactly how, but I knew that our paths would cross, and I could see our passions overlap.

My chosen project, my “dream,” was to write more, and continue to explore my professional path now that I had returned to the US. I started a blog, which gave me a good excuse to interview Libré about her garden. The resulting interview article became my most viewed blog post and remains a top post even over a year later. It was entitled, “I believe in the healing power of gardens,” and so many people resonated with the message of healing and the potential for gardens and local food to help us heal.

The connections and the hope continued. As part of my work with a Lutheran church in Valparaiso, we had identified local food and food sovereignty as important tools for addressing both the refugee and climate change crises facing our world. I invited them to consider doing a project that linked a garden in Costa Rica and Libré’s Living Green Garden and her dream of planting a community garden in Gary. Much to our joy, they agreed!

We embarked on a journey from March to October of 2021 to support a garden in Costa Rica with a new greenhouse, which would house seedlings for community gardens, and a garden in Gary. When the project started, none of us were sure exactly what the outcome would be. But the ideas started flowing. Other donations came in, of lumber for building raised beds, of seedlings, soil, peat pots, and labor power.

Working together at Christ Lutheran Church in Valparaiso, Indiana.

I was fortunate enough to be able to accompany Libré on a canvasing effort of the neighborhood identified for the community garden, and I got to meet the community member that has served as the point person for the Gary garden. She gave us a tour of the neighborhood, and we learned about history as well as about current hopeful steps in a challenging place: young families taking care of vacant lots, women and men with thriving backyard gardens, and youth with artistic talents and dreams.

The plant giveaway, some of the seedlings that were shared, and the community garden creation.

And even after a Juneteenth plant giveaway in the neighborhood and a season of growing in four raised beds, the connections kept coming. On September 25th the Living Green Garden plot was featured in a tour of Midtown Gary organized by the Calumet Artist’s Residency and the IUN Theatre Department. We got to visit three other gardens, and learn about the history of Gary through the lens of resilience.

Various stops on the Resilient Midtown Gary tour, September 25, 2021, organized by the IUN Theatre Department and the Calumet Artists Residency.

We learned on the tour that resilience can mean: grassroots political organizing, collective action, local food, and music. Not only did the tour connect us with past efforts that resulted in real resiliency in the community, but it was a present-day embodiment of the concept. Through my connection to Living Green Garden through the IU Dream Big program, I was connected to these other efforts. Because Libré and I met, we were able to build a team to make a real garden, which was then shared with a larger audience. Now the various gardens in Gary are talking about working together. Who knows where the impacts will end; maybe they never will end!

Libré and her Living Green Garden project emphasize health and well-being through homegrown food. The gardens she works on provide that literal food, and the project itself has also fed passions, built community, and brought about resilience for her, for me, and for a lot of other people.

I have learned that sharing my passion, and asking other people about theirs, is a powerful practice.

Thank you for reading the New Backwater blog! If you like this story, please let me know by clicking "like," leaving a comment, or subscribing to read more! You can also follow New Backwater on Facebook, or find me on Instagram at katsodak.

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