[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #2 in February 2006]
Food is at the center of God’s Gang. A South Side group with a holistic perspective on community transformation founded in 1980, God’s Gang is a volunteer-run organization that tutors neighborhood kids, curates exhibitions on Black history and teaches about agriculture and food through farming, animal husbandry and urban gardening. God’s Gang’s flexible organizational structure allows them to be many things at once and adapt easily to dramatic change . They tie together seemingly disparate activities within a framework that connects everything.
“We’re trying to change kids who aren’t going to get an education. And if we can get one kid, we can get a family,” said Carolyn Thomas one of the group’s founders. “The only way is to get them to have the kids taste the food and they’ll only taste it is if they grow it. Those are the kids we catch.”
“Pantries just give out food. We want to go further than that.” Despite Thomas’ skepticism of the single mindedness of pantries, one year the group gave out some 43,000 pounds of food to the public housing community in the Chicago Housing Authority’s Robert Taylor Homes.
After distributing the food, God’s Gang ran out of money and closed the operation. Thomas said they bounced back by building fish and worm farms in one RTH building to teach about ecology and raise saleable goods for local restaurants. God’s Gang lost that first crop of fish when the power went out in the original fish farm site and another crop in 2001 when the housing authority shuttered and later demolished the building that hosted the second farm . With two crops ruined over a two year span, God’s Gang sued the CHA, winning a settlement that funds their work to this day.
Thomas envisions an alternative food system for Chicago as “coops everywhere. Community supported agriculture everywhere. The community closer to the farmer.” She’s ready to get her hands in the dirt to make it happen.
(Images from The Autonomous Territories of Chicago event at Hyde Park Art Center, October 2001. Courtesy of CPI.)