Staff spotlight: Chango Reese, Summer Practicum TA

Chango Reese will be serving as Teaching Assistant
 for the Groundswell Summer Practicum.
Groundswell volunteer Audrey Gyr caught up with Chango Reese, Groundswell’s Summer Practicum TA, to share a bit about his story in this Staff spotlight.

by Audrey Gyr

When Chango Reese first moved to Ithaca from the Bronx three years ago, he immediately noticed the disparity between who had good food and who didn’t. In order to combat this inequity, Chango began a program with his friend Anthony Gallucci they called “Healthy Food for the Hood.” Their mission was to “combat unhealthy food pantry traditions with organic and locally grown food for our people, who felt excluded from places like GreenStar and the Farmers Market and who felt stigma about going to local pantries.”

The duo contacted local CSAs, who supplied them with surplus produce that they then boxed and distributed to families. Chango credits Ecovillage, West Haven Farm, Joanna Green, and Elan Shapiro for helping him and Gallucci make the program a success. Ithaca Community Harvest, an organization that strives to provide all of Ithaca’s residents with locally grown, organic produce, heard about Anthony’s and Chango’s program and suggested turning it into a market box program similar to a CSA, but without the up-front investment that many families find prohibitive. Chango saw it as an opportunity to expand the program’s reach, so Ithaca Community Harvest hired him and devoted resources to support the program.

After turning over the program to Ithaca Community Harvest, Chango got involved with other groups in Ithaca’s food movement, volunteering for urban agriculture group Gardens 4 Humanity and participating in Groundswell’s 2011 Summer Practicum. Chango found the Practicum to be valuable because it covered an immense amount of information in a short period of time. He says, “I was really interested in the farm tours and seeing all of the different livestock operations, from organic meat farms to commercial dairies. I realized that the lack of butchers and processing plants are very limiting to small farmers in the area.  Mondays were also great because we were able to get in the dirt and work outside.  The two biggest things I got out of the Practicum was learning more about the regulations that surround food production, and the meaning of labels such as certified organic and all-natural.”

Chango also saw a need for emphasizing the connection between food access and farming with food and social justice in future Summer Practicum classes. He will be the TA for the 2012 Practicum and is excited to do his part to increase the coverage of food justice issues surrounding class and ethnicity in the curriculum. Because of his NYC origins, Chango is interested in the potential of city farming and rooftop gardening. The food movement in the city is much more connected to food justice issues, says Chango, and he would like to incorporate that into the Ithaca region. He also would like to more carefully examine the kind of spaces we are creating so that all people will feel welcome.

Although Chango misses the hustle and bustle of New York City, he says that he stays in Ithaca “because there is a lot of work to be done with discrimination and social inequities, especially as they relate to national and ethnic differences.” He is a big believer in community involvement and grassroots efforts to solve these problems. “Agriculture endeavors have profound political meaning,” he says. “I am a huge advocate for self-reliance and self-determination. If a people, a citizenry cannot control what goes in their mouths, they have less power than those who do. I see food as a vehicle for community and people empowerment. You can’t think about combating the ills of society without thinking about something as basic as food.”

In the future, Chango is interested in getting involved with Groundswell’s Farm Enterprise Incubator. After realizing how much difficulty livestock farmers have in procuring organic feed, he has begun to wonder what it would take to start growing feed for farmers in this area. However, despite his passion for securing good, healthy food for all people, Chango’s long term professional goals lie outside the realm of agriculture. He is studying Information Systems at Tompkins County Community College and hopes to use this degree to begin his own cell phone repair business.  When he is not studying or working at Ithaca College, Chango enjoys listening to poetry and performing as a spoken word artist. He is also hoping to teach an Ithaca Freeskool class this spring tentatively entitled “Decolonize Your Mind.”  We are very fortunate to have him as the TA for the 2012 Practicum!