Matt working today in the greenhouse at BrightFarms in Rochelle, Illinois.

What do you remember most about SiD?

Spending time at
DTown Farm working with the other interns and farm employees (DTown Farms is a project of the Detroit Black Community Food Sovereignty Network). Having interesting and fun conversations while working with plants and soil is always a memorable time for me.

Before SiD, you worked with me on an independent project with the Detroit People's Food Co-op (DPFC) which opens this May! Could you describe what you did?

During my time with the DPFC, I worked with Akua Woolbright under the Operations Committee researching Quality Standards guidelines for their different grocery departments. This entailed doing broad research about the grocery industry and cooperative grocery store models and putting together recommendations for how the DPFC should approach designing Quality Standards. I learned about how grocery stores choose which products to retail, how they make decisions on quality, and how a cooperative grocery store can be developed through strong community leadership and organization.

What was it like interning with D-Town Farms during SiD? What kinds of conversations did you have while farming?

DTown Farms was an amazing growth experience both for my abilities as an agronomist and my development as a human being. It was a privilege to be welcomed by the members of DTown and to be able to contribute towards the exciting and important work that they carry out. Every single person that came through the farm’s gates and lended a hand or an eye was a unique, driven, outspoken individual. Conversations that we had over pruning tomatoes or tying up garlic ranged from serious talks about politics and racial issues to jokes about horrible fashion trends to the proper ways to cook up okra. The conversations I remember best were centered around what it means to be part of a community and to feel a sense of belonging. The DTown community is constantly thinking about the larger impact that they are able to make on the people around them; and being surrounded by that kind of caring and externally focused energy was transformative.

Did you like getting your hands dirty all the time?

Yes haha, I do love getting my hands dirty! However, I think the main joy I get out of the somewhat grimy and oftentimes physically intense work that regenerative farming at places like DTown Farms entails is knowing that I am contributing towards the betterment of a hard-working community and providing an alternative to the conventional food system.

How did your SiD experience help guide you after graduating from UM?

SiD and my experiences with the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network grounded me in the type of work that I wanted to do. Although I had known before the program that I had a strong interest in sustainable agriculture, my experiences in Detroit showed me the importance of having a strong social and community focus in the improvement of food systems. Moving forward after college, I knew the work that I chose for myself must be connected to the betterment of the people around me.

Where/what are you doing now? How did SiD help prepare you for your current work?

I am currently working on the Research & Development team for BrightFarms, a hydroponic leafy greens company in Rochelle, Illinois (one hour west of Chicago!) We operate a network of commercial greenhouses across the nation and produce salad kits and herbs. My current work involves screening new genetics and growing methods to determine the best crops to use for our farms. SiD helped me prepare for my current work by putting me into a mindset where I remain aware and thinking about the type of impact that my company and my work is having on the people and communities around us.

Any tips to share with the next SiD cohort?

Make the most out of SiD! Never say no to an opportunity and make sure to explore the diversity that is Detroit. The most important thing that I brought away with me after my summer in SiD was not the work that I did but the people that I met and the relationships that I made. Be aware of your place as a visitor (if you are one) during your internship and make sure that the impact that you are making is led by and contributing towards the desires of Detroiters.