Get to Know Your Grow2Give Leaders – Vedgewater

Ashley Luciani is Vedgewater’s Grow2Give leader, learn more about her and Grow2Give below!

Tell me about yourself? What are your hobbies and interests?

I started my transition of working in retail to working in urban agriculture around 2013. I was employed by an awesome Wine and Cheese shop (Pastoral Artisan Cheese Bread and Wine), which enthusiastically advocated for knowing your producer as an integral part of the food production process. Learning about incredible wine and cheese makers inspired me to be apart of the farming side of food, so I was off! I started off interning with a rooftop farmer, growing and harvesting for farm to table restaurants across Chicago. With the growing basics under my belt, I began volunteering for Grow2Give to be able to practice my newfound farming skills.

What exactly is the work that you do with Grow2Give?

I try to make it out to the plots weekly or biweekly for a harvest, weeding, watering, pruning, and general maintenance. I manage the volunteers that help harvest and water, and I keep records of the weights of each harvest we deliver. Last year we delivered over  247 pounds to our local food pantry partner, Care for Real! It’s pretty incredible. My current project I’m excited about is our hot peppers. My husband loves to grow Super Hot pepper varietals, so we’ve been experimenting for the past few years on the best types to grow in the Vedgewater growing conditions. It’s hard with the rabbits, the soil drying out, and various pest and disease pressures; yet hot peppers seem to thrive the best under the worst conditions.

Why is it you decided to work with Grow2Give?

Being a G2G leader has allowed me to playfully discover my gardening passions through experimentation in the donation plots. I have grown plants from seed in my basement, while also trying out new and interesting varieties of herbs and vegetables. This has allowed me to fine tune my farming skills, and has encouraged me to seek out other urban ag projects and vocations such as an Uncommon Ground Rooftop Farm Internship down the block from Vedgewater, Master Gardener Training through the UIC extension office, and eventually work full time at Metropolitan Farms (an aquaponic farm on the south west side). It’s the highlight of my week to go out and tend the 16+ plots.

How has working with a program such as Grow2Give changed you, or made you a better person?

As for whether it’s made me a better person, I’m not sure. I feel like I have a higher tolerance for working weird long hours to get the work done, and I’m always thinking about making better, more consistent vegetables for Care For Real. Someone recently introduced me as the Den Mother of Vedgewater, which made me smile and blush a bit. I don’t think I’m a better person, but I may be making more of an impact on my local community than I ever have before, which is something. I can tell you that I will always look back on these years with great fondness, aching back and all.

Interviews conducted by Mitch Carlstrom.