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A story of unearthing my passion for community engagement through Art & Agriculture

by: Laura Simpson, Programs + Distribution Coordinator

Art, creativity, and being outdoors has brought me a lot of joy since childhood. I have so many fond memories of roaming my childhood neighborhood after school and especially in the summer. My siblings and I, along with other neighborhood children, would spend hours riding bikes to the park, playing flash-light tag, building tree-forts, and camping out in our backyard. One winter, I remember spending my time folding and cutting colored construction paper into snowflake-esque shapes. Then I’d tape them on all the windows and watch the way the shapes danced across the walls. I definitely feel like the act of exploration through play is something I picked up as a child. One of my all time favorite quotes by artist, Joseph Beuys, says “ Dream wild imaginative dreams, draw on walls, be free, let go of fear, preserve the child in you.” As an adult I often come back to these words as a helpful reminder that play is essential in discovery and to give myself space to do so.

College was really a turning point in my life. I attended MCC for a couple of years and got a Business Management & Marketing Degree before transferring to UNO. That time around I had more creative pursuits in mind. It was a time in my life I was really searching for myself, a sense of belonging, and community. I challenged myself to simply “put myself out there” and to be intentional about the environments and people I chose to interact with. It started off by going to the Wilson Memorial Lecture Series at UNO. Listening to artists from around the world share their experiences with art, work, and community inspired me to have more critical conversations in my own life. Then I started venturing out to art events in Omaha. I found a good stride attending First Fridays art walks in the Benson neighborhood. I was drawn to the creativity, culture, and welcoming energy I felt. I connected with several artists and was offered an internship with BFF Omaha in 2017. During my internship I gained more confidence in sharing my ideas and talents. Being around so many other creative individuals really inspired and motivated me to be more active in my community. I stayed involved with BFF Omaha after my internship by volunteering my time at community events, artists markets, and gallery hours. I am currently on staff and act as the TeenLine and Youth Programs Coordinator with BFF Omaha.

Pictured: Sculpture created from OSB, tree bark, mud, kaolin clay, straw, and lace 2017

Pictured: Performance art piece; sculpture above- lace, mud, kaolin clay, leaves & leaf blower 2017

Around the same time, I also made a new friend who was during an Urban Farming Residency in Omaha. They shared their experiences of growing food on previously vacant land in the Gifford Park Neighborhood. It felt like a great opportunity- so I applied and was accepted into the program in 2018. Myself, and 4 other residents learned the basics of starting a small market farming business, CSA program, cared for chickens, and grew a variety of produce for a year. During that year I learned a lot about myself, my capabilities, and future goals. My experiences at Big Muddy helped to broaden my social sphere and awareness of issues surrounding our local and global food systems, food equity and social justice. The following summer I completed the New Roots Internship at Big Garden.

Pictured: Chickens at Big Muddy Urban Farm 2018

In May of 2020 I joined the City Sprouts team as a team lead for the Urban Farming Internship Program. I led a small group of interns at Cooper Farm. Together we grew more food than I’d ever grown before. Seeing the scale and quality of produce we grew made me very happy and proud to be a part of such an amazing organization. A few months later I accepted a full-time position at City Sprouts as Programs + Distribution Coordinator. In my role I help to manage our urban farm, internship program, and distribution of produce through community partnerships.

Pictured: Laura and Intern picking up drip irrigation at Cooper Farm 2020

What does community mean to you? Five years ago I wouldn’t have been able to answer that question confidently. Through engaging in art + agriculture I’ve cultivated my own definition of what community is. Community to me is; a group of individuals who inspire creativity, encourage positive change, share a common interest or goal, and respectfully challenge an individual or shared value of a group in order to foster knowledge and understanding.

If you’ve read this far- I encourage you all to ask yourself the same question. What does community mean to you? A great way to find out is by exploring an interest you have. Consider attending a community event or volunteering your time.

✌🏽💚🌈 - Laura


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