The Local Look: Gardeneers

For former teacher May Tsupros, nutrition and health are the “fundamental rights of all children,” regardless of socioeconomic status. That’s the guiding motivation behind Gardeneers, the nonprofit she co-founded in 2014 with Adam Zmick. Today, Gardeneers provides educational gardening opportunities to nearly 1,000 students across 20 schools. We talked to Tsupros, who serves as the organization’s president, about the impact Gardeneers has had already—and where she sees it going next.

Through gardening, Gardeneers' May Tsupros is teaching nutrition and health eating.

Through gardening, Gardeneers’ May Tsupros is teaching nutrition and health eating.

Why did you choose Chicago?  Tell us about what it means to be a nonprofit in Chicago.  

Originally, I came to Chicago through Teach For America. What started as a two-year commitment is now going on eight years. I’ve really fallen in love with Chicago, and the growing urban agriculture community here. As a small startup nonprofit organization, we act like a family-run business in many ways—helping each other, celebrating each other and sharing ideas in our office space at Growing Power in Bridgeport.

Chicago been has been a great place for us to grow. We’re so lucky to have met so many involved community members that have gone out of their way to help us because they believe in our cause. They call it the “City of Broad Shoulders” because so many people have huge hearts.

If you could go back in time before you became involved in running the business and share one piece of advice with yourself, what would you tell yourself?

If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to start sooner! During year one of teaching, I started a garden with my students and saw a dramatic change in their relationship to food and their own nutrition. I wish it had not taken me six years to finally co-found Gardeneers and share the opportunity with more kids. Truly, the student’s smiles in the garden make all the other hard work seem easy.

What are your next steps?  

Our big focus right now is building a network of Gardeneers supporters. We’ve been able to get off the ground due to the care of a small number of very generous sponsors. However, it is my belief that education, nutrition and healthy food are the fundamental rights of all children. Gardeneers wants to ensure that access to gardening is spread equally to schools who need extra support and expertise. This is a huge undertaking, and it’s going to require the involvement of so many people all across the city. People keep asking us how they can help, and we’re building this support base as a way for people to stay connected, get involved and spread the word.

We want to be in the know!  Name one person, place or thing that you think is one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets—a secret until now, of course.  

Annie Warshaw is the co-founder and the CEO of Mission Propelle (formerly Smarty Pants Yoga; editor’s note—tagline: Girls Rule, Inequality Drools), which empowers elementary school girls through yoga. As a social entrepreneur that is also an alumna of Teach For America, she has been an inspiration to us at Gardeneers. She is always sharing advice and connections. She is so warm and positive, and her spirit is one of collaboration and care. Really, she’s just an all-around amazing woman.

Q&As are edited for clarity and length.

Erin Robertson is managing editor at Chicago Ideas.

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