Elise O’Malley is returning to Climate Ride for our Rogue River hike after first participating in our 2015 Bar Harbor to Boston ride. Six years on from her first event, Elise is now working at Plant Chicago and committing her career to help our planet at the community level.

CLIMATE RIDE (CR): Why are you participating in Climate Hike Rogue River?

ELISE O’MALLEY (EO): I participated in the 2015 Climate Ride Northeast and have been wanting to do another Climate Ride event ever since, as those five days biking from Bar Harbor to Boston were truly some of the most fun and rewarding of my life! It’s been six years, and now I can directly fundraise for an organization that I deeply care about, Plant Chicago, as they’ve just recently gained beneficiary status. Oregon has also been on my bucket list – so given all these factors, the timing felt right. 🙂

CR: How did you wind up working for Plant Chicago?

EO: I’ve been preoccupied with climate action, particularly conscious consumption and waste reduction since I started watching the Discovery Channel as a child. My first job out of school was at EILEEN FISHER, a circular fashion company (and the sponsor for my first Climate Ride!), in New York. Wanting to move home and transition to services-based impact, I took a role at Impact Engine, a women-led impact investing firm. Then came the opportunity to work at Plant Chicago, where I can more directly advocate for a paradigm shift in production, consumption, and waste. I’m also able to work onsite in the Back of the Yards neighborhood on Chicago’s southwest side and interact with the communities we serve.

CR: Can you tell us a little bit more about Plant Chicago’s programs? Wins?

EO: Plant Chicago’s mission is to cultivate local circular economies. A local circular economy is a collaborative economic practice sustained by the local circulation of resources, including energy, materials, nutrients, knowledge, and money.

We have several programs to facilitate this mission. Education is a large part of our work: we offer K-12 and adult educational programming, including workshops on vermicomposting, aquaponics, mending, vegan pizza making, and more. In 2020, we reached 760 K-12 students with 44% of our programs offered for free.

A big win for Plant Chicago was developing our Circular Economy Toolkit for Small Businesses. And earlier this year, we launched a Circular Economy Leaders Network, which is a cohort of 30 small businesses across Chicago each committed to developing circular economy practices. The group spans several industries (farms, restaurants, retailers, etc.), and is working on a variety of circular goals, from local sourcing to packaging waste reduction.

Plant Chicago also works to increase access to healthy, local food through our Local Food Box Program, Indoor Victory Garden, and weekly farmers’ market. We offer weekly local food boxes onsite (which is a renovated firehouse!) and we match all purchases made with Illinois Link cards. In 2020 alone, we distributed over 500 boxes to low-income households on the southwest side and beyond. Our Indoor Victory Garden (IVG) began as a pilot program in 2020 with the goal of providing growers the necessary space, equipment and support to further explore and develop their growing skills. Once completed, the IVG will be able to host as many as 30 growers with distinct systems for hydroponics and microgreens. Lastly, our weekly farmers market, hosted across the street at Davis Square Park, features 10+ vendors selling local flowers, organic produce, honey, soap, coffee, and more to the surrounding community.

CR: If you could ask people to do one thing to support your organization, what would it be?

EO: This year, Plant Chicago is celebrating our 10 year anniversary of disrupting linear economies! The number one way folks can honor our anniversary and support our work is by making a contribution to our 10 for 10 campaign. And of course, stop by our market – every Saturday until November – if you’re in the area!

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