John Edel, Executive Director
John Edel is the Founder and Executive Director of The Plant. After purchasing the building in July 2010, he immediately began deconstruction and renovation with a vision of intentional reuse, economic development, and truly sustainable food. John’s foray into building redevelopment was at the Chicago Sustainable Manufacturing Center, a green business incubator in the Stockyards Industrial Corridor. As General Contractor, Edel took the facility from a burnt-out shell to 100% occupancy while using a mixture of waste-stream recycled materials and leading edge technology to make the building exceptionally energy efficient and pleasantly non-toxic. The renovation was assisted by a core group of volunteers and by bartering with suppliers, tenants and scrappers.
In previous careers, John taught computer graphics, designed sets for broadcast television, art directed video games and worked as a chef on private railroad cars. He has a lifelong dream of combining industrial preservation and plants in a productive, conservatory-like project.
Melanie Hoekstra, Director of Operations
Melanie Hoekstra joined The Plant in 2011 after graduating with a J.D. from Chicago-Kent College of Law with a focus on Environmental and Energy Law and an M.S. in Environmental Management and Sustainability from the Illinois Institute of Technology. Melanie has always been drawn to environmentally responsible living, and studied different methods of addressing urban issues on four continents during her undergrad at University of Michigan. Before graduate school, she worked as the governance coordinator for a large education non-profit. She enjoys gardening, reading, writing, biking, and cooking.
Shelby Phillips, Program Manager
Shelby Phillips manages Plant Chicago’s non-profit programs, where he focuses on public outreach and education. Shelby started as a volunteer in 2011 giving tours, coordinating public events, and starting design on the shared kitchen. In his life before The Plant, Shelby worked as a traveling technology consultant with his BS in Information Technology from the Rochester Institute of Technology and volunteered with Chicago’s Working Bikes. His list of personal projects grows every day, and typically involves some combination of fermentation, gluesticks, bikes, and the Rebuilding Exchange. Ask him about his cheese press.
Carla McGarrah, Farm Manager
Carla McGarrah started at The Plant in 2010 as a volunteer working on the aquaponics growing systems. She studied at the University of Chicago and has a BA in Culinary Arts from Kendall College. She grew up on family farms in the Ozarks and North Dakota, but has called Chicago home since 1999. When she’s not busy wrangling tilapia, sowing salad, and feeding volunteers down at the farm, you can find her on her bike or at her west side urban homestead in a little brick cabin with her partner, her big dog, seven hens, beehives, gardens, and fruit trees. She makes soap and other sundries, teaches homesteading, homebrewing, and simple living skills, and writes at www.alewyfe.com.
Jason Axt, Growing Systems Manager
Jason Axt has worked at The Plant since 2012. Originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he studied architecture at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and became very involved in the urban agriculture movement. Jason interned at Sweet Water Foundation designing and developing aquaponic systems, and cultivating a passion for growing food using aquaponics and teaching others about food independence. When not growing food, he enjoys exploring outdoors and learning from nature.
Rachel Swenie, Mycologist and Photo Documentarian
Rachel Swenie began her work with John as a volunteer at the Chicago Sustainable Manufacturing Center and eventually transitioned to The Plant to work on documenting the project and on mushroom cultivation. She is a graduate of Columbia College with a major in photography. She spends her time taking photographs, riding bicycles, eating good food, and studying Chicago history.
Kate Purvis, Outdoor Farm Coordinator
Kate Purvis is a recent graduate from the University of Michigan with a major in Ecology. After graduation, she moved to Chicago for an internship in the production greenhouses at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. There, she learned about the propagation and production of plants. At the beginning of the 2010 season, she obtained a position at The Organic Gardener, a company that installs residential vegetable gardens in Chicago’s Northshore. Currently, she is the Outdoor Farm Coordinator at The Plant, but plans to go back to school at IIT in the fall obtain her master’s in Landscape Architecture.