Our Staff

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.

Shelby Phillips, Director of Programs

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.

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 working at The Plant, where she documents the project and runs the Plant Chicago mushroom farm. She is passionate about eliminating mycophobia. Her other interests include cycling, hiking, and reading.

Kate Purvis, Outdoor Farm Coordinator

Kate Purvis is a graduate from the University of Michigan. She majored in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with a focus in botany and a minor in Global Change. Following her passion for plants, she moved to Chicago for an internship in the production greenhouses at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. She later worked for a company that managed Lincoln Park Zoo’s Farm-in-the-Zoo, a vegetable garden focused on teaching school children about where food comes from and how to grow it sustainably & organically. Since joining The Plant in 2012, she has overseen the installation of Plant Chicago’s now one-third acre urban farm. She now manages its crops and is very enthusiastic to be putting farm-to-plate into practice. Her favorite vegetable is sugar snap peas. Wait, no, sweet peppers. No, nope, definitely snap peas.

James Purcell, Aquaponic Production Coordinator

James joined The Plant in January of 2013. After graduating from the University of North Carolina Wilmington in 2007 with degrees in International Business and Spanish, he spent the next few years volunteering and exploring his way through South and Central America, California and Spain. During that time, he encountered a wide variety of projects and ideas, many of which involved agriculture, permaculture and aquaponics. Through these experiences, James developed deep interests in local food systems, food security and sustainable food production practices. He now oversees the production in Plant Chicago’s aquaponic growing systems.When he’s not tending to the basil, chard and tilapia, he can be found playing guitar, riding a bike, brewing kombucha or exploring his new home city of Chicago.

Abby Lundrigan, Education and Marketing Coordinator

Abby Lundrigan originally started at The Plant as a volunteer in August of 2012, where she assisted with special events and tours. In the Fall of 2013, Abby started a new staff position as Plant Chicago’s Education and Marketing Coordinator, where she coordinates tours, manages social media, and works on expanding Plant Chicago’s educational programming. Previously she has worked with the Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council, and is a partner in Bike a Bee, a local organization that maintains beehives in community gardens across Chicago via bicycle, including on the rooftop of The Plant.