John Edel, Executive Director
John Edel is the Founder of The Plant and Executive Director of Plant Chicago. 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, Myco-wrangler and Photo Documentarian
Rachel has been involved at The Plant since its inception, and has photographed the building’s transformation. She created and manages the Plant Chicago mushroom farm, which produces gourmet mushrooms year-round. Rachel is passionate about bringing interesting and unique strains of mushrooms to market, as well as educating others on the benefits of mushrooms for their own farms and gardens. Her other interests include cycling, hiking, and reading.
Joshua Burman, Mushroom Pasteurization Coordinator
Joshua is a recent graduate from IIT majoring in Biology. He got his first exposure to The Plant when he took a project class offered at IIT which worked with The Plant during Spring 2013. He worked with Rachel on understanding the mushroom growing process and has been in love with fungus ever since. He volunteered over Summer 2013 and Spring 2014 helping with the production of mushrooms and he is excited to continue cultivating mushrooms on staff. When not at the Plant he enjoys learning more about the fungal kingdom, playing bass, bicycling and travelling when he can.
Kate Purvis, Volunteer 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 botany, 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, and managed its outdoor farm for two seasons putting farm-to-plate into practice. She now manages the volunteer program for Plant Chicago and is excited to help all of the farms, indoor and out, to keep growing. Her favorite vegetable is sugar snap peas. Wait, no, sweet peppers. No, nope, definitely snap peas.
Abby Lundrigan, Education and Marketing Coordinator
Abby Lundrigan 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 involved with Bike a Bee, a local organization that maintains beehives in community gardens across Chicago via bicycle, including on the rooftop of The Plant.
Blayne Greiner, Program Cultivator
Blayne Greiner manages Plant Chicago’s demonstration farms at The Plant, and is currently developing a DIY workshop series and other educational offerings. Blayne graduated from Columbia College Chicago in 2004 with a B.A. in Theater, and has been working in the field of urban and rural agriculture since 2007 (pun noted.) He got his start by working part time and sleeping in a barn at an organic vegetable farm in Woodstock, IL, and was previously the instructor for the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Windy City Harvest class. In his spare time Blayne is an avid Dadaist, Dad, Cyclist, Calypsonian, and reader of Indian Fiction.
Eric Weber, Aquaponic Production Coordinator
Eric joined Plant Chicago in 2012 as an aquaponics intern, and now manages the day-to-day running of the aquaponics farm. He makes sure the fish and plants are happy, fixes leaks (a full time job), and makes sure the farm runs smoothly. Previously Eric has worked in aquarium design, installation, and maintenance in the south suburbs, and currently owns a business building aquariums, terrariums, and custom furniture. His other interests include running, cycling, drawing, and painting.
James Purcell, Video Producer
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, the United States and Spain. During that time, he encountered a wide variety of social and environmental projects, many of which involved agriculture, permaculture and aquaponics. Through these experiences, James developed deep interests and unique knowledge in local food systems, food security and sustainable food production practices. He’s a flexible vegetarian, an aspiring polyglot, and loves music, travel and raw honey.