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Cheryl Muñoz is a community builder and entrepreneur with the heart of a poet and eye of an artist. As the co-director of the Sugar Beet Co-op, Cheryl's taken a neighborhood idea and brought it to fruition, all while supporting local farming and advocating and educating for smart food choices along the way. Almost a year ago, she attended our first Forth, a Spring event dedicated to the courage and excitement of starting something new. With final lease negotiations moving forward, everyone at Forth is thrilled to see the successes of one of our own. In this Forth Follow up, she shares on the rooting power of home...from where so many journeys and stories start.
I have drifted too long.
That is, I had drifted long enough to know that I am home now. Home in so many ways, with my family, with my things, with my big ideas and with my challenges and regrets. We are all comfortable with each other here in this rickety bungalow. The sound of the front door opening and the distinct foot fall of the children and animals and husband who make this home with me. It’s what I know.
This comfort in chosen company, I reflect, did not come easy to me. Of course, I had sisters and friends and parents that brought me up well, but I rarely felt accountable or fully needed. Through school I met well-meaning people who guided me, brought out my talents and encouraged me, but I was never asked to stay and give my all. I was always pushed forward towards something unknown but “greater." No matter how genuine the friendships were, in the back of my mind I knew we’d go our separate ways, seeking a person or a place that would ask us to stay and settle in. We’d find community one day.
Community can be defined as regional, historical, political, or you know, in those ways that we have little say in but are somehow part of. We are just gathered up, accounted for, and shown off to boast a narrative that translates to power. The power, though, is someone else’s.
I learned my own lesson about community, though, when I started taking my power back and began to define my own identity. No longer would I be a starving artist, an undereducated girl from Kentucky, a flighty one with no followthrough or a wild card. As I let all that go I started to appreciate the clean slate that I had created as the perfect place to build a new narrative of self.
New beginnings let love in and seven years ago, my brand new husband and I were expecting our first baby. There was no one to push me forward to find the next best thing or to challenge me to find my path. Rather, I woke up each day to a little family that expected me to be there.
They needed me and I longed to feel needed more than anything. Creating a family is perhaps the most meaningful step I have taken towards creating community. Pregnant with our second child, my husband and I moved to Oak Park which so easily became home to us. Oak Park, with it’s treelined streets and beautiful architecture also has an undercurrent of unrest. I soon met many neighbors who were involved in social justice work, fighting for fair housing and better schools and raising up and caring for those who are struggling.
My purpose evolved from caring for my family to caring for my community. In my work, it's through the Sugar Beet. But it's elsewhere, too, where that purpose of home roots me in my power. My congregation at Unity Temple said that I was needed at the food pantry, at the preschool class, at the fundraiser. My son’s principal said I was needed at the school picnic, at the community garden, at the public forum. I was needed to babysit, bring food for sick neighbors and help with someone’s garden. I was, for the first time, asked to stay, settle in, and give of myself.
I found myself return.
The idea of fulfilling work—a job that reflects our passions, talents, and values—is a modern invention while creating community is an ancient one. I found my life's work by collaborating with neighbors to build a community-owned grocery store that celebrates local artisans and farmers, The Sugar Beet Co-op. I believe that communities like Forth are essential to realizing our dreams for meaningful and fulfilling work that satisfies much more than the bottom line.
Cheers to that Cheryl. Cheers to that. We can't wait to see what this Spring has in store for you and The Sugar Beet.