Clinton is a rare sight to see in Chicago, as he is a young black man spending his days maintaining fields of crops while wearing his Nike gym shoes. However, if you are truly looking at Clinton Coats than you are looking at the leader of urban gardening.
I’d Rather Be Underneath The Clouds
Clinton first became interested in gardening in his late teens. Originally an interior painter, he decided that he’d rather be underneath the clouds sprucing up a yard than the inside of a house. So outdoors he went to explore nature at it’s best. He started first by participating in a master naturalist program that allowed him to travel to many different forest preserves to learn about micro-diversity, native plants, and the nature of Illinois inhabitants. During the program, Coats also participated in forest conservation where he learned brushwork – the cutting down of unhealthy plants and burning them to ash so that the seeds are not spread and the soil can renew. With all this newfound knowledge Clinton decided that the most valuable lesson of all was to learn how to incorporate nature into his nutrition.
Clinton’s urge for a healthier lifestyle put gardening in a different perspective. He set out on a journey to grow organic produce in the City of Chicago beginning in his own backyard. He then expanded and began creating gardens in backyards of families near him. Coats even taught them how to plant fruits and vegetables and how to eat healthier. Clinton even went to pre-schools and kindergartens to teach kids the importance of nutrition and showed them how to plant. By the way, he did all of this for free. Bringing awareness to his community about the benefits of planting your own food is simply . . . priceless.
“A lot of people are miseducated, some don’t even know what organic means – some people look at it as a negative thing only because they are not exactly sure what it means. There are a lot of fruits or vegetables that some people don’t know, just due to their access or their exposure. – That’s why we are in the city because being in the city allows us to grow produce for our community.”
How He Overcame Fanconi Anema
Clinton was making headlines and soon everyone was hearing about this urban gardener. But his progress was halted when he was diagnosed with Fanconi Anemia, a rare hereditary disease that mainly affects the bone marrow.
“I produced no cells at all, no red, whites or platelets. That cut everything off. Therefore I had to have a blood transfusion and stem cell transplant. It took 2 years to get the insurance right, a year of getting the transplant and then 3 years of recovery.”
On Clinton’s third year of recovery, he began to walk around the fields again that he had once planted. Feeling the fresh dirt beneath his feet was confirmation that he was ready to transition from gardener to business owner, making farming into a serious career. That’s when he signed up for Windy City Harvest Apprenticeship, a 9 month hands-on, technical training in Sustainable Urban Agriculture. Coats finished the program as a certified urban farmer and continued to work as a paid intern at Windy City Harvest Farms. Shortly after finishing the internship, Clinton was carefully chosen to be a participant in the Incubator Program for Beginning Farmers – a program designed to help reduce the risks related to starting one’s own farming-related enterprise.
Good Vibes Farm
From there Clinton’s own company, Good Vibes Farm was born. Since starting his business, Clinton has sold his produce in farmer’s markets, cafes, local restaurants and to distributors. His company even donates their produce to food kitchens and schools. When asked, “What does the future hold for Good Vibes farm?” Clinton says,
“This year we set a different schedule. We have a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) which means people can subscribe to a certain amount of produce weekly or bi-weekly – creating a farmer customer relationship. Or we do a 25 dollar box at the farmer’s market of an assorted variety of produce.”
Gardening – Not As Hard As You Think
For people that want to eat organically or maybe just have a desire to plant a garden in their backyard Clinton says,
“It’s not as hard as you think. Some people think it’s really hard, it does take a bit of work but it can be very peaceful, very tranquil and you reap what you sow. You’ll be ecstatic when you can eat your results.“
Today Clinton remains in good health and continues to work on his farm with his business partner Sandra McCloud. He still teaches gardening workshops and classes in his spare time. Good Vibes Farm is located on the south side of Chicago.