Our Team

Erika Allen, Urban Growers Collective Co-Founder & CEO of Operations. Photography by Eddie Quinones.

Erika Allen
Co-Founder & CEO - Operations

Erika Allen (she/her) is the Co-Founder & CEO – Operations for Urban Growers Collective and the President of Green ERA Educational NFP and Co-Owner of Green Era Sustainability Partners. Previously, Allen founded and was the Director of Growing Power – Chicago for 15 years from 2002 to 2017. Allen is the co-founder of  the Chicago Food Policy Action Council, serves on the board of Grow Greater Englewood and Leadership Council for Growing Home, and is an advisor for the Community Food Navigator project. Allen has been appointed by IL Governor J.B. Pritzker for the IL Leadership Council for Agricultural Education (ICAE) for a 3 Year term (2022-2024). Allen was recently appointed by the Biden Administration to join the Farm Service Agency Committee for Illinois. She is also a Co-Chair of the Food Equity Council for the City of Chicago.  Allen received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her MA in Art Psychotherapy from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She uses her experience as a visual artist to consult with individuals and organizations to support their visioning of social and economic changes. She is passionate about social justice and working with multicultural groups in the elimination of racism, related oppressions, and the root causes of poverty by integrating creative and therapeutic techniques alongside food security and community development.

Lauralyn Clawson

Lauralyn Clawson
Director of Operations

Lauralyn Clawson (she/her) received her B.A. from Penn State University in Environmental Science. Lauralyn’s expertise revolves around youth education, urban farming production, hoop house installation and mushroom production. Lauralyn is the Youth and Work Force Education Manager for Urban Growers Collective.  In addition to her work at UGC, Lauralyn is an expert in compost policy and co-leads the Licensing and Animal Welfare working groups for the Chicago Food Policy Action Council. Lauralyn Clawson managed the Youth Corps Program for Growing Power – Chicago, and worked for the organization 10 years prior to its closing in 2017.

Darion Crawford
Urban Farmer & Compost Coordinator

Darion Crawford (he/him) has been farming since he was 16-years-old.  He began his journey with agriculture at Marshall High School in Chicago, where he studied farming, and was chosen to be one of the first 15 year-round students of the Growing Power Chicago Youth Corps in 2006. After graduation, Darion began working with Growing Power Chicago as a youth corps and adult-job training instructor. Darion also led workshops nationally for Growing Power in hoop-house and aquaponics construction, as well as large-scale composting.

Darion left Growing Power in 2014 to manage for Home Depot in Chicago, where he picked up valuable skills in team leadership and development, as well as honing his wise-cracking wit much to the delight of the co-founders (and his original youth corps instructors) at UGC.

Darion began work with Urban Growers Collective in March, 2020, to once again teach youth at the Roosevelt Square Youth Farm, as well as assist with the READI and Grounds for Peace program.

Joshua Hughes
Fresh Moves Logistics Coordinator

Joshua Hughes was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. He graduated from Arizona State University with his B.S. in Sociology in 2018. His community engagement experience stems from the artist community where he helped co-found an annual arts and music festival called “Melanincholy Music Festival” in Columbus from 2016-2017. Joshua has always aimed to center BIPOC and LGBTQ folks by building platforms for creativity.  As a sales associate with UGC’s Fresh Moves Mobile Market, he plans to further assist the development of food security in Chicago as a continued action in social justice. Joshua’s six years in food management have given him expertise in product sales, inventory management, facility sanitization, and customer service.

In his free time he enjoys music production, playing guitar, and biking long distances.

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Mac Svolos
Administrative Coordinator

Mac Svolos (he/him) is the Administrative Coordinator for Urban Growers Collective.  He graduated with a BA in Sociology and Theology from Creighton University, where he became involved in environmental justice work.  After living and working at an urban farm in Kansas City, Mac moved to Chicago in 2018 and has worked as a cook, barista, and office manager.  He is excited to be working to create sustainable food systems in Chicago, and is passionate about hospitality.  He enjoys biking the lakefront trail, baking bread, and porch sitting.

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Derrick Patrick

Fresh Moves Sales & Supplier Purchasing Associate

Derrick Patrick (he/him) is the Fresh Moves Mobile Market Sales & Supplier Purchasing Associate for Urban Growers Collective. His background is in community engagement and cannabis advocacy.  He received his B.S. in Marketing with a focus on Communications and Finance from the University of Illinois at Chicago. As a former Division I baseball player and home cook, from the West Side of Chicago (Austin), he brings an energy and passion for a health conscious diet and a lifestyle that fosters holistic health. He intends to be a key player in food justice and urban agriculture throughout Chicagoland for the betterment of communities in most need.

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Meag Sargent

Finance & Communications Associate

Meag Sargent (she/her) is a horticulturist and artist passionate about creating local food systems that benefit both people and planet. She earned her bachelors in horticulture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she co-founded the UW Campus Kitchens Project, was a member of Slow Food UW, and worked in the Urban and Regional Food Systems Lab researching virus eradication in hops and hydroponic hop growing.

Meag has been working in urban agriculture for the past 7 years in addition to doing freelance photography and communications work. When she’s not at work, you’ll find her sticking her fingers in some dirt, painting, or doing just about anything outdoors.

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Laurell Sims
Co-Founder & CEO - Finance

Laurell Sims (she/her) is the Co-Founder & CEO – Finance for Urban Growers Collective. She received her BA in Asian Studies and Government from the University of Redlands.  Laurell worked at Growing Power Chicago for 11-years prior to UGC, where she served as the Production and Marketing Manager for six-years and the Education Coordinator for five-years.

Formerly, Laurell was the Director for ReVision House Urban Farm, a farm-training program for homeless young mothers in Dorchester, MA.  Laurell is active in the Chicago Food Policy Action Council, and formerly served on the Board of Directors for Slow Food Chicago and Green City Market. In 2011, Laurell was selected as a Bold Food Fellow, a State Department exchange with farmers from Uganda and Kenya, and has managed development projects with urban farms in Haiti. In her spare time, Laurell is a volunteer magician for Open Heart Magic which provides beside magic for hospitalized children.

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Malcolm Evans
Director of Farms

Malcolm Evans (he/him) has served as the Production Manager for Urban Growers Collective since 2018.  Formally, Malcolm was a Production and Marketing Program Assistant at Growing Power, Inc. for the seven-years prior to its closing. Malcolm began his farming career at the age of 12, when Growing Power installed the Chicago Lights Urban Farm and Community Garden in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood. While still in high school, Malcolm began the composting program at Growing Power Chicago, collecting compost from restaurants throughout the city after-school and on weekends. Mr. Evans began working full-time with Growing Power after graduating from Wells High School, and has expertise in compost management, production and produce sales. 

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Debbie O'Connor
Human Resources Manager

Debbie O’Connor is excited about being a part of Urban Growers Collective as the first Human Resources Manager. Debbie is uniquely suited to the Urban Growers Collective, with experience not only in HR Administration, but Food Service, Transportation & Logistics, and Community focused non-profit organizations.

A lifetime Chicagoland native, Debbie holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing, Loyola University and an Associates Degree in Culinary Arts, Kendall College. In her free time, Debbie enjoys cooking with her family, with her husband, Brian and two children, Olivia and Addison.

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Yolanda Matlock
Green Era Mission Development Manager

Yolanda Matlock (she/her) is the Green Era Mission Development Manager at Urban Growers Collective.  One of her most inspirational quotes is from Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others? This belief system was cultivated early in her childhood as she watched her parents engage in community activism.  As a result, Yolanda’s passion and commitment to serving others have been a driving force in every aspect of her life.

With over twenty years of progressively responsible experience in project management, administration, healthcare, and social services, Yolanda served in various leadership roles including a senior member of a nonprofit organization with a mission to serve those who are disenfranchised and residentially displaced.  She has over 10 years in healthcare, ranging from a certified medical records coder to mental health and behavioral health administration, and most recently served as a project coordinator/administrative assistant at a leading healthcare organization.

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Siobhan Beal
Harvest & Market Distribution Coordinator

My names Siobhan Beal (she/her) and I’m on the farm/harvest team with Urban Growers Collective. I got my BA in Environmental Studies from Earlham College. I started with Growing Power as an intern and apprentice over the summers of 2012 and 2013. After graduation I started full time with Growing Power. My travel urge got me and in 2017 I left to travel New Zealand and Australia. I worked vineyards, dairy farms, and other odd jobs along the way! I was so excited to be welcomed back to UGC in 2020 I am ready to get my hands back in the soil and take care of our cute goats!

In my free time I love experimenting and learning new cooking, pickling, and baking recipes. I also love climbing, playing with my families corgi, and a solid hammock nap.

Staff Bio Pics (9)

Xavier Colon
Farm Educator

Xavier Colon (he/they) is an Urban Farm Worker for Urban Growers Collective who joined the team in the Summer 2020 Internship Program. Xavier is a Youth Mentor for Semillas y Raices, a cultural urban garden and center in North Lawndale. They are an active community support and surrogate for the Restorative Justice Community Court (RJCC) of North Lawndale and a representative of the International Indigenous Youth Council – Chicago Chapter (IIYC).

Xavier received an AA in Philosophy at Joliet Junior College and will graduate from Northeastern Illinois University with a BA of Interdisciplinary Studies, focused on Environmental Education and Justice Studies. They are passionate about serving community and cultural preservation.

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Brandon Lov
Development Manager

Brandon Lov (he/him) is the Development Associate for Urban Growers Collective. He graduated from the University of Chicago in June 2019 with a degree in Public Policy and Environmental & Urban Studies. Brandon started at Urban Growers Collective in the summer of 2018 as an seasonal urban agriculture intern. During his internship, Brandon worked extensively at our farms, as well as helping with sales for the Fresh Moves Mobile Market and local farmers markets.

Questions?

Reach out at info@urbangrowerscollective.org or (773) 376-8882.