Our Team

Staff Bio Pics

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 Board President of the Chicago Food Policy Action Council, and also serves on the board of Grow Greater Englewood and Growing Home. 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, and 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 and oppression using integrating creative and therapeutic techniques alongside food security and community development.

Lauralyn Clawson

Lauralyn Clawson
Associate Director of Training Programs

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 & Instructor

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.

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Marshall Mitchell
Urban Farmer

Marshall Mitchell (he/him) was born and raised in Chicago.  He graduated in May 2019 from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign with a degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. After graduation, Marshall began working as an urban farm assistant with Urban Growers Collective.

Marshall believes that “working with UGC has given me the opportunity to not only work in a field that promotes environmental stewardship, but also connects it strongly to food injustice and social change. Because of my employment at UGC, I am even more assured in continuing work in social justice and policy.”

In his free time, Marshall likes trying out different savory and baking recipes, and is currently trying to increase his fluency in Spanish.

Image(s) by Jovan Landry | jovanlandry.com

Alexandra Antoine
Artist-in-Residence

Alexandra Antoine (she/her) is an interdisciplinary visual artist and cultural apprentice based in Chicago, IL. Her work examines traditional artistic practices throughout the African Diaspora with a focus on healing traditions, identity and culture through the use of collage, portraiture, and most recently, farming. She uses the portrait as a tool to re/present individuals of the African diaspora while exploring her relationship to them within the larger narrative of her Haitian identity. She holds a Bachelor in Fine Arts and Arts Education from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work has been exhibited widely throughout Chicago, IL and is also part of the Arts in Embassies program in the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

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Azziza Robinson
Youth Program Coordinator

Azziza Robinson (she/her) is the Youth Program Coordinator at Urban Growers Collective. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Food Science from Tuskegee University in Alabama, and her Masters in Food Studies from Chatham University in Pittsburgh. Originally from Illinois, Azziza has spent the past four years working with community gardening non-profit organizations, as well as with black farmers, mainly in Pennsylvania and Alabama. She has focused on promoting sustainable agricultural practices and increasing food sovereignty in low income black and brown communities.

Azziza takes pride in being involved in a line of work that is not only working to solve many of the social issues of today, but is empowering communities and providing them with the resources that they need in order to take control of their own livelihoods for generations to come.

In her free time, Azziza enjoys comedy writing and creating new vegan recipes.

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Joselyn Walsh
Fresh Moves Coordinator

Joselyn Walsh (she/her) grew up in rural Missouri, and has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis, where she studied Food Systems & Environmental Justice. She received a Master’s in Social Science at the University of Chicago, where is studied white supremacy in the American food system through an ethnographic approach to science and technology studies. Joselyn first worked on an urban farm in St. Louis during the summer of 2015.

After she left St. Louis, Joselyn worked as a research and writing intern at Food First in Oakland, CA, and volunteered with the Nashville Food Project in Nashville, TN. She began volunteering at UGC in the spring of 2019 and began as a Sales Associate with the Fresh Moves Mobile Market program in the fall of 2019. Joselyn is proud to know she can help communicate to others in her community the necessity for and possibilities that exist to heal a food system that has been shaped by inequity for centuries, especially in the context of creating awareness in those who have never had to worry about where their next meal will come from.

In her free time, Joselyn likes to go on runs around the city, sing and write music, and find new ways to cook tofu.

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Jane Escarez
Fresh Moves Sales Associate

Jane Escarez is a part-time Sales Associate for the Fresh Moves Mobile Market. Jane attended Maine East High School and has a BA from the University of Illinois-Chicago in Communications. At UIC, Jane served as the Co-Chair for the Food Recovery Network. Jane comes to Urban Growers Collective with over five years of experience in sales and provides excellent customer service to the diverse range of customers served through the Fresh Moves Program.

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Sharmain Siddiqui
Program Development Assistant

Sharmain Siddiqui (she/her) joined Urban Growers Collective after graduating from Northwestern University with degrees in South Asian Studies and Environmental Policy & Culture. After being awarded the Buffett Institute of Global Affairs’ Community-Based Participatory Research Fellowship, Sharmain went to Pakistan to study and learn unani tibb, a tradition of medicine in the region. She spent two summers learning about herbal medicine and plant-based healing as resistance. She is invested in using plant and land-based healing to imagine new paradigms of liberation and is certain that Black and brown agrarian power is what a transition to a more just world looks like. In her spare time, Sharmain loves practicing yoga, sewing, and studying herbs!

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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
Production Manager

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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Allison Sturm
Urban Farmer & Youth Instructor

Allison Sturm was born and raised in Rogers Park, a north side neighborhood in Chicago. She received a BFA in Psychology with a minor in Sociology/Anthropology at Earlham College. Allison began working with Urban Growers Collective as an intern in 2018, and was hired shortly after to teach the Youth Corps program at the South Chicago Farm.

After Allison received a certificate in Sustainable Agriculture from Windy City Harvest, she re-joined the UGC team as an urban farm assistant and youth instructor. She is proud to do this work because growing and sharing food is transformative. She loves making connections between our food (where it comes from and how it’s cultivated), the environment, our local communities, and how it impacts our overall well being.

In her free time, Allison loves to cook and is currently trying to master the art of baking sourdough bread. She enjoys working with her hands, which is why you can also find her rock climbing and making pottery in her spare time.

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Siobhan Beal
Urban Farmer

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.

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Xavier Colon
Urban Farmer

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 Associate

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.

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Kala Cuerington
Community Outreach & Engagement Coordinator

Kala Cuerington (she/her) has been working in food and environmental justice for the past eight years. She is originally form the Bay Area, but has lived in New York City, Los Angeles, and New Haven. As a Sociology major, she has always approached this work with a systems view, and she enjoys utilizing her natural curiosity with humans and society in her role as Community Engagement Coordinator at UGC. She has worked for both the Edible Schoolyard Berkeley, and FoodCorps – which both made a solid foundation for Kala’s interest in food, education, and building leaders. Kala loves Chicago and enjoys getting to know community members and organizations that seek to make the world more sustainable, inclusive, and delicious. In her spare time she enjoys making music, going to concerts, growing food, and cooking up a storm.

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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Meag Sargent
Administrative Coordinator & Bookkeeper

Meag Sargent (she/her) is the Administrative Coordinator & Bookkeeper for Urban Growers Collective. She is a horticulturist 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, led the Market Basket program for Slow Food UW, and worked in the Urban and Regional Food Systems Lab researching virus eradication in hops and hydroponic growing methods.

Meag has been working in urban agriculture for the past 6 years and currently serves as the Food Justice & Policy Co-Chair for Slow Food Chicago. When she’s not at work, you’ll find her sticking her fingers in some dirt, painting, or doing just about anything outdoors.

Questions?

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