Giving back to the community has been the focus of Xavier MaatRa's professional life, culminating in the creation of their latest endeavors, Chi City Foods and DAB of Consulting.
Xavier ( they prefer to use their first name ) grew up in a small farming/college town in southern New Jersey and was active in their church, giving their first sermon when they were 17.
"I studied history at a Christian college," said Xavier. "After the trauma I dealt with there, I started organizing and developing my own political voice in ways that supported my ability to live my truth as a Black, queer and transgender person."
After college, Xavier worked as a union organizer with the SEIU in California and helped with disaster relief in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Both experiences laid the groundwork for what Xavier has done since coming to Chicago 11 years ago.
"I am very proud of my work at the Chicago Freedom School building their training program from the ground up," said Xavier. "The program has impacted over 5000 youth and adults throughout the U.S., United Kingdom, Iraq and various countries across South America.
"My time as a drop-in worker at the Broadway Youth Center ( BYC ) was my entry into the queer community here. I built relationships with my coworkers that we cultivate to this day. Working at the BYC also gave me the opportunity to support LGB and trans and gender non-conforming ( TGNC ) youth in transformative ways. I enjoy watching the youth I worked with back in 2010 grow into adults over these years."
With their farm and eco-campus Chi City Foods ( CCF ), Xavier is taking their advocacy a step further by, according to the organization's website, "providing poor and marginalized groups in Chicago with access to fresh produce and training opportunities in urban agriculture."
CCF is located in Altgeld Gardens on the Far Southeast Side of Chicago. This predominately Black community is in a food desert and has one of the most isolated housing developments in the city. It is the only urban micro farm in Chicago that is led and staffed by Black TGNC people.
Xavier told Windy City Times that CCF is dedicated to cultivating great organic produce and honey through their subsidiary, Mystic Bee Hive Honey, while promoting urban agriculture skills and food justice awareness. Xavier said CCF is currently working toward its organic certification.
"We aim to create spaces for environmental stewardship for marginalized groups to restore the food knowledge and skills that were lost due to colonization and oppression," said Xavier. "At CCF, we hope to teach people how to feed themselves on the path toward healthy, self-determined and sustained communities."
Mystic Bee Hive Honey is run by Brave Space Alliance Founder and Executive Director ( and master beekeeper ) LaSaia Wade, who is also Xavier's partner.
"The goal of Mystic Bee Hive is to create a space for bees to thrive, produce local organic honey, support veggie production at CCF and train people how to bee keep on the South Side of Chicago," said Wade. "We are excited to provide another avenue for TGNC people to participate in Chicago's growing Urban Agriculture community."
This June, Xavier is expanding CCF with the launch of their Community Supported Agriculture ( CSA ) program. Each participant will receive a bimonthly produce box containing a minimum of 10 organically grown vegetables and fruits, when available. Members receive 10 boxes of produce over 20 weeks.
Xavier explained that last year over 30 children and adults volunteered with CCF and they hope to grow that number this year.
"This season we are launching a pilot fellowship program focusing on beekeeping, building and farming skills," said Xavier. "Our fellowship provides people with various amounts of skills and experiences with an opportunity to learn and apply their skills in creative ways towards the vision of CCF."
Xavier is also reaching out to Chicago's LGBTQ community to provide fresh produce to those who are dealing with food insecurity through the Fresh Produce Pop-Up Pantry Project in conjunction with Brave Space Alliance and Cooperation Operation, an urban agricultural non-profit in the Pullman community. This is a produce give-away to those in need that will take place Aug. 15 and Sept. 19 at 12-2 p.m. at the Brave Space Alliance, 2747 W. 79th St. It is sponsored by CCF and Chicago LGBTQ community organizations.
When Xavier is not tending to their CCF business, they can be found doing consulting work with their companyDAB of Consulting.
"After years of doing pop-ups for other organizations, I wanted to continue to the work but on my own terms combining my experience as an organizer, youth worker and community educator to support movement building and to strengthen populator education in the non-profit sector," said Xavier.
One of Xavier's clients is the Groundswell Fund, via their grassroots organizing institute.
"Groundswell Fund has provided me with the opportunity to share my almost 20 years of experience with community organizing and non-profit development to support amazing groups within the reproductive justice movement," said Xavier.
When Xavier is not working, they do training sessions for the staff and board members at Brave Space Alliance and learning with fellow farmers at the Urban Growers Collective. They also love to listen to music, watch movies, play video games and cook.
Xavier's message to anyone who is interested in what he is doing with CCF is, "Donate to the Pop-Up Pantry Project, sign up for the CSA and/or come out and get in the soil with me. This farm is a labor of love and a part of my dreams of connecting community education and organizing to create opportunities for social transformation. We could never reach our goals without the help of amazing volunteers. Check out the volunteer form on our website and sign up for a date to come help us. If you want to volunteer during the week send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a time."
Volunteering takes place every Saturday through October of this year.
See www.chicityfoods.com/ .