Englewood Village Farms Showcase: DuSable City Ancestral Winery and Vineyards
Our next installment of our Englewood Village Farms Showcase is an interview with Julian and Kenya Samples. They are co-founders of DuSable City Ancestral Winery and Vineyards, an enterprise that looks to enhance community and environment.
We spoke on the Englewood Trail about the challenges of being social entrepreneurs in Chicago for over a decade, the importance of finding your value-added niche, and the magic of Black love wrapped up in it all. In addition, we spoke about how Black food businesses are struggling to stay afloat nationwide, and some of the ways they have managed to bounce back from adversity.
They also talked about their upcoming fundraiser and Ethiopian-themed BBQ, Thursday, August 9th (6pm-Midnight) at 11126 S. Sangamon in Chicago, IL. They are featuring their sparkling elderberry wine, healthy food, and throwing an old school house party. In addition, Cicely McClenon, will feature her Ethiopian, honey mead, along with an orange blossom wine, pineapple beer, and of course a few bottles of their elderberry, champaign method, sparkling wine will be available for auction.
Below is our interview in its entirety:
Elisha: So can you please introduce yourselves?
Kenya: My name is Kenya Sample and I’ve been a part of Chicago my whole life. My family has probably been in Chicago since about 1880. I think that that foundation for me is really one of the greatest reasons why I’m so committed to development and impacting my community in a positive way. And I have my lovely husband here, Julian
Julian: Julian Sample, native, 44. Native Chicagoan from the south side, grew up in Morgan Park. Had relatives, who still live not to far from here (Englewood Trail) to this day. I spent a lot of time in Englewood growing up with my aunties and cousins. I always had an attachment to agriculture growing up by way of my parents who were both from Mississippi. Got engaged in agriculture here with my wife after we had children and were concerned about providing the best quality food that we could as they were growing up. We find ourselves involved in urban agriculture now, in this specific project on the trail, in the process of developing sustainable, viable businesses that eventually provide benefits for residents of Englewood. That’s our focus. We’re committed to thinking about agriculture outside of the box. Traditionally, you may think about greens, tomatoes, and so forth, but our specific application is through the use of Elderberries and we’re developing an Elderberry wine.
E: Excellent. So can you talk about that business? What is that called? And why elderberries and what is the value in that for you all?
K: Well for us, our business is called DuSable City Ancestral Winery and Vineyards. And this has been about a 10-year process. I think Julian and I both grew up with a great affinity for nature, a connection to nature, to our planet. So upon us really having children we were looking for ways to engage our children out in nature - give them fresh air and really reconnect them in so many ways. And out of that reconnection about 10 years ago. We started blossoming into other avenues of developing an agricultural curriculum, going into developing food items, and food demonstrations because there are so many gaps - and with gaps there are opportunities. We started to start feeling and researching some of the gaps that we found in the food system that could really bring about a lot of change in our community where we have healthier communities. We have healthier economic enterprises within our community. We have healthier education and refocusing so many benefits in all of that process. So through our research, we looked at several varieties of different things. First, we started off as simple as dandelions. We started researching and found that dandelion root is actually valued at anywhere from $20-$60 per pound. And we said wow, there’s really a lot of opportunity for economic enterprising and development. So we looked at mushrooms, we looked at aquaponics, we looked at all kinds of things that are just around us and abundant and we can now transform into a business. A couple of years ago, Julian and one of his high school friends decided we were going to a business for the African Festival of the Arts, in which we designed garden pizzas. And out of those garden pizzas we really found that people really wanted to see healthier options, they wanted to see something local. They wanted to see people within the community bringing about economic development and new innovative and creative ways to make money.
J: I would just like to add to that that our focus really has been how to develop a short list of viable businesses that can be applied in the urban setting - in Black folks’ neighborhoods. We have traditionally, issues with vacant lots in our areas and we consider them to be resources that can be developed into an economic benefit for our people. So as Kenya was mentioning and gave a few examples, we considered many of those examples and found ourselves here with wine. You said why elderberry, elderberry is a native plant. Once you plant it, it lasts about 50 to 60 years, it doesn’t require a lot of labor and maintenance during the spring and summer seasons, and it's one of the highest quality medicinal berries on earth. So, Kenya came up with the phrase, “well you’re really drinking to your health if you’re drinking a form of wine that also has a healthy substitute.”
K: We were looking at these different value-added products. We were looking at, how much is red clover, that’s abundant in the whole city and grows everywhere, how much is that a pound? How much is dandelion? What is the ability to import? At one time we actually had Moringa coming in from Jamaica, just to make a connection with the farmers globally. So, we really wanted to think of everything sustainably. So in that sustainable thought, we realized that elderberry being a native plant, and not just a native plant but also being one of the best known, if not the best antiviral on the planet. So once we got to the place where we decided we wanted to do elderberry, we started looking at other markets. We noticed that Chicago is the second largest consumer of wine in the country, second only to California. We have a billion dollar wine industry here in Chicago, but we’re not really at the scale and capacity of using the land that once was used to grow vineyards, grapes, and fruits, is now really dwindled down greatly buy maybe 10% of what it might of been in 1920 when we were using probably a lot more land for that development. So we said hey, we have a great opportunity to do a healthy variety of wine. We wanted to do something that was really world class. So the sparkling champagne or champagne method of wine, really was appealing to us because it really filled the gap of an industry in which we have the second largest consumers here in Chicago, and we can now meet that market. And in meeting that market we can really explore and really kind of spread the wealth and exploit the other resources and vintners and wineries and vineyards that are all through Illinois and the midwest.
E: So that’s great. It's not just something that kind of came out of a small business workshop yesterday, but it's kind of evolution in this ongoing process for you all. Can you all talk about what that’s been like in Chicago? Being Black social entrepreneurs, and any advice that you have for folks who want to do that kind of work? And also, where Grow Greater Englewood (GGE) comes into the mix? How did that connection happened and what that support has looked like these past couple of years?
J: Well we started in 2008 with urban agriculture. I think we met Anton Seals (Lead Steward at GGE) maybe that first year. He came by to our garden in Morgan Park, and asked us some background questions of how we pulled it all together. We were able to give him solid advice. And about four years later, Anton approached us with this opportunity to participate in the development in this nature trail. And accompanying the nature trail is the development of agricultural businesses that would border the trail along the 1.75 mile stretch.
K: The process for us has been one of a lot of learning. A process where we’re able to bring great integrity to business. We really want to reduce these vacant lots that do nothing in our community. We want to now see businesses that are not exploiting our community but find meaningful ways to give back and contribute. For us, this has been a life-changing endeavor. In which, it's hard for me to come up with any negative things that has held us back. We really haven’t had those kind of things. Everything has been very open for us. People have been very receptive. Yes, we have our challenges. It's been a lot of work. I know some of the work that you might not see us do. I can remember one night we were in London Townhomes. London Townhomes allowed us to plant gardens there for several years. And in an effort to really gardner the support of the community, we went out at night, below zero, and went door to door and passed out 400 fliers. And I’d say those are the challenges where you really have to dig in deep. Often times with this program, and I say this a lot, I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is what I take from Buddha where he says that, “it is not our duty to be extraordinary, but what we want is extraordinary to be a very ordinary thing.” So what that really means to me is that, we we all have our everyday challenges that we face, but in those challenges, there is still opportunities for us to give back. And I think that's what Julian and I have really been about. That we’re just like everyday people with all of our problems, that we still can put some of those things aside and be able to give back to our community, be able to impact our community, be able to be innovative, creative, and share with our community. With little to nothing, just an abandoned vacant lot, now has turned into 10-year project that affords us a position to now put a business plan and a proposal to the city to create a vineyard.
J: I really want to be honest about the challenges over the last 10 years. As she mentioned, we’re average people. And when you’re doing social work, on your own, sometimes it can be challenging from and economic perspective and we’ve gone through that. In addition to that, when you consider the landscape of urban agriculture, there’s not many examples of profitable businesses that have been birthed out of that movement. And I think that has been disappointing to many Black people who have been past participants. I think a great responsibility is on us, to really drive forward the whole idea to Black people that if you’re involved in this thing, you really have to be focused on looking outside of the norm of what everybody else is doing. Once you find a good niche, and a good niche will be a product that you develop, hopefully a value-added product, there are some raw products that fit this model too, that you get a good return off the product. And on that profit you will be able to pay yourself and your workers very well. And I think that if we create those type of businesses, we can really kind of galvanize a movement amongst our people of strong interests once they really see that they can really get some out of it that can change their lives. So that’s where our focus is. The winery is the first one. We have about 5 or 6 others that we want to get to. I think that once we demonstrate first, and are able to generate some finances, that will empower us to do even more in the future.
E: Absolutely. I think that’s excellent. Last piece, talk about the event that you have coming up, and any way you want to promote it, and how big is it for you to have this event coming up? And what was GGE’s role in helping to support that?
K: Well, what could we say. With GGE, there's so many thousands of things that run through my mind and heart that are so favorable about working with GGE. Anton Seals has been our mentor for the past several years and grooming us and really pulling out the ideas and really connecting those ideas to what the community needs are, and all in that, being mindful of what the planet needs. He is an instrumental person with great insight and he understands the big picture and scope of what really needs to happen and you need people like that in positions of leadership - that can really see the value of each person and identify a place for them to really take their value and appreciate that value. We have a great amount of respect and admiration for Anton. We’ve learned a lot in this process about what it really requires for us in our community to be ready and open for when big projects come to your door. What does that work really take? What is required? What are the skills that you need? What are the resources that you need? He’s been fundamental in bring Tera’ Johnson of Tera’s Way to the project so that we can really understand the big side of business and what that really looks like as we transition and are working towards big business. She raised $14M of her own money to support her project. Anton bringing her on board was really a game changer for us because what I realized was that if she could work so hard to raise $14M for her company, then I took the challenge for myself. That’s why Julian and I are trying to put as much of our own skin in the game. We’ve been very reluctant about being a non-for-profit business because we know that there’s great avenues for non-for-profit- but we do need to see a transition and a movement in our community towards more for-profit businesses. So that was kind of the whole idea for us to not just do a not-for-profit but to also do a for-profit and bring an economic transformation to the entire community where we could really employ people and give them a different scope of skill sets in vermiculture and ecology. We also understood that we would have to raise a lot of money on our own. That we can’t just expect people to give us money because we have this brilliant idea. So with that, Julian and I have gotten to work. We’ve sought out anchors within our communities to align ourselves. Recently, we spoke with Kimbark Liquors, Brian Duncan. He also is a restaurateur. One of his notable restaurants out of the five that he had at one time downtown, was Ben 36. So, we had an opportunity to go by Kimbark Liquors. We wanted to see what the authorities in the industry of wine would say about our wine. And Brian, he absolutely loved the wine. So for us, that was the kind of confirmation that we needed to know that we’re on the right path with this. We had someone who has many many years of expertise in this to say that he loved our wine, absolutely loved it, and that he’s willing to support what we’re doing. So, we’re trying to reach out again, make sure that we are putting in the leg work ourselves, raising as much money as we can, ourselves. And with that, we have an event coming up, August 9th. DuSable City Ancestral Winery will be hosting our first fundraiser from 6pm-12am. We will have a featured in-house, guest winemaker, Cicely McCenon, who will be featuring her Teague Ethiopian Honey Mede, along with an orange blossom wine, a pineapple bear, and of course a few bottles of our elderberry, champaign method, sparkling wine will be available for auction.
J: Yeah it's going to be a good time we’re gonna have music, food, some of our t-shirts, you’ll be able to taste all the offerings.
K: We’re gonna do like an Ethiopian themed BBQ with roasting coffee, and francasense in the air, and the music, and the ambiance. And we just want to have a really good, experiential, organic, spill-in-the-street or old school house party.
E: And where is it going to be at?
K: It's gonna be at 11126 S. Sangamon.
E: Excellent. Thank you all so much, this has been great. You all definitely embody, not just what it takes to be successful at social business enterprise, but are also inspiring in terms of beautiful Black love, and that the value of Black love that can transform into Black business is even better. So I want to extend that to you all, as part of being a couple generations down the line, and as part of someone who’s in-between generations and looking back at younger generations and seeing that Black love is not as appreciated. What you all have and want is something that we have to ask ourselves as a community is it something that we value.
K: Speaking of Black love, I’ve been giving it a lot of thought. And, I’ve really been thinking lately that if I had to put it into words, what this experience with having your business partner as your significant other, is nothing less than magical. I have really had the opportunity. And, as we face the challenges of working together, and living together, and having so much intertwined, it has really allowed me the good fortune of seeing my mate in the most magical of ways - I mean truly magical. We’re developing this kind of synchronicity where we play a good game together. We’re lobbing each other the ball back and forth - I know when to catch it, he knows when to throw it. And I think the work like this when you can bring one of the most important persons of your life into your work and share that experience, I really don’t think that you can find anything better than that.
J: Ase. You stole my thunder...But really honestly, that’s just me from the heart. There’s nothing better, than doing some work for the people and you have your wife and your husband in that process with you. So it never feels like a drag, because when it's time to go somewhere and do something, she’s just as excited and motivated as I am. We definitely inspire each other to do even more than I think we could by ourselves.
K: Yeah, and I think that’s important. I’ve always had a connection to nature, I’ve always been that kind of Greenpeace, save the planet kind of girl, but having someone share that passion and suddenly so open to incorporate that into their lives, is important. And I think that’s what a good marriage is. About the ability to be open, receptive, realizing that you're not just one person anymore. And instead of kind of trying to figure out how to work that out, just focus on the good parts and it kind of falls into place with respect and appreciation.