2023 Davis Grant Recipients - Connor & Darren

Connor Christensen and Darren Colby

Gardening Community After Conflict 

Connor Christensen, MPP/MA’24, is a Military-Affiliated Fellow studying at the Harris School of Public Policy and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago. Darren Colby, MSCAPP’24, is studying at the Harris School of Public Policy and the Department of Computer Science. They will use their grant for the project Gardening Community After Conflict to implement a sustainable communal agriculture model in Caquetá, Colombia. This region has experienced decades of conflict, but the 2016 peace accord offers hope. Many farmers are still struggling to transition away from the forced cultivation of illicit crops. Connor and Darren will work with the local government and Amazonia University to establish safe and efficient means of growing, distributing, and selling coffee, cacao, plantains, and other local produce at a price that provides a happy and healthy life for all.

April 11, 2023

In the summer of 2022, Connor was given the opportunity through the London School of Economics to work in the remote region of Caquetá, Colombia. This agrarian terrain on the edge of the Amazon has been home to some of the most continuous conflict Latin America has seen in the last decades. The Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC), a communist militia, fought for change from 1964 until 2016. A peace accord was signed between FARC and the government, but there is still lingering distress throughout the country. Tens of thousands have been displaced, drug cartels threaten to move in on the illicit coca market the FARC once controlled, and families are going hungry.

As former members of the United States military, Connor and Darren have seen the aftermath of conflict in the eyes of fellow veterans, in the streets of the Middle East, and most recently in the stories on the ground in Latin America. Their personal experiences coupled with their study of Public Policy drives a passion for formulating structures of lasting change at the grassroots level. With their project, Gardening Community After Conflict, they plan to invest in a community garden model that can be replicated across the region. For purposes of sustainability, Connor and Darren are meeting regularly with local government officials, university experts, foundations, and regional farmers’ market coordinators so that this summer’s work can all be a part of a grander plan in Colombia, working towards peace and prosperity for all.

Connor and Darren will continue to post over the coming months as they work through this critical planning stage and finally break ground in June. Please check in for regular updates!

May 24, 2023

Bocana Agua Caliente and the Grocery Store Vegetables 

It’s less than two weeks now until we depart for Colombia, and the project is coming together beautifully. After a great deal of speaking to local leaders and authorities, we have found a welcoming village for the Gardening Community After Conflict project.  

Bocana Agua Caliente is a community of 150 people, located just 90 minutes by dirt road from the municipal capital of Morelia. They are almost entirely agrarian and are excited about the prospect of securing stable prices for their crops. As we have been planning out the community garden with the community’s mayor (pictured below with the cattle) we have secured additional support from the Colombian National Training Service (SENA). They are a public institution aimed to develop vocational training programs for the Colombian labor force as a means to increase the competitiveness of Colombia's enterprises. After a representative from SENA (woman  pictured below, white shirt) went to visit Bocana Agua Caliente, she concluded that this would be an ideal location for a project that partners with a local grocery store chain. The grocery store project guarantees a highly competitive price for tomatoes, lettuce, and cucumbers. As we move forward in a couple weeks with laying down the soil for the community garden, the cultivation of tomatoes, lettuce, and cucumbers will be at the center of our efforts. If the community successfully comes together and delivers the vegetables to the grocery store, SENA will then offer the community even larger projects. In the meantime, we will be working to foster even further reaching trade opportunities for the people of Bocana Agua Caliente. Additionally, we will be carrying out interviews with the majority of the adults in the community in order to help tell their unique story throughout the Colombian Conflict. We are especially interested in the twelve community members that are ex-FARC and learning what the peace process has been like for them. To say the least, we are anxious to get started.  

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