Out in the Open is a rural LGBTQ-led organization focused on building rural LGBTQ community, visibility, knowledge, power, and JOY: it’s a fantastic organization, and one we’re proud to support. This year, the Million Gardens Movement, powered by all our members, supporters, and staff, will be one of Out in the Open’s sponsors for this year’s Pride Family Cook-Ins that bring together LGBTQ+ community members from across farms, gardens, and rural spaces.

Given their experience hosting and organizing so many events, we wanted to check in with Out in the Open about what they’ve learned and how they see growing and sharing food as fitting into their organization’s focus on LGBTQ community. Read on to hear about the ways food brings us together, the power of the first strawberries of the year, and how to have a successful and feel-good 1-person garden party!

The Million Gardens Movement  

Could you introduce your organization’s mission, and why community building in rural spaces is so important for queer communities?

Eva Westheimer  

A little bit about out in the open is that we work to build the community visibility, knowledge and power within our rural LGBTQ communities, and it is really important to us to build and provide that space for us to both be working towards a community of more liberation, “communities of communities” is what we call it, of economic and social justice to our communities. By building relationships with people, we can build towards the work that we’re doing, whether that’s our mutual aid work, or whether that is our Out in the Open summit or whether that is our Pride Family Cookout, whatever event that is, it is building towards are creating space for economic, political and social justice within our communities.

The Million Gardens Movement

There comes a stage in a garden party where you’ve planned the event, you’ve invited people, all of the food is out, and you’re in that really weird like half hour hour period where you’re waiting for people to show up and asking yourself “Is anyone going to show up, or is all of this in my head and it’s going to crash and burn?” Do you have experience with that, and what coping mechanisms would you recommend for having the host feel more comfortable leading a party like that?

Eva Westheimer  

It’s really about providing space for hosts and event organizers to be themselves, and to remind themselves but they’re also part of the event. Have fun! Whether it’s our Pride Family Cookout or workshops that we give, we host what a wide variety of events throughout the year and what type of will people come is often in the air. For us, living and working in rural communities, whether it’s 1 person or 50 people who show up to an event, it’s a successful event. I think that for us, for our work and our orientation towards supporting rural LGBTQ folks, it’s not about the numbers. It’s also about you, yourself, and being part of the community. What are the ways that you yourself can as the host, settle into that space as well?

The Million Gardens Movement  

Your zine (the second issue of which is closing submissions soon), shows the many different ways that people can experience food, often leading to people appreciating the landscape more and those in their community. Why is food such a great way to connect about other topics, from how it’s grown to who’s around you?

Eva Westheimer  

Food, for both myself and Out in the Open, has been such a big connector and a healing source. Whether that is cookout food, or food at a phone banking night or at our Black and Pink letter writing party in December. It’s a way to support creating a container, also a way that brings folks together around conversation, and it’s a way that brings folks together around sharing. In a world where we’re reemerging to potlucks and shared food, it is a really big piece of sharing a piece of ourselves. And so, part of the zine is “How can we create the sense of sharing a little piece of ourselves around food, when we’re not necessarily in physical space together?”

The Million Gardens Movement  

You described food as “healing” in your answer. What did you mean by that?

Eva Westheimer  

Particularly in our rural LGBTQ communities, but also across movements, food is care in the form of healing. Whether that is people feeding each other, to then be able to go the doing work elsewhere, or in some farming and gardening, it’s practical ask of “I need to eat calories before I can like go farm for the rest of the day.” In our rural LGBTQ communities, so many foods can be ways of learning, passing down and sharing, and growing different forms of agricultural knowledge and also non-agricultural knowledge, especially around healing.

The Million Gardens Movement  

One great benefit of this being like a rural based organization is that you usually have more easy access to like very, very fresh vegetables. I’m curious if there’s any experiences that you’ve had at events where people have brought fruits, vegetables, and herbs that were just extraordinary because of that freshness that could maybe inspire some of our gardeners to either like plant those things, or look into using them in a new way that they hadn’t expected.

Eva Westheimer  

We have wonderful connections and collaborations with a lot of our local farms around here, for our events and for our work. Another event that we normally organize throughout our year is an event that we call “Earth Gay,” where we volunteer workdays on different farms. Right now, there’s such incredible work in our local communities with many different queer-owned farms and BIPOC farms, specifically uplifting the work of the SUSU commUNITY Farm, which is BIPOC and queer farm in the community. A big piece of freshness is the act of sharing the food. It is brought to be shared and that makes it fresh, whether that is our salad greens, seasonal root vegetables, the first strawberries of the season, entire cucumbers, whatever that may be, it’s really about the beauty of being part of the community.

The Million Gardens Movement  

If our members wanted to start their own Pride Family Cookouts, from their own home or from their own garden, where would you recommend they start conceptualizing and planning cookouts?

Eva Westheimer  

With the shifting and changing of the pandemic, and where people are at in terms of their comfort levels and safety levels, we’re focusing this year on our “Pride Family Cook-Ins” as a space for people to do some self organizing for rural LGBT people, and share if they are attending others. Maybe people want to host a gathering, but just with their pod, or host a gathering with just their dog, or maybe you want to host a gathering with people you don’t know and you’re comfortable inviting others. We have a Google Form that folks can fill out for regional Cook Ins if any readers are interested in going or hosting, and we’ll make connections and share information of folks as they consent to it on the Celebrate page here.

The Million Gardens Movement  

Are there other successful ways you’ve seen rural LGBTQ people connecting for events that you’d recommend?

Eva Westheimer  

For Out in the Open, we have a community forum through a Slack board as well as our social media where people connect. I think that the wonderful thing is that rural LGBTQ people are always connecting with each other, whether that be through people working with each other on different projects, connecting via social media, or connecting through work. There’s lots of ways that folks are connecting and finding community. For folks who are interested in getting on our rural LGBTQ community forum, send me an email!

The Million Gardens Movement  

What’s been the most satisfying and challenging part of organizing the cookouts and cook-ins, taking the pandemic off the table?

Eva Westheimer  

The satisfying pieces are being together and community-making connections. We have people over the years who have said several times “I moved to the area recently and Pride Family Cookout was my first event, and I met my current friends.” I think that weather is always a challenge with with organizing events, it’s always a present and active challenge when when organizing events like this. It’s never been too wild, but it’s always there.

You can support Out in the Open’s work by donating to their organization and summer events and celebrations. Their website has more information about upcoming programs, how to connect with others in your area,and success stories from past events.

Out in the Open’s food zine “We Feed Each Other” has extended their deadline to July 16th, so if you are a LGBTQ+ gardener who wants to share a story, recipe, or art, submit before the deadline!