BFFzz sat down with longtime psychedelic, optical artist Michael Zimmerman, to talk about his artistic process and his first exhibition, Peripheral Motion, at Star Deli Gallery for February First Friday 2023.
Angela: How did First Friday go? How was your experience?
“ I loved it. That was my first art show. And so, honestly, the whole reason it came to be was because I started using my buddy's plotter and I'm like, oh my God, I need one of these. I really can't be going over to his house for 4-6 hours every other day to use this thing. I gotta have it at home. And so I reached out to one of my art buddies who, who has a lot of success with art, and I just asked him, ‘What's the best way to fundraise for this?’ And he said, “I think if you did a show and he let people know that you're trying to raise money for this thing that people would respond positively.” And so I reached out to people and got it set up within a day or two of thinking of the idea. And I just worked really, really hard on it for like, that month. And I don't know, I was super, super pleased.”
A: So you spent all that time at your friend's house making stuff for the show?
So pretty much every single piece I made for that show was made within two months prior to the show. And it was me trying to take all the ideas that I've come up with over the past six months and be like, okay, which one of these can I reasonably get done in time and do a good job on? And, so everything was done within like a two month span. And it was all sort of just (having) this goal in mind of, I need to produce enough pieces that I can sell at reasonable prices that I can afford my own machine. You know? And I hit that goal.
We talked more about the work he's been putting in to get ready for the show.
This past year I went really hard on art in general. Like, before even having access to the plotter I was trying to post every day. And that was just like a way of keeping myself accountable to create something every day and bring it to completion every day.”
Viy: Yeah. That's good. I really like that. Holding yourself accountable to make something and trying to finish things. That's hard!
I think it all goes back to like a year and a half ago, I had this realization like, holy shit. I've been an artist my whole life and I'm not really happy with who I am as an artist. And so I was just like, I really need to dig in. And that was like my goal last year. And I think I made a lot of progress.
A: What does 'digging in' mean to you?
Honestly, it meant giving up some things. Like, I had this like, realization, like, holy shit, video games are easy. It's an easy use of my time. Like, I play a lot of video games because…it's just like a way to decompress at the end of the day. But the thing is, it's just like I found myself doing it like constantly and it's so much easier to play video games than it is to make art. And it's way less rewarding. So it was pretty much like when I had that realization, like, holy shit, I'm not the artist I want to be. I like giving up video games. Like, that moment I was just like, I'm just gonna stop playing them. And I think that, I don't know, it's like what might be video games for me might be something else for somebody else, you know? Like, what are you doing to avoid the thing you love to do?
V: That's really good. That kind of goes into one of the questions we had written down, what has your timeline been as an artist? How did you get started and how'd you end up here?
I remember like, I've always loved art in school, you know, and I remember back in first grade, you know, when everyone shared crayons in art class and like, I wanted to color some grass, but I didn't have a green cuz another kid was using green. So it dawned on me like, oh, I can use blue and then color over that in yellow, you know? And that was like this big brain moment, you know, where I'm like, oh, colors are cool. You know, like, holy shit. And, uh, like I said, I've always played video games and when I was in elementary school and junior high, I would like mod video games, like make maps and textures for them, which is probably where I got into pattern making because texture creation for video games is just basically seamless pattern making.
Then I would say I definitely had an obsession with music that kind of ended up coming into my life for a really long time. But I'd always kind of casually made art. I feel like it's always been mainly digital and I've always had a certain fear of putting pen to paper on things, you know what I mean? I've always had computers in my home. Like I've always had like some art program and I've always felt comfortable there, but never like, comfortable putting pen to paper. But basically music led me to making psychedelic art. Cause I played in a psych rock band.
And, um, and then I think there somewhere in creating psychedelic art, I feel like my version of creating psychedelic art actually ended up being op(tical) art. So it's kind of like something between the two is what I'm trying to go for— psychedelic art and optical art. And, uh, yeah, I feel like, yeah, once I started making that kind of stuff, I feel like I've been doing that for the past like 10 or 12 years and just very casually for myself. It's kind of just like an obsession. Like, uh, you know, trying to make something to disorient myself.
V: Tell us about your current process!
I'm currently interested in boiling things down to what makes it for me. I was really obsessed with making a lot of things that were just two colors. Cause I felt like that's all I really needed to make movement happen. And so I would really focus on finding these two color combinations that worked for me, with the plotter. But yeah, um, I feel like the plotter is the answer I've been looking for for years. I didn't mention, I've been a screen printer for 12 years but like, I'm kind of tired of screen printing. I'm sick of it. I want something that is almost more limited, but I can do the same thing. And I feel like the plotter makes a lot of sense for what I'm doing. I'm able to achieve the color overlays I want with it and I'm able to produce my art physically and have a lot of control over how exactly that turns out on my computer. So the plotter is basically my answer to “how can I make more unique, limited, interesting art than screen printing it?” But not have to painstakingly draw it myself, you know…
I think what I'm doing on the plotter is a little different than what other people are doing and that like, there are other people making op art on plotters for sure. But not many people, if any, are doing the analogous movement effect. Which is like the faux movement. And that was something I just stumbled on, on accident. Like, I was laying patterns over each other and they started moving and I'm like, what the fuck is going on!
V: That's amazing! So what have been some inspirations for you and your art?
Um, it's kind of funny cuz I think when I started trying to make psychedelic art, I was kind of doing more like op art type stuff. And I had several people tell me like, Hey, have you heard of Bridget Riley? Your stuff's kind of like Bridget Riley. And then I ended up digging into Bridget Riley, an op artist from the sixties. I’m definitely influenced by some of these early op artists, um, trying to maybe take what they're doing in a way and, uh, bring it to another level if I can.
Or, there's, I definitely, you know, I love Instagram. I love all the artists on Instagram. I'm inspired by what other people are doing. But like, I don't know, it's just kind of a shape obsession. Like shape relationships and color relationships just like, uh, simple geometry and, you know, how can I take this simple geometry and these simple shapes and organize them in a way that's pleasing to me? I'm definitely just kind of like trying to make simple things that I haven't seen or do them in my own way.
A: Wanting to like, materialize these ideas? Where does that come to you from?
I don't know, um, for the past year, it's just kind of like, it's definitely an obsession with pattern making and, and, you know, how can I wrap these patterns in different ways? And it's just exploratory. It's super exploratory. It's kind of like, I'm just gonna start making a shape. It's like, what am I gonna do today? I'll do circles, you know. And then it's like, how do I want to arrange circles? It's like– what can I do that I haven't done before? It's like, um, I want to have this shape on the one end and I want to have it morphed to this other shape. And then I'm, I'm gonna see what, what happens from there, you know?
Um, and just like, just having confidence that you'll figure it out as you go along. And like, it's really kind of like, the whole love of making art is like the love of making these patterns and stuff and then having an unexpected result when you do a particular thing. Like you bend it in a circle or you bend it in a doorway shape. And sometimes the results I don't expect, and to me that's like, it's like, ‘oh, that's interesting.’ Like I'm searching for that. That unexpected result, you know?
V: I really like the exploration aspect of it. That's such an interesting avenue for art.
I really think the best way to make art is to just like, make yourself do it. Yeah. Just you do it, fucking do it. You know, because you will learn something if you start doing a thing. For me it was like, you know, I was addicted to playing video games and then I started taking art a little more seriously. And every time you learn something, like every time you like figure something new out, whether it's like a technique in illustrator, or something that you can just apply to everything you're already doing. Whether it's a cross-hatching technique or something, you learn that new thing and figure it out. And then it’s like you open a new door and you just get addicted to opening those doors.
A: Like a real video game!
Yeah. It's like you're leveling up in real life, you know, because it's, I don't know, man, you put the experience in, you know. It's way more rewarding when you level up a couple times and you just keep leveling up because you get addicted to that, you know? And I definitely, like, I'll be honest, I crashed after that (First Friday) show. Like, I got sick and, you know, I had to work my job sick and then I ran out of Adderall from the Adderall shortage . And I'm just like, oh my God, I'm not posting on Instagram for like a week or two, you know? Uh, so, people should have better balance than I do because I, I have no sense of like, balancing my life.
V: I guess that kinda leads us to our last question. Do you have any advice for emerging artists?
I'd say take care of your mental health. . Yeah. Yeah. Like, uh, yeah. Don't ignore that shit.
You can buy Mike’s art through his shop and follow his artistic process via Instagram (@mz_optics)
When looking at the impact BFF has had on Omaha today, you would not expect the organization to have such humble beginnings ten years ago. When BFF’s founders, Alex Jochim and JD Hardy, organized the first Benson First Friday, they weren’t anticipating the event to snowball into a tight-knit union of artists who would change the DNA of Benson for years to come.
It all started with a simple question between two bartenders in 2012: “Why didn’t we know that everyone in Benson is so talented?”
Jochim and Hardy worked together at a local Benson hot spot, Jake’s Cigars & Spirits, where they would naturally get to know the people who lived in Benson and were regulars at the bar. The people that they had grown to know and love over the years would oftentimes surprise them, revealing that they had extreme skills in sculpting, painting and more. Jochim, being a talented photographer, and Hardy, being a skilled installation artist, were perplexed as to why these shared interests never organically came up in their conversations over the years. And they thought it was a shame that these talents weren’t being celebrated in the community.
The issue was not lack of artists in the neighborhood; the issue was that there was not an ideal, accessible avenue for emerging and veteran artists to showcase their talents. There were some venues hosting art events, such as The Union for Contemporary Arts, but they were just getting their feet wet at the time. And Bemis Underground, a space dedicated to local artists, had shut its doors in 2011.
In the spirit of “be what you wish to see in the world,” Jochim and Hardy decided they needed to create that space for themselves, and rally local artists and business owners to host Benson’s inaugural First Friday.
Other than a few charming bars and businesses, the Benson neighborhood was fairly desolate in 2012. Walking down the Maple Street strip, it was easy to spot many empty storefronts. Benson was mainly a live music hub for Omaha with The Waiting Room, The Sydney, and Barley Street Tavern hosting live shows. Jochim and Hardy recognized an opportunity to use those vacant shops to host visual artist gallery shows, so they hit the pavement. They went into every business in Benson to tell them about their idea for an upcoming First Friday and let them know how their businesses could be involved.
“We were consultants on how they could turn these non-traditional spaces into amazing art spaces,” said Jochim.
They did their research. Jochim and Hardy visited other cities’ First Fridays events. They hit Kansas City in April and then Lincoln in May. By the end of May 2012, they felt that they were ready to launch Benson’s very own First Friday.
June 1, 2012 was Benson’s inaugural First Friday. To say the least, it was a hit.
The First Friday encompassed experimental gallery showings, a yoga session, a fashion walk with Paper Doll Vintage (now renamed as Lion’s Mane) and more. The fashion show held no punches for the debut; they stopped traffic on Maple Street and strutted down the middle of the turning lane, turning heads.
“I’ve always appreciated counterculture and things that stir the pot,” said Jochim. “That became a running theme for the whole thing; we would accept any form of positive energy. We wanted it to be all-encompassing and interdisciplinary.”
For the first First Friday, artists including Kim Darling, Sarah Rowe, and Caitlin Little, created an installation in the front room of the South Petshop gallery, which was a shining example of embracing counterculture and public engagement. The interactive exhibit was called Everyone’s Suspect. When visitors walked in the front door, they were met with unflappable people in white lab coats clacking away on a typewriter. Visitors had to provide a DNA sample—hair, spit, blood, snot, anything—which was tacked to the wall. Visitors were handed a report of themselves and the case files were hung on the surrounding walls. We know, pre-pandemic times were wild!
“I think the reason [the Petshop exhibit] is a big highlight for me is because immediately after the show, the owner of the space offered it to us to rent,” Jochim said. “That opened doors.”
After that, Petshop—which was originally home to an exotic animal store—became the headquarters of all BFF operations.
Ten years later, BFF is a tight-knit organization of local and regional artists. The majority of BFF’s DNA is made up of the hard work of volunteers who are passionate about building community through arts engagement. BFF has continually worked to expand its programming and has grown steadily to become the volunteer-driven, artist-run, DIY-trained powerhouse nonprofit that it is today. In 2022, BFF led and obtained Omaha’s first state-recognized Creative District for the neighborhood of Benson.
“I still learn something every day,” said Jochim. “Every day.”
Most of all, Jochim is incredibly proud of the BFF team and community. He says he thoroughly enjoys seeing artists develop professionally and seeing each one of them succeed. When this started ten years ago, he was not expecting to be a mentor for so many talented artists, but he says it has been one of the biggest highlights of his career with BFF.
As for the future, Jochim has big plans. Don’t count on him slowing down anytime soon.
“My five-to-ten year goal is to travel and help start this somewhere else,” Jochim reveals. “But we have to finish what we’ve started here. There are so many things to celebrate all the f*cking time.”
Creative Duo Saraya and Seth Use New Studio Space at Trudy's to Build Their Communities
Saraya Vogel (they/them) and Seth Penn (he/him) see a major need for two things in Omaha: more champions of sex work and sex education, and a larger network of comic creators. Saraya is the founder of ZQ Productions, a local production company, and House of Quinn, a cabaret house self-described as “a home for the freaks, geeks, and misfits.” Seth is a talented comic artist and the founder of Bugeater Comic Collective, a newly-formed comic publishing company.
“We are here for the artists and the sex workers,” said Saraya.
The duo feeds off of each other’s endless creative drive. They are completely independent and successful in their own right, yet simultaneously lean on each other to make an unstoppable team.
In early 2022, Seth and Saraya decided their apartment space wasn’t cutting it as a work studio. They decided this was the right time to jump into a new studio space within Trudy’s, one of BFF’s newest shared studio spaces. In May, they packed up their gear and took the next step into their very own private studio space. The studio has plenty of personality; It’s painted all-black from wall to ceiling, originals of Seth’s art are hung around the room, vinyl records are playing and there is a big comfy couch to relax on in the communal center space.
This is their first time occupying a studio space; it was always a dream of Seth’s. The studio at Trudy’s gives them space to grow and focus on their number one goal: growing their companies and becoming full-time creators. Seth says the studio allows him room to explore and have his work take up a bigger space in the world.
Bugeater Comic Collective is currently on the hunt for a wide range of comic creators; anyone from illustrators to writers. Seth’s goal is to build an extensive directory of comic book creators in the area. He sees the comic artists and comic lovers in Omaha and wants to shine a light on them to create a larger local comic scene.
Seth is eager to host Bugeater meetings in the studio’s communal space. He wants comic book creators to have a central space to gather, collaborate, network and discover other comic creators’ work. As for the future, he has a few plans up his sleeve, including Bugeater-hosted art shows and comic release parties. Eventually, he’d love to partner with Omaha’s incredible comic shops, such as Legends Comics.
Saraya’s side of the studio is used for administrative duties, prep for shows, and House of Quinn meetings where they are able to gather with their kids (a term for the people they mentor within their House).
Saraya is determined to bring more queer- and sex-positive sexual education to the area: “A lot of [my work] is fueled with my drive for sex education — wanting to be an advocate for sex workers and performance artists in the sensual and sexual arts.”
If you have creativity with no structure, it can be hard to truly dive into your passions. This is what led Ben Matukewicz to pop the question to BFF: “How can I get involved?”
Ben, one of BFF’s executive board members, initially knew BFF in the way that many people are first introduced to it: BFF’s bread and butter, First Fridays. Although Ben had been a graphic designer and a filmmaker for quite some time, he was unsure of how he would fit into BFF’s network of artists. What began as Ben simply wanting more structure and experience in the creative field, turned into a love affair with a new community.
“My entire life changed,” said Ben. “Connection to people, connection to community, connection to the arts — I think that’s what BFF does best. It serves as a connecting point for all of it. Omaha needs that.”
Ben joined BFF in 2019, during one of its most transformative eras. Within the first year of his involvement with BFF, Ben transitioned from his role as an intern to an executive administrator. Soon after, the COVID-19 pandemic stormed in and challenged BFF to continue fostering a community of connection and creativity in new ways.
BFF didn’t seem to miss a beat, Ben says. One of the things he admires most about BFF’s spirit is that there is never any hesitation to shake things up or overcome an obstacle.
“BFF is full of people getting shit done,” said Ben. “Cultivating a mindset of always moving forward is probably one of my biggest takeaways. When you’re a part of this community, it’s always ‘what can we do to try to make this happen?’, and that has changed the way I think about everything.”
Ben was not always sold on the idea of continuing to live in Omaha past college age. He’s noticed a common question pops up among young Omahans: “When are you going to move out of Omaha?” That all changed once he got involved with BFF. A handful of his friends and family members have moved away, but Ben believes he’s found a community in Benson that he’s not sure he could find anywhere else.
Being integrated within BFF and Benson for over three years has opened doors to countless, unexpected opportunities for Ben. With the support of BFF and the connections he’s made in Benson along the way, he co-founded Aksarben Creative and, most recently, became the manager of Trudy’s, BFF’s newest shared artist space.
As for the future of BFF, Ben wants to bridge the gap between people who are involved in the Benson creative community and people who aren’t currently looking to Benson as a hub for community and the arts.
“I think there’s something for everybody here,” said Ben. “My personal mission is making the arts community more accessible. And really trying to make it so that people who may not be interested in the arts can still be a part of it and experience what is going on here. Benson is for everybody.”
To learn more about Ben and his work, please visit www.aksarbencreative.com. You can catch him at Studio 62 during July’s First Friday on July 1.
JP Gurnett, BFF’s Director of Communications, has always championed connection, community and being yourself.
Even before his time with BFF, JP carved a space for community and belonging in Benson. In the fall of 2017, JP teamed up with his friends to start inclusive gatherings for the queer community in Omaha. They wanted a place where everyone could bring their authentic selves and feel included, while also listening to amazing musicians and watching out-of-this-world drag performances.
JP wanted to have a presence in Benson that was purposefully queer, not something that just happened to have queer people attending. He felt it was important to plant a flag in the ground to let other queer people know they are loved and welcomed in Omaha. And thus, in the fall of 2017, Thursdays at The Sydney in Benson became a night for the LGBTQ community to gather, dance, connect and be themselves.
“We felt empowered,” JP said. “The Sydney has always been a place where you can come and be yourself. We thought, ‘We’re going to call it Queer Nite and we’re going to be who we are and not apologize for it.’"
Queer Nite started picking up steam in the winter of 2018, when word of mouth and Queer Nite’s Instagram account started catching traction. Originally, Queer Nite was the most popular amongst queer women, but steadily the rest of the alphabet army started attending the weekly events. Naturally, the events started attracting all walks of life: Gay, straight and everyone in between. JP says he’s definitely noticed people of all sexual orientations and identities who attend Queer Nite showing an increased acceptance of others.
“People have become more conscious of others,” JP said. “You can tell that everyone is making an effort to be more open.”
When Queer Nite started gaining popularity, Alex Jochim, BFF’s Co-Founder and Executive Director, took notice. Alex asked JP to collaborate on a few projects, and over time, Queer Nite naturally became closely intertwined with BFF. JP feels the collabortion between Queer Nite and BFF was the perfect culmination of two entities that spearheaded inclusivity and creativity in Benson. With Queer Nite becoming a part of BFF, there was a more purposeful and definitive space for the queer community within BFF’s programming.
“Queer Nite becoming a part of BFF really advocated for that explicit inclusion,” said JP. “Benson and BFF have always been a place where people are naturally accepted, but this took it a step further to make sure the queer community had a known space in Benson.”
Using his skills as an internet guru, professional educator with two Education degrees, and a stellar event host, JP strives to continually welcome all walks of life through BFF’s social media and events. When he decided to work with BFF on Queer Nite, JP took his mission of inclusivity and expanded it on a larger scale.
“At BFF I can just be myself and use my talents and skills in ways that I want to use them,” JP said. “When it comes to creativity, so many people limit themselves based on the reactions of others. That’s why I love BFF because we’re making things for ourselves and our community. We’re creating things that we’re proud of. And we hope others feel welcomed and enjoy it, too.”
JP grew up in South Omaha and still has a strong connection to it, but thinks of Benson and BFF as a second home.
“It’s always felt like a place where I could be myself and it’s also where my friends are now. We do the things we do here because we want to be here. At the end of the day, everything we do through BFF is about love and acceptance and celebration.“
If you would like to learn more about Queer Nite, follow their Instagram (@queernite). To get involved with BFF, please visit our volunteer page or attend the upcoming Volunteer Roundup on Saturday, April 16. Everyone is welcome!
Ang Bennett first got involved in BFF when they moved to Omaha from Des Moines over seven years ago. They wanted a way to get into the local arts scene in their new hometown, and they found that beloved space in a little town called Benson.
Ang has excelled in a lot of roles at BFF throughout the years; most recently, they transitioned from acting as the Inclusion Chair to taking on a larger organizational role as the Vice President.
Even though their role has shifted, diversity, equity and inclusion are still a huge part of Ang’s work — in fact, they say that it’s a part of their “every day.” Ang believes it should be a practice that is ingrained into every organization, no matter what role you play (and we agree!).
“How are we more actively engaging different demographics in the stuff we’re already doing? That is inclusion!” said Ang. “It’s not ‘we’re diverse, so we have only Black arts month and women’s arts month.’ Actively and consistently reaching out to people to invite them in is inclusion.”
Inclusion and diversity is an effort that Ang is excited to rally behind in BFF’s newest gallery, BFF Gallery. The new space—located right on Maple Street in Benson—aligns with the values of BFF: Advocating for Inclusion, Opportunity, and Unique Experiences. The gallery is set to be a beaming example of those values in action.
“It’s going to be a diverse group of artists,” said Ang. “It’s going to be emerging, established, all colors, all genders.”
Ang is eager to kick off this next adventure as the artist curator for the newly-launched space. They said they not only want to feature talented local artists, but they are considering bringing in regional artists to show their work as well.
“I’m excited to curate the shows. I love engaging with other artists,” Ang said. “I love finding them, looking at their work, helping them build their body of work, and showing their work.”
The ribbon to the BFF Gallery was officially cut on February’s First Friday and welcomed in guests to see photographs from the last decade of BFF history. The space will be used as an art gallery for the public, but it will also be home to other important BFF spaces, including a gathering place for volunteers and a studio space for artists.
When asked “Why BFF for all these years?”, Ang said they admire how untraditional the organization is.
“I think the way we digest art has shifted so much from these traditional galleries and spaces,” Ang said. “BFF is doing amazing work but it still has that grassroots feel. It feels like anybody can come be involved and anyone has access to the art, which is really important. Everybody should feel like they can access art.”
If you’re an artist who would like to host an exhibit at the new BFF Gallery, we’re eager to hear from you! You can learn more about Ang by connecting with them on Instagram and listening to their podcast, OmahArt!
Katera Brown’s love of photography was born when they strolled on foot around Omaha, phone in hand, practicing photography through the lens of their old Motorola. They quickly became immersed in capturing life around them and turned photography into a full-fledged obsession.
After mastering the way of the Android photographer, Katera was driven to bring their photography to a new level. After they graduated high school, Katera took a leap and purchased their first, shiny Nikon camera with the money they had been saving up since Freshman year. It was a love affair from then on out.
Excited to up their photography skills, Katera decided to join BFF in 2019 as a photography intern under the mentorship of Sarah Hill. It was here that they were able to have the opportunity to practice shooting a wide array of events. Katera was most excited to practice their low light shooting skills during BFF’s night events. One of their favorite recurring assignments is photographing their favorite part of BFF: the artist markets at First Fridays.
Now acting as the Lead Photographer at BFF, Katera uses their trained eye to capture the unique moments of what keeps BFF “good weird.” And there’s a lot of them.
Katera encapsulates the spirit of BFF during a gauntlet of First Friday events; The burlesque and drag performers dancing around The Sydney for Friend of BFF happy hours, the Bensonites cruising through BFF’s art walk, the electricity of the artist markets, the buzz of a mingling crowd at Petshop Art Gallery — and plenty other cherished occasions that would require a novel.
“I think BFF has gotten me out there,” Katera said, referring to having a larger photography presence in the community. “I got to make a lot of progress in my work through BFF.”
Katera’s growth over the last few years is impressive; Not only are they now the commanding photographer at BFF, but their talent and hard work has led them to opportunities in the larger Omaha community. They are most prideful of their photography in exhibits at The Union for Contemporary Art and Kaneko. And, most recently, they got the chance to check an item off of their bucket list: photographing Omaha Fashion Week. To put the cherry on top, Katera has now come full circle, acting as a teacher to new BFF photography interns.
Check out Katera’s work on Instagram @katera_eatsart and catch them snapping photos at upcoming First Fridays.
When Delaney Nordbrock joined BFF Omaha as an intern in 2019, she couldn’t have predicted that the following year she would be leading the charge to ‘go green’ in Benson. She first started volunteering at BFF as a videography intern, but her fiery passion for sustainability naturally transformed her role into something new; A role specifically geared toward keeping Benson healthy, sustainable and vibrant.
One thing you must know about Delaney is that she is an avid lover of all things related to nature. In fact, she’s a self-proclaimed “professional tree hugger” and is determined to work with plants for the rest of her life. She’s passionate about sustainability, the environment and herbal healing. And Benson. She loves Benson.
Benson is a place where thousands of people come to eat, shop, drink and gather. Because there are so many people walking the streets of Benson on any given day, it can mean a hefty amount of trash is discarded onto the ground.
As the trash cans overflowed and the litter piled up, Delaney recognized that environmentally-friendly practices were missing in Benson. She wanted to take care of the neighborhood and see it flourish so that the community could enjoy it. Partnering with her sister McKenna Nordbrock, Delaney pitched the idea of bi-weekly Benson clean ups with the BFF crew. And thus, the BFF Green Team was born!
“This is our home,” said Delaney. “I don’t live [in Benson], but it feels like a home to me. So, I want to take care of it the way I know how, which is through the environment.”
Every other Sunday, BFF volunteers began to meet at Petshop in Benson, BFF’s headquarters, to roam nearby streets and collect litter. The Green Team collects several trash bags full of litter each clean up, mainly consisting of aluminum cans, cigarettes, liquor bottles and straw wrappers.
Those who frequent Benson are taking notice of the cleanups, according to Delaney. When she launched the community cleanups in January 2020, it would take the Green Team hours to pick up litter in Benson. Now, since Benson residents have started to recognize the cleanup crew, Delaney notices less litter on the streets. She believes that since Benson regulars know the Green Team will be cleaning up trash on Sundays, they think twice before discarding trash onto the ground.
“In the grand scheme of things, picking up a couple of cigarette butts is not going to end climate change, but I think it at least sparks an idea,” Delaney said. “I love it when people stop us and say ‘you’re doing a great job.’ They get so excited about it.”
The BFF Green Team’s footprint isn’t limited to community clean ups; they regularly provide education about sustainability and the environment, create public art projects that add beauty to Benson, landscape and host community events.
As for the future, Delaney hopes to see the Green Team expand its footprint in Benson, to positively influence the neighborhood for years to come, and to continue to provide a way for people to connect and build community.
Delaney says that her experience with the Green Team has helped her grow as a person, pushed her out of her comfort zone, exposed her to a diverse group of genuine people and allowed her to meet some of her closest friends.
If you’re interested in volunteering for the BFF Green Team, we are always looking for new friends. No environmental background needed – everyone is welcome! Reach out to Alex Jochim for volunteer opportunities and follow the BFF Green Team on Instagram to stay privy of upcoming community clean ups.
Welcome to the BFF Blog! Featuring special stories, volunteer highlights, and more.