Our Staff

Victory Garden Initiative consists of a team of dedicated staff and volunteers. We are experienced professionals who bring years of experience in not-for-profit work, environmental justice, and food security and sovereignty.
Gretchen Mead - Executive Director

Gretchen founded Victory Garden Initiative in 2008. Throughout her career as a social worker she witnessed firsthand the negative impact that the current industrialized food system has on vulnerable populations. She observed that the poorest were the most susceptible to diet-related illnesses, especially where cheap processed foods are plentiful but fresh vegetables are all but inaccessible.

Gretchen’s outlook was shaped by her upbringing in rural Illinois, where her family harvested the bounty of nearby forests in addition to cultivating a family garden. Her approach to urban agriculture is informed by the principles of permaculture, a theory of ecological design that aims to work with nature instead of against it. Gretchen’s aspiration is to reintegrate our food ecology and our human ecology together in one system. She points out, “Our current agriculture system happens away from where people live; our goal is to reintegrate those systems.”

Gretchen received her BA from Clark College and a Master of Social Work from UWM’s Helen Bader School of Social Welfare. She has been awarded the 2012 GOLD (Graduate of the Last Decade) Award from UW-Milwaukee.

Kelly Moore Brands - Community Program Manager

Kelly grew up with a love of the outdoors cultivated by her father, a natural environmentalist, and her mother, a natural traveler. Numerous road trips to National Parks around the country gave her a sense of the beauty in the natural world. After receiving a B.A. in Biological Aspects of Conservation from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Kelly worked at the University of California-Santa Barbara as a Research Assistant, often traveling to Belize to work with traditional Maya farmers. They taught her the value of knowing your food and how to grow and care for it, using the forest as a garden.

At the
Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, Kelly received her M.A. in International Environmental Policy where she focused on conservation in relation to indigenous rights. After graduating and moving to Washington, D.C., Kelly consulted for Conservation International, the American Forest Foundation, and the Ecosystem Marketplace on Payments for Ecosystem Services. She then joined the Peace Corps with her husband and went to Panama to learn and teach concepts of sustainable agriculture within a community of indigenous Panamanians. While in Panama, she also learned how to hike for miles in a dress and rubber boots, grind corn into an alcoholic drink, and make a stove out of horse dung.

Kelly is excited to join Victory Garden Initiative and use skills learned in Panama and her previous jobs to apply them to her native land of Milwaukee and help people grow their own food!

Alysse Gear - Development and Administrative Coordinator

Alysse could not be happier to work toward VGI's mission with such a talented team. She graduated from VGI's Food Leader Certification Program in November 2013.

Previously, Alysse spent much of her career in the magazine world after receiving degrees in magazine journalism and English from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. She's beyond thrilled to have taken a huge leap and joined a team that lives her values and is working toward a sustainable, healthy food system in her beloved hometown. Alysse firmly believes that we all make a difference every day, and it's up to us to make that difference a positive one. That's where growing food comes in: We all have the power to change our bodies, environment and communities through what we eat.

When she's not working at VGI or in her community garden beds, Alysse writes a blog about women following their dreams and helps behind the desk at her favorite local yoga studio.

Alex Hagler - Concordia Gardens Coordinator

Alex is a native to Milwaukee and is passionate about positive change in his city. As a graduate of Milwaukee Public Schools and UWM, he has gained invaluable experience and knowledge from his academic studies as well as from working on several urban agricultural, green infrastructure, and service learning projects across the city. 

These experiences have changed the way he sees the world and particularly his community. More importantly, they have pushed him to realize the possibility of what could be rather that settling for what is and has served as a foundation for his passion. He seeks to use those experiences as a catalyst for change and to put his passion to work by helping to organize and grow healthy, sustainable, and active communities. 

Ian Powell - Farmer

Ian joined our farm team this June after working with Victory Garden Initiative for months on composting food waste, planning the garden and distributing produce. As a Concordia Gardens neighbor and overall handy human being, Ian has moved our garden forward both beautifully and productively. He spends his time working on southeastern Wisconsin farms and writing and doing a show on Riverwest Radio.

Quinn Stout - Administrative Assistant

Quinn joined the Victory Garden Initiative Team in September 2015 while she pursues a Master's degree in Sustainable Peacebuilding at UWM. Quinn hopes to bridge her knowledge of science and conservation with humanities and social sciences to holistically approach complex social and environmental issues. Quinn enjoys reading, cooking with organic, locally grown produce and spending time with her husband and two cats. She is very excited to be part of the VGI team and this grassroots movement.


Polly Muradas - Educator

Polly is our resident Brazilian nature/food lover!!! Polly grew up in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and studied permaculture in her younger days. After working different jobs in Belo Horizonte, she had the opportunity to become a chef at Le Cordon Bleu Peru and lived in Peru for 3 years. Now she is in her first year of living here in Milwaukee, and she has already achieved level 1 of her Master Gardener certification, and she's proud and happy to be a part of Victory Garden Initiative as a Farm Educator. 

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