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.



Ellie Jackson - Program and Operations Manager

Ellie is thrilled to be a part of the Victory Garden Initiative! Spending most of her life in rural Wisconsin, Ellie has a honed land ethic and understanding of the rewards of growing your own food. She believes whole-heartedly in building a local food economy and supporting your farmer. While volunteering with Central Rivers Farmshed, Ellie collaborated with the City of Stevens Point to build a community garden named the Stevens Point Area Victory Garden in 2010. She eventually served as a Farmshed board member.   

She most recently worked for The Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), organizing The Energy Fair, the nation's largest and longest running renewable energy and sustainable living education event. Prior to being on staff at the MREA, she served as an Americorps member, and worked as a barista at a coffee shop featuring Fair Trade, locally roasted coffees. 

Ellie graduated from University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point with a B.S. in Environmental Ethics, as well as a focus on Ethnobotany. She currently serves on the board of Beintween, an organization working in Milwaukee to identify unused urban spaces and facilitate community partnerships to evolve those spaces to encourage community engagement through action and creativity.


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.

Kati Schnierer - Community Solutions Program Fellow  

                                                      Victory Garden Initiative is hosting Kati as a fellow from Hungary with the Community      Solutions Program, a program of the US Department of State implemented by IREX. 

The  Community Solutions Program is a leadership program that brings community leaders  working for causes like environment, transparency and accountability, gender issues, or  conflict resolution and tolerance from 54 countries from around the world to the US. 



Jessy Servi - Food Leader Certificate Course Co-leader

Jessy co-leads the Food Leader Certificate Program. Her diverse background crosses several sectors and include business, whole systems design and permaculture, education, nature awareness, and community & leadership development. She has an MBA is sustainable business management from Alverno College, is an Advisor for the WI Sustainable Business Council and is currently the sustainability manager for Outpost Natural Foods Cooperative.

Jessy integrates her formal training with life-enriching and community-building education from around the globe. Her experiences include teaching English in Central and South America, building adobe structures on a seed-saving farm in Thailand, studying yoga and meditation in India and Guatemala, and living the ethics of permaculture at the Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas, California where she spent three years learning and teaching about environmental sustainability, personal growth and leadership, cultural mentoring and nature awareness. She helped co-found the 501c(3) Permaculture Marin in California, and The Center for Community Empowerment, a healing arts center and CSA farm in Southern Indiana (now called Living Roots Ecovillage).

Jessy is passionate about sustainability and for building healthy relationships. She trusts that each of us can live happier and healthier lives if we believe in ourselves deeply, living connected to nature and in alignment with our passions and our purpose.

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