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.
Jazz Glastra - Program Manager
Jazz is Victory Garden Initiative’s Program Manager. Originally from a small town in the Seattle area, she graduated in 2011 from Kenyon College after studying food, environment, religion and society. In 2012, she received her Permaculture Design Certification through Victory Garden Initiative. In 2013 she co-taught and coordinated the Permaculture certification course. Jazz initially became interested in urban and gardening through her passions for environmental conservation and economic justice. After working on three organic farms in three different states, she settled in Milwaukee and has devoted herself to building community and helping others discover the joy of growing food. Her role at Victory Garden Initiative is to implement the mission, and she strives to build strong, healthy, sustainable communities in everything she does.
Jazz’s interests include growing food, cooking food, and eating food. She draws inspiration from a wide variety of sources and traditions, including the Amish, permaculture, Woody Guthrie, and the works of Kurt Vonnegut and Wendell Berry.
Alysse Gear - Development and Administrative Coordinator
This fall, Alysse joined the Victory Garden Initiative as Development and Administrative Coordinator. 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 shares 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 whether that difference is positive or negative. That's where growing food comes in. We all have the power to change our bodies, environment and communities through what we eat.
In her spare time, Alysse writes a blog about women following their dreams, picks recyclables out of trash cans and tries really really hard not to fall over during every pose in yoga class.
Jesse Blom - Farm and Garden Educator
Jesse is excited to join the Victory Garden Initiative team as the organization's Farm and Garden Educator! Jesse has worked as an experiential educator for children and adults for the past 12 years. He began as an outdoor and wilderness leader, then grew into a leadership skills facilitator, and now works as a specialist in urban agriculture. His work has taken him from Milwaukee to Northern Wisconsin, to Ontario, to New Mexico, to Costa Rica, to the Netherlands, and back again. It is this global consciousness, applied on a local stage, that drives Jesse's passion for his work.
For Jesse, place-based and hands-on education is one of the most important benefits of communities that grow their own food. He strongly believes that local, sustainable agriculture should be viewed not only as a source of food production, but also as a reason for people to gather and learn from one another.
Jesse earned a BA in Cultural Anthropology from Dartmouth College, and is currently pursuing graduate studies at UWM School for Freshwater Sciences.
Will Martens - Farmer
Will was born and raised on a small homestead in West Central Wisconsin. He has deep agrarian roots on both sides of his family and many family members are still farming in Monroe and Vernon counties.
He graduated with a double BA in Sociology and Philosophy from UW-Madison. In college he developed a passion for social justice. After college he discovered arboriculture and has been a certified arborist since 2004. His adventures in tree climbing and his deep relationships with trees have bolstered an already intense (and quite productive) interest in the plant kingdom. He is a graduate of the 2013 Food Leader Certification Program as well as the Urban Permaculture Design Course offered through VGI. His passions for social justice and permaculture will inform his management of Concordia Gardens where he looks forward to building of the work of his predecessors to create an urban food forest and highly productive agriculture program for the Harambee Neighborhood.
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.