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.

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.

Yaa Bema Tutu – Urban Farm Community Organizer

Yaa is a Public Ally working with Victory Garden Initiative for the year the few months of 2014 and the better half of 2015! Yaa is very new to the giant web that is the food system but she is incredibly willing to learn and give it her 120%. Yaa is excited to be part of this movement making huge changes in the Milwaukee community.

Yaa believes in living healthy and bringing community together which ties in beautifully with the VGI mission. As an avid cook, she is very interested in rewards of growing your own food and finding out new ways to incorporate it into your diet.

Dan Graves - Farm and Education Manager

Dan is delighted to be working for the Victory Garden Initiative. A near life-long resident of the Milwaukee area, Dan is excited to help shape the future of food accessibility and sustainability within his beloved city. Dan believes that using yard space to grow non-native grass is silly and, in its place, envisions rows of garlic and native Wisconsin plants. Dan seeks to embody the mission and vision of VGI by growing as much food as possible in his yard with his family and restoring land not dedicated to food to native Wisconsin habitat.

Dan’s previous experience includes teaching within the Milwaukee Public School system, working as an educator and land steward at the Urban Ecology Center and as a high school Spanish teacher. His love for the land and outdoor/experiential education has led him back outside where he feels most at home doing what he loves to do: grow food.

Dan graduated with a B.S. in Education and a minor in Forestry from the UW-Stevens Point and considers life experience to be his most prominent teacher. When Dan is not in the garden sheparding plants, he is most likely to be found sheparding one or all of his four children.

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