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.
Christine Kuhn, Youth & Farm Programs Manager
A naturalist by training, a gardener by happy accident, and a home cook by tremendous trial and error, Christine joined VGI in May 2018 where she is in charge of planning and implementing the Youth Education Program (YEP!) and managing farm programs such as the CSA Subscription Boxes and the Youth Green Jobs program.
Having grown up in central Wisconsin potato country, she was surrounded by food production from a young age. But like many kids, she wanted nothing to do with that small-town life so pursued adventure in college, trekking across the world to study global environmental issues in New Zealand and Australia, wildlife ecology in South Africa, and global food systems in Costa Rica. Throughout that time, she kept finding food to be a central issue. Food not being available, too much of the wrong kinds of foods, and mismanagement of food production were all central issues that affected the health of the environment and the lives of the people she was trying to inform. She stumbled into garden and farm education as a way to connect people with the environment through fostering a love of delicious, healthy food.
Christine received her Bachelor’s in Environmental Education/Interpretation from UW-Stevens Point in 2013 and has been slowly pursuing a Master’s in Sustainable & Resilient Food Systems, also through UWSP. Over the last several years she has been involved with Farm to School programs, small-scale organic farms, and food insecurity organizations and is thrilled to be a part of the VGI team!
When not in the garden you can usually find her hiking on the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, browsing the stacks at the library, prepping some meals at home or, when in doubt, check the local ice cream shops!
Ian Powell, Agriculturalist
Preferring not to use the title “Farmer”, Ian considers himself first a soil-builder and then an agriculturist.
He began his agricultural adventure in his own backyard. There he first practiced composting and experimented with soil-building techniques. After experiencing the difficulty of growing underneath a black walnut tree, he expanded into a neighboring lot. His pursuits finally led him to work on a small CSA in the Milwaukee area. Here he gained mastery of the shovel and increased his knowledge of plants. With a can-do attitude and flair for building things out of garbage, Ian now coordinates efforts at the Victory Garden Urban Farm.
Montana Morris, Community Programs Manager
From a very young age Montana learned how to grow food by gardening with her mother. She went on to work at organic farms throughout Wisconsin and Illinois; from Bureau County, Shawano County to Ashland County and, of course, Milwaukee. Montana has volunteered for Victory Garden Initiative since its inception, growing prouder of her community as she witnesses an increasing number of vegetable gardens popping up all over the city. These gardens are often thanks to the Victory Garden Blitz!
Montana has a Bachelor’s in Social Justice and Agroecology, and a Master’s in Social Justice & Community Organizing from Prescott College. From creating and directing the only wet homeless shelter in Arizona, working to stop mine development on sacred indigenous lands, to aiding undocumented asylum seekers on the border of Arizona and Mexico, Montana has a broad passion for social justice, preferring to see things from a systems perspective. She believes that food is directly connected to a myriad of individual issues from physical and mental health of individuals, communities, and the environment, to modern slavery, economic monopolization, and the destruction of culture. She believes that her work with Victory Garden Initiative will make an impact in our community, and is especially thrilled to organize an event as impactful as the BLITZ!
Montana also loves dogs, rock climbing, paddleboarding, yoga, and dancing. She hula hoops in beautiful places and plays songs on the guitar so she can sing out of tune by herself.