Interning at the Great Milwaukee Victory Garden Blitz!

My name is Jenny Lehner, and I started at VGI in January 2019 as a Community Programs Intern. The 11th Annual Victory Garden Initiative BLITZ was the focus of my internship, as it was the main focus of Montana, the Community Programs Manager and my supervisor. Working with Montana and Lexi, the other Community Programs Intern, throughout the winter to help plan this event was an amazing learning experience. Lexi and I worked closely with Montana to reach out to donors, help recruit volunteers, and create and distribute promotional material. I feel honored to have been a part of the VGI team, and getting to know the other staff and interns really made my experience as an intern more than just busy work. Even on days when it was below zero, we would still be in the office at the farm house working to plan this event in May.

Jenny, modelling one of the donation drop-offs of burlap sacks from Colectivo to be used as weed barriers in the Blitz beds!

For me, the most rewarding part of my internship was actually getting to work the BLITZ and see this event in action. Even in the days right before the BLITZ I honestly wasn’t sure how it was all going to come together. To make things even more hectic, the BLITZ fell right when Lexi and I were taking our finals and graduating from UW-Milwaukee. Still, the time that I was able to spend working the event was extremely rewarding, fun, and exhausting. By the end of the two weeks I felt even closer with Montana, Lexi, and other members of the VGI staff. I also got to work with and know volunteers who shared our passion for this event and had been working the event for years. Actually getting to get out in the city and installing the garden beds with these people made my sore muscles totally worth it.

Jenny (front row, center) with VGI staff Montana (back row, right) and Christine (front row, right) and some amazing Blitz volunteers!

 

Seeing the community come together like this really gave me a sense of being a part of something bigger than myself. I genuinely felt more connected to the Milwaukee community after those two weeks than I did during my three years of going to school there. The homeowners who received the garden beds were so grateful and excited. Being a part of this year’s event from start to finish not only taught me a great deal and looks great on my resume, but it also was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.

VGI, Urban Agriculture, and Climate Change

Hello Friends of VGI! 

My name is Will, and I’m a grant writing intern for Victory Garden Initiative this summer. It’s been a fantastic experience so far, as I’ve gotten to know many of the passionate gardeners and volunteers who make VGI’s impactful work possible.

Like many of you, I often experience anxiety and personal inadequacy in confronting the existential threat of climate change. The popular literature and news coverage on climate change frequently focuses on the pressing need to quickly transition to renewable energies and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels–policy and market solutions that can feel out of our control. Although the clean energy transition is important, agriculture, and its related food system components–processing, packaging, distributing, consumption–are often overlooked in the climate conversation. 

I wrote this blog post with the goal of understanding the links between climate change and VGI’s work in building communities that grow their own food. I hope it provides you with solace and a sense of purpose as you go about cultivating your own food garden. 

 

The Need for Urban Agriculture: Feeding a Growing Population While Confronting Climate Change

The United Nations predicts that, by 2050, the world population will be 9.8 billion, increasing to 11.2 billion by 2100 (United Nations, 2017). By 2030, two-thirds of the global population will be living in urban centers (Lederer, 2016). The global food system that will need to feed this growing number of people currently produces 19-29% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, with agriculture contributing 80-86% of those emissions (Vermeulen, Campbell, and Ingram, 2012). 

Climate change will affect industrial agriculture’s ability to feed these hungry mouths due to increasing temperatures, droughts, and excessive rainfall (RUAF Foundation). Considering the large number of people to feed in metropolitan areas coupled with climate change’s ongoing threat to conventional agriculture and food chains, there is an opportunity to rebuild localized, sustainable food systems within increasingly dense cities. Populations that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and an undemocratic industrial food complex must be at the forefront of any substantial conversations around change within the food system. In developed countries like the United States this means historically marginalized communities of color suffering from injustices like food insecurity and agricultural pollution. Community-based urban agriculture constitutes an equitable solution to these issues. 

 

The Benefits of Urban Agriculture: Adapting to and Mitigating Climate Change

Producing food in urban centers provides climate resilience for cities ranging from interconnected issues such as environmental sustainability to food security. 

Urban agriculture cultivates an alternative to the environmentally unsustainable production practices used by the modern industrial food complex. Permaculture, a type of regenerative agriculture that works with nature instead of against it, is used by Victory Garden Initiative at its urban farm and through its programming. Instead of the chemical and energy intensive monoculture schemes common in modern agriculture, urban agriculture systems like permaculture promote a diverse array of crops and sustainable resource management. Victory Garden Urban Farm, for example, promotes ecological sustainability by reducing food waste–a potent source of greenhouse gases–and improving biodiversity, erosion control, soil health, and water quality–environmental qualities that are vulnerable to climate change–through the application of permaculture principles in an urban setting. 

Urban agriculture also shortens food supply chains linked to dense urban centers. In the case of a major climate disruption to rural agricultural lands such as a flood or drought, in which prices for staple foods rise, sustainable urban agriculture can provide a safety net. Communities that currently experience food insecurity and spend a large percentage of their income on food, such as Milwaukee’s Harambee neighborhood where VGI is located, will be disproportionately affected by an increase in price levels due to decreases in agricultural yields from climate change. When urban areas such as Harambee grow their own food, the core mission of Victory Garden Initiative’s transformative work, food price volatility from climate change is less disruptive. Food sovereign communities are not as beholden to the market forces leading to food insecurity. These communities will also experience greater availability of fresh fruits and vegetables during the growing season, as well as greater transparency over the foods they eat. Increasing the consumption of agricultural products produced in urban centers also reduces greenhouse gases emitted by the importing of these same goods from rural areas. Food sovereignty is food justice, as urban agriculture can empower communities that, due to institutional factors, have been historically discouraged from growing their own food. 

Urban agriculture helps a city achieve greater environmental sustainability in other ways, simultaneously improving public health measures. Urban agriculture increases vegetation cover, thus decreasing urban heat island intensity. Urban heat islands suffer from high air conditioning costs, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, heat-related illness and mortality (Environmental Protection Agency, 2019). The same vegetative cover that maintains cooler temperatures in urban environments also helps with stormwater management. The greening of urban areas through agriculture, such as food gardens–like the raised beds installed during the annual Great Milwaukee Victory Garden BLITZ–and urban farms like VGI’s on Concordia Ave., can act as a rain catchment system. This type of green infrastructure will become critical as cities cope with increasing annual rainfall and flash floods due to climate change, which can overwhelm the local water management system and lead to a decrease in water quality from stormwater pollution and runoff (Denchak, 2019).

This post is by no means an exhaustive list of the climate benefits provided by urban agriculture. Given climate change’s complexity, we are still trying to understand how we can best mitigate its effects through changes both big and small. Who knows how climate change will affect Victory Garden Urban Farm’s crop production in 10 or 20 years. What is clear is that encouraging people, especially in cities like Milwaukee, to grow their own food will be a powerful weapon of collective action in the climate fight. For this reason, VGI is committed to engaging with people on the connection between climate change and urban agriculture through all of our programs and community-based work.

 

Cheers,

Will

will@victorygardeninitiative.org

 

Sources:

https://onedrive.live.com/View.aspx?resid=AC95BE3DFDE921E7!3786&wdSlideId=1303&wdModeSwitchTime=1563288279529&authkey=!AFTueVEck_Zfhhc

https://apnews.com/40b530ac84ab4931874e1f7efb4f1a22

https://www.epa.gov/heat-islands

https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world-population-prospects-2017.html

https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-environ-020411-130608

https://www.nrdc.org/stories/green-infrastructure-how-manage-water-sustainable-way#important

New Generation of Gardeners

Every year, VGI welcomes new youth and young adult interns onto our farm to learn about growing food in urban spaces. These interns come from all walks of life. Some are college students looking for credits towards their degree. Some are youth getting their first job experience. Others are dedicated volunteers hoping to learn more about growing food. Each one is unique and brings fresh life onto the farm! We love to share what we have learned on our 1.5 acre plot over the last 9 years, hoping that their experience here will spark in them a joy for growing delicious, healthy food and caring for the environment. Here are the 2019 farm interns!

 



Lamontia Powell

Hey everyone! My name is Lamontia and I’m an Earn & Learn Youth Intern working on the farm through a program called Employ Milwaukee. My brother, Emanuel, also is working at VGI along side me. In my free time I enjoy reading, taking photographs, and learning more about psychology. I’ve traveled to Washington, D.C and Chicago, but I’d love to visit London someday! I’m going into my last year of high school this fall. Afterwards, I’d like to enroll in college at MATC, and then eventually transfer to UW-Milwaukee. Working on the farm has been really enjoyable this summer and I’m happy about the experiences I’ve had so far.

 


Emanuel Powell

My name is Emmanuel and I work at Victory Garden Initiative through the Earn & Learn program. I’m 15 years old going on 20. I like to play basketball and hang out with my brother. I try different kinds of veggies like carrots and cucumbers. I love helping people on the farm. My favorite activities have been helping with the kids and harvesting veggies. During my time so far, I have learned how to plant fruits and vegetables, how to harvest vegetables and pull all of the nasty weeds. I am looking forward to starting a garden of my own.

 


Jordan Steiner

Hi, I”m Jordan! I’m a farm intern at Victory Gardens Initiative. My favorite part about working on the farm is finding and identifying new insects, as well as learning skills for a self sustaining lifestyle! In my free time I like to hike, read in my hammock and cook some good food!

 

 

 

 

 

 


Logan Klug

Hi! My name is Logan and I’m a farm intern here at the Victory Garden Initiative. I’m a junior at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee where I study Conservation and Environmental Science and German. I am trying to find my niche in the field of my study right now; gaining more experience and trying different aspects of conservation to see what I want to do with my degree once I graduate. Sustainability and protecting the environment are fundamental aspects of my studies and personally important. I’ve found this internship to be incredibly rewarding because I see these values in action everyday on the farm. We grow organically, provide food locally, and bring these values to our community as well.

Working in the garden and seeing so many different faces, working the Farmstand on Tuesdays and seeing everyone pick up their boxes as well as neighbors in the community stop by the stand is a heartwarming experience for me. Food is such a genuine tool in bringing community closer. Even just working in the dirt and getting my hands dirty is so therapeutic. I have very fond memories of gardening with my grandma when I was young and through this internship, I’ve started to garden at my own home again. Outside of the garden I love to travel and cook with my fiancé. I’m also a passionate Game of Thrones fan, and have a long list of books I’m reading through.


Nathaniel Wurzer

My name is Nathaniel. When I’m not at the Victory Garden learning about plants or farming procedures/techniques I usually am a self-employed house painter. Here are a couple random statements about my daily life: I stoke my caffeine addiction while I wake up. Habitual teeth brushing. Gotta have freshly ground black pepper. Bible? Try Joy of Cooking. My dog takes me out for walks. That just about sums it up!

Passing the Trowel: Gretchen Mead Says Farewell

 
Dear Friends,

 
It has been ten years since this wild experiment called Victory Garden Initiative began with a small group of friends wanting to help people grow their own food in the city. Since that time we have built thousands of gardens, created a thriving community farm, and educated hundreds of children and adults about the value of growing our own food right here in the city. We have purchased land, an incredible historic building, and have received the funding needed to revitalize the building and create a community kitchen. These are not small accomplishments. Because of our work, yours and mine, we have changed the conversation about food in Milwaukee.

 
Serving as the leader of this now flourishing organization has truly been the privilege and passion of my life. With the support of our volunteers, donors, and team members we have accomplished everything that I envisioned we could and so much more. Victory Garden Initiative is uniquely positioned to thrive even more in the coming years.

 
After a transformative sabbatical and some soul searching, I have come to know that it is time for new leadership to dream a big vision and drive towards new goals. With that, I will be resigning my position as Executive Director at Victory Garden Initiative as of June 30th, 2019.

 
Since Victory Garden Initiative’s inception more than ten years ago, connections have been made – strangers have become friends and friends have become family – all because we share these fundamental beliefs about equity, food access, sustainability and community. We share common values that forever bind us in our commitment to this community and the world. My hope is that you remain committed to this mission long after my departure, as I know I will.
 
We are blessed to have a dream team in place for the smoothest transition I could imagine! Christine Kuhn, our farmer and educator who has been teaching, farming, and winning grants for the past year and a half will be stepping in as Co-Director, accompanied by seasoned Co-Director Ann Brummitt (formerly of Milwaukee Water Commons). Susie Ralston, our long time board president, will remain at the helm.

 
You will find me doing excessive amounts of yoga, spending time with my kids in the water this summer and taking some time to understand what I will do next. I hope you will all keep in touch.

 
I will leave you with one of my all time favorite quotes; one that I have shared with you before and one that resonates still, after these ten years.

 
“To live in this world you must be able to do three things:
to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go” Mary Oliver
 
 
Letting go,
~gretchen

The Good Earth Calling

A Letter from the Director, Gretchen Mead

Friends,

The Good Earth, by Pearl H. Buck, has been on my reading list since Ms. McCormick’s American literature class in the 9th grade. Lucky for me, I found the novel in a ‘little free library’ while walking to a meeting recently. Spellbound, I read as the Wang Lung family went through a generation of crises that always resolved when Lung went back to the land. Wang Lung shaped his family from the earth – the money, the character, the values, and quite figuratively, the meat on their bones moved from the land, through his hands, and into the family around him. The land, always the saving grace of the family, until the bittersweet end when his son’s forsake the land, leaving us to assume that tragedy will befall them. It is the story of place-making’s inextricable enmeshment with people, land, culture and evolution.

Almost 50 years ago, my parents bought a house with land, where they raised their children, grew veggies, worked, harvested firewood, celebrated, and forest-gardened; slowly guiding the land and the family in a direction. Now they raise grandchildren there on holidays, and extended visits. Together we tend the land, harvest berries, chop wood. They calm the children, with their elder demand for quietude and order, while simultaneously teaching them something that is increasingly rare – having a deep connection to a piece of land is the center of a family.

Here we are now together, you and I and the entire VGI community, in this urban land, long ago developed from subsistence farming, to factory working, to service industry jobs. The land reminds us that we too have forsaken her, as she brings forth 1,000 year storms, diseases of excess, and crises of the spirit.

As Victory Garden Initiative heads towards accomplishing the vision for our new FarmHouse and the Victory Garden Urban Farm, I hold these stories of the land, and many, many others that I have heard through the years, in the light. This farm, now abundant and lush, needs you more than ever.

I wonder who will come make this land their own? Which families will tell stories of the farm they cared for as children? Who will understand that everything begins with the earth, and moves through our fingertips, into our psyche, through our bodies, shaping our muscles, our self-perception, our values, our culture? Who will walk here to gather ripe tomatoes for dinner tonight? Who will use the cabbage to make the slaw that their grandmother’s grandmother made? Who will tell the stories of land to their grandchildren?

It is you and I. Together with the growing Victory Garden community, and with a stirring of truth stirring in your being, waiting to bring to the forefront of your mind the call of this land and this culture that we shape together. The earth calls to you through this work that we do, and this mission, that is our very evolution.

Join us soon, for upcoming place-making activities, celebrations, and invitations to tend this good earth. Come make this place with us, especially, on September 15th, for our annual FarmRaiser, where fun, food, friends, and mission come together for a charming day at The Farm.

~gretchen

Field Trip Report

Last Friday, with wild smiles and a big hugs the urban farm received a huge visit from more than a hundred angels coming from the YMCA Base Camp for Culinary Science Week! During this visit the kids marked the last activity of the camp and the end of their summer but for some of us at VGI it was a first time we experienced welcoming that many kids on the same day. Despite the weather, the kids were happy and energetic and very accepting as they participated in each activity. We divided the kids up into three groups: interacting and learning about the compost, its process and importance to the farm; a tour around the farm while trying to identify and taste different vegetables, fruits, and herbs; and last but not least, cooking and eating spring rolls using the maximum of vegetables they have courage to taste! Some kids were really surprised after tasting some of the vegetables–they thought they would hate it but ended up loving the combinations.

When’s the next field trip you, may ask? We don’t know but what we can say is that we enjoyed this one as much as the kids did gauging by their reactions while trying and tasting their veggies.

by Rokia, IREX Fellow

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Looking for more information about Victory Garden Initiative’s Field Trips? Click here.

Letter from the Board

Dear VGI Community,

Ten years ago, our Executive Director Gretchen Mead had an idea. She planted it, like a tiny seed. With help from others like you who believed in this idea, she nurtured the seed that was the vision of Victory Garden Initiative and as the seed grows into something spectacular – so has VGI! I am sure, like me, you too are very proud of the growth of our organization and also look to the future with high expectations of the impact we can have.

It is our 10 YEAR ANNIVERSARY! We are celebrating all that we have done:

  • installing gardens/ bringing fresh food to people’s yards all over the city
  • planting trees and orchards,
  • training community food leaders,
  • launching community gardens,
  • engaging volunteers,
  • BLITZing (bringing together 100’s of volunteers to build garden beds)
  • building our farm, (providing programs for children and adults at The Farm in the Harambee neighborhood)
  • and, teaching children and adults to grow their own food!

None of these endeavors could’ve been possible without you. So this year and always, we also celebrate you. You helped us plant seeds. You helped our gardens grow. You helped our staff excel and our volunteers grow personally. You helped countless neighbors, children and community members. On behalf of everyone at Victory Garden Initiative, we THANK YOU!

On behalf of the VGI Board of Directors, we are deeply grateful for your generosity and continued belief in the impact we make in our community. Your impact will continue into 2018 and beyond. There are exciting things on our horizon. As we continue our current programs, we are exploring new adventures like growing our educational programs at The Farm and creating our very own CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.

Please come to our annual fundraiser, The Fruity Nutty Affair on February 22nd! It is always a fantastic event with amazing food from the best local restaurants, music, and silent auction and all the proceeds go to VGI…..what a fun way to give to Victory Garden Initiative!

Best regards,

Susie Ralston, Chairwoman of the Board, Victory Garden Initiative