veggie scrap broth instructions

Veggie Broth

While you are doing your day-to-day cooking every week, you accumulate a LOT of food waste. From cutting off any bad bits to the excess pieces you aren’t eating in that meal (like carrot tops, onion skins, and potato skins), we end up with all those extra scraps. Most people in America throw those scraps in the trash and they end up in a landfill. Hopefully you are already compost those scraps, but if not we’ll be posting about easy backyard composting soon! But, before you compost those scraps, we would like to suggest making your own veggie broth with it! This is a super simple process and helps you save money and add nutrients and flavor to your dishes. Here’s how our Director of Operations & Development, Christine, uses her veggie scraps to make broth once or twice a month!

 


zip-loc bag full of veggie scraps such as onion ends, carrot skins, celery leaves, and more for making stockStep 1: Collect Veggie Scraps in the Freezer

While I am cooking meals throughout the week, I re-direct some of my scraps from the compost pile and instead store them in a zip-loc bag in the freezer. These are things like the skins or ends of veggies I’ve prepped or veggies that are about to go bad (like if I sliced up bell peppers to snack on and didn’t finish them all but don’t have enough for some other dish). Once that bag is full, it is time to make broth!

There’s no real right or wrong veggies to keep for stock, so long as you aren’t using something that is moldy. You can add pretty much anything to it, but it will create different flavor profiles. I always make sure that the bulk of my scraps consists of carrots, onions, and celery. I also like to have sweet potato skins, bell pepper pieces, and mushrooms. Some people like to add tomatoes, but I’m not a fan of the flavor it adds. I also try to avoid adding too much of things like carrot tops, broccoli stems, cabbage leaves, and brussel sprouts as they can make the broth bitter if used in excess. Lastly, if I don’t have any scraps I like to add some ginger root, turmeric root, and garlic cloves. These add so much flavor and amazing nutrients for immunity and overall health. I cook with them a lot, so I usually have scraps, but if I don’t I find it is worth it to chop up some fresh ones for the stock!

 

 

stock pot full of veggie scraps and water for making homemade stockStep 2: Cover Veggies with Water and Bring to a Boil

It’s really that simple. I find that a full zip-loc bag almost fills up my stock pot and then I just fill it with water up to the top of the veggies. Done. I often add a little salt for flavor, but if you have a lot of herbs in there or you are trying to cut back on salt, it is definitely not necessary. When I went to take pics for this blog I actually had no fresh turmeric so I also added some turmeric powder. I just can’t make broth without it! You could also add some sage or other fresh garden herbs if you have them on hand! When you pot is full of the veggies and water just put it on the stove and bring to a boil.

 

 

 

 

 

stockpot simmering on the stove with a 30 minute timer setStep 3: Simmer Veggies for at Least 30 Minutes

Once the mixture is boiling you are going to want to turn the heat down so it doesn’t boil over. Cover it and then let it simmer for at least 30 minutes. The longer you simmer it the better though as it will draw out more of the nutrients and flavor from the veggies. I generally set my timer for 30 min and come back in when it goes off and start getting everything else ready that I’m working on, therefore it cooks for about 40-45min.

 

 

 

 

 

straining finished veggie stock into a strainer with a bowl to catch the stockStep 4: Strain the Scraps and Collect the Broth

Set a bowl in your sink with a strainer in it and then dump the contents in to separate the broth from the veggie scraps. Don’t. Forget. The. Bowl. You would think that is obvious, but I once put the strainer in the sink without a bowl and poured an entire stock pot of broth down the drain right before a dinner party. You do it once and you’ll never do it again! At this point, you can transfer the veggie scraps to the compost bin.

 

 

 

 

 

pouring finished stock into ice cube trays to freeze for use laterStep 5: Storing the Broth

If you aren’t using the broth right away for a dish, you’re going to need to store it. I usually keep a little out in the fridge for use that week and the rest I freeze. In the fridge, broth is only considered safe for 5-7 days. I’ve definitely used it later than that with no problems….but do what I say and not what I do! Usually, I freeze my broth and my preferred method is to do it in ice cubes! These silicone trays in my pic were purchased at Target several years ago from the canning section, intended for freezing oils and butters. I’ve seen these cube trays in several versions at popular stores and online and I like them because they are a bit bigger and very easy to pop the cubes out. And, 3 cubes = 1 cup exactly! So I can easily just toss the cubes into my pot still frozen and keep the ratio right for cooking my rice or quinoa.

I don’t like to keep the broth cubes in the silicone too long though as it stains the trays and the lid does’t fit well so they fall out if shuffled. So I just toss them in another zip-loc (you can use any storage container you like, really. I know need to phase out my zip-loc use eventually to curb the single use plastic, but I use these bags till they are DEAD at least and just keep washing and re-using for cubes or scraps!)

 


Do you have other ways you like to make your veggie broth or interesting ways you cook with the finished product? Comment below or tag us on social media and let us know! We love hearing from you and trying new recipes!

summer programs at the farm for a local food system

Summer Programs & Building a Local Food System in Harambee!

After a whole year of keeping our programs small and reserved, we’re excited to be announcing a robust line-up of programs this summer at our Urban Farm Campus! We will of course still be maintaining social distancing, practicing masking, and keeping group sizes small in order to keep our staff and community safe. But with the warm weather upon us and an increase in vaccination rate, we know we can offer safe outdoor activities again! So, we hope you will join us at the farm as we work alongside our Harambee residents to create a nutritious and socially just local food system. Here’s a quick overview of all the programs we will be offering as we work to create a local food system here in Harambee! Click the links for more information!


Harambee residents lining up to get dinner at the Cultivate Harambee eventCultivate Harambee

Once a month we will be offering our dinner series that was borne out of the pandemic. Stop by our farm to pick up a delicious meal prepared in our community kitchen using produce from the farm! Head across the street to sit and eat (socially distanced, of course!) with community and enjoy some free entertainment and kids activities!

Second Saturdays from 4-7pm
249 E Concordia Avenue

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO!


EarthSeed: Nourishing Your Roots

This is our new twist on our Food Leader Certificate program! In partnership with Loveland Acres Farm and Diverse & Resilient we will be offering a food justice & leadership training program for marginalized young people in our community.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO!

 


Friday Farmstand & Tool Library

Every Friday during the growing season we offer a Free Farmstand! Yep, FREE! If you choose to leave a donation, we will put that money right back into our farm so we can grow more nutritious food for the community! This year, we are also offering a tool library where you can either donate you lightly used tools so they don’t end up in a landfill or you can pick up a garden tool you may need.

 

Farmstand: June 18 – October 29th
Tool Library: same dates, but with extra events on June 4th & 11th

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO!


chef demonstrating in the gardenMove Grass Classes

Throughout the year we will be offering culinary and gardening workshops that explore the framework of living farm-to-table, sustainably. Most classes will be taught by our own staff with guest educators appearing for special programs. Exact class dates are still pending.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO!


 

Pantry

In partnership with Village Group, Westcare, and Feeding America we have been offering a free pantry on Tuesdays with delivery to Harambee residents. This is a free program, but registration is required! Reach out to Joya directly if you are interested in signing up or volunteering at the pantry. joya@victorygardeninitiative.org.


Summer AgriCorps

The Summer Agricorp program offers youth in the Harambee/Riverwest neighborhoods and beyond an extended summer experience on the farm. This program is open to Harambee/Riverwest youth ages 8-14. The program begins in June and is free for families! Registration is required and enrollment is limited, prioritizing Harambee youth.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO!


U-Pick & Farm Volunteering

Join us at the Victory Garden Urban Farm daily from Mon-Saturday during regular business hours to pick your own fresh produce for free! All we ask is that you give something back to help nourish the farm by doing a little volunteer work (weeding, harvesting, watering, etc — as in-depth or easy as you are able!) or picking up trash around the streets/alleys of the farm campus!

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO!

where to build a Victory Garden raised bed

4 Steps to Choosing the Best Spot for Your Raised Bed Victory Garden

 

So, you’ve been dreaming about installing a Victory Garden in your yard but you aren’t sure where exactly to put it. Maybe you’re a novice gardener and just have no clue how to get started. Or maybe you’ve been gardening since you were little but your new home doesn’t have a garden and you’ve never had to install one before.

No worries! Where to put a raised bed is the number one question we get as we gear up for our own garden building program here in Milwaukee every spring. It’s an important question and we want to be sure that every gardener gets off to the best possible start, so we’ve assembled the top 4 most important things you should consider when picking a spot to place your new garden bed!

 

1. Here Comes the Sun!

Victory Garden raised bed filled with sunflowersThe most important thing is to make sure your garden will get plenty of sunlight! While some crops will tolerate shade better than others, most vegetable plants will need a good 8 hours of sunlight to grow strong and healthy. You’ll get the best results if your garden faces east, south, or west here in Wisconsin to capture that sunlight. North-facing gardens will be best for leafy greens, beets, carrots, and other shade-tolerant crops.

You’ll also want to consider where the shadows fall in your yard as well. With all the tree-lined streets and multiple-story structures in the city, sunlight patterns can drastically change throughout the day. So take note throughout the year where those fall so you can plan your garden accordingly.

 

2. Have You Ever Seen The Rain?

Water is a delicate thing to balance in a garden. On those long, hot summer days your plants are going to need some extra water to stay healthy. But, on the flip side, you don’t want to have your plants flooded. So find a spot where the rain can reach your garden but be sure that there are no gutters that empty right into bed that will bowl over your delicate plants and wash your topsoil away. 

Convenience is also a factor here. You will probably have to manually water your garden a lot throughout the growing season when it doesn’t rain enough. So make sure you have a plan for that beforehand! Will you be using a hose or watering by hand? Either way, you want to be as close as possible to your water source so it isn’t a hassle to do it! You won’t want to be lugging cans of water across a huge lawn or rolling up long hoses to mow your lawn. 

 

3. All About That Base!

Victory Garden Beds being built in front yardThere are a couple of things to consider in regards to the ground you want to put your bed on. First and foremost, you’re going to want to pick the most level spot you can!  This is the path of least resistance. You CAN certainly garden on a slope but then you have to pay more attention to rainwater runoff and may have to spend more time and money to build special frames to keep the bed in place. 

Another thing to keep in mind is whether you are building on top of soil or concrete. There are pros and cons to both. When you put a bed on concrete you don’t have to worry about a weed barrier, removing turf grass, or laying down a weed barrier. You also don’t have potentially contaminated soil to deal with from whatever the prior use of the land is. But, you can only grow crops with shallow root systems. Whereas when you grow on top of soil, you can grow crops with deep roots (think potatoes, daikon radishes, corn, tomatoes, and more!). In either case, be sure to add great soil to your raised beds with lots of compost amendments! 

 

4. It’s Alright! Take It Easy!

Victory Garden Raised Bed in front yardThis last one is all about convenience. Ideally, you want to place your bed somewhere you can access all four sides of the bed. That way you don’t have to try to reach all the way across over top other plants to tend to them or harvest and risk damaging those crops. Prioritize sun, water, and level ground first though! You can always add a nice trellis to the backside of a bed to make it easier to access those crops when you can’t get around to all four sides. People also forget about mowing their lawn! If you need to mow, make sure you can fit your mower of choice around the bed or you’ll be sad later!

Finally, another thing people forget to consider is just the convenience factor of placing your bed somewhere you and your family frequently hang out! While you don’t want your bed to displace your family’s barbecue area or become a tripping hazard when playing games, you also might not want it to be tucked in some far-flung corner of your yard no one ever goes to. While that might be a good use of the space, it will only work out if you remember to care for it! Some busy families find that they forget to water or weed or harvest if the bed isn’t clearly visible and accessible from the main areas you already use. If that won’t be a problem, go ahead and use those obscure spots though!


That was a lot of information! We know it sounds complicated, but just take a moment to skim the tips again and remember that it all boils down to four things: Sun, Water, Level Ground, and Easy Access. Go take a look at your yard and we bet you’ll find several spots that would be a great place to build a garden! Honestly, once you get started gardening you’re going to find that you need more than one raised bed anyway!

Now, if you are ready to put in a garden but don’t want to do all the heavy lifting, check out the Great Milwaukee Victory Garden Blitz! We’ve built over 5,000 raised garden beds across Milwaukee County, so we’re pretty much experts at this by now! We’ll come out to your yard with all the supplies to build your bed in the perfect spot you selected, fill it up with organic soil, and drop off a welcome kit with seeds and other garden goodies!

ORDER YOUR BLITZ GARDEN AND SOIL HERE

Christine Kuhn laying in raised garden bed

Why We Blitz

by Christine Noelle, Director of Operations & Development

Christine Noelle laying in raised garden bed
Christine Noelle in a freshly installed Blitz bed during the 2019 Blitz

This will be my 6th time Blitzing with VGI, my 4th as an employee. I look forward to the Blitz more than I have any other task I have ever done professionally. The Blitz has a special kind of energy about it. Every time you come to a build site or to our staging area, you can feel the sense of purpose in the air. Everyone who works the Blitz believes so passionately in our vision: to build a community with a strong, vibrant, sustainable, ethical local food system. To make it so that every family has access to affordable, nutritious food.

Since the first Blitz in 2008, we have faced many challenges and have always come together stronger than ever. We’ve learned how to deal with late snowstorms, broken down trailers, keys locked in trucks, no-show volunteer crews, website registration form crashes, thrown out backs, and so so much more. Covid-19 was really a curve ball though. We had to change everything about the way we Blitz, systems that we had perfected over 11 years were suddenly useless! And yet we managed to pull it off because everyone involved believed SO passionately in the importance of the work. It took a toll on us, that is for sure. But it wasn’t the physical changes to how we did things that were hardest, it was the emotional toll it took on us. It was hearing the stories from garden recipients about not being able to find food at the grocery store and about being excited to have something, anything to do that was safely outdoors.

This is why we are once again Blitzing again this year.

I was listening to NPR on my way to the office the other week and they were covering the devastation down in Texas. It hurt my heart to hear about people literally freezing to death in their own homes. There are so many stories of grief from that natural disaster. But while the cold temps have moved on and with it most of the national news coverage from our radios and newsfeeds, there are other tragedies yet to come that you probably won’t hear about. News that NEVER seems to take front and center: the food insecurity that will result from this natural disaster. So many farms were left wasted from the cold temps. Livestock froze to death in their barns when generators went down and crops rotted in warehouses, unable to be shipped or processed. The people of Texas are not out of the woods just because it got warm again and the power came back on. There will be continued food shortages. There will be more families relying on emergency food provisions and subsidy programs like WIC and SNAP. Farmers and processors will lose their entire business from this.  And this is on TOP of the havoc and stress that Covid-19 had already put on their lives.

There is so much more I could say about the stresses on the American food system over the past year. Not just in Texas, but all over the country for many, many different reasons. But the point is:

THIS is why we Blitz.

THIS is why I, and everyone here at VGI, believes so passionately in the Victory Garden Blitz and our mission as a whole. Because the Western industrialized American food system is simply not equipped to provide for us during times of disaster. (I would argue that it is NEVER really equipped to provide for us, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post for another day!) Every day in this country, people go hungry. And every year we see the holes in the food system grow. The Flint water crisis. California wild fires. Bee colony collapses. Hurricanes. Droughts. Floods. Covid19. Each time, people are left with an uncertain food supply.

The Blitz absolutely will NOT solve this. There is so much that needs to change in our food system and the way we grow, buy, sell, and produce food in this country to have a truly stable food system. But the Blitz can help families weather the literal and figurative storms better. The Blitz is part of a larger movement to return to a food system where people have power over their food supply. Where food is grown to feed families and not refined into unhealthy additives to fill the cookie aisles at the grocery store. Where people of all ages come together to share their knowledge of growing, cooking, and preserving food and pass that along to the next generation. Through the Blitz, we help to give more people in Milwaukee access to local food and connect people to a network of support, education, skill-sharing, and hope.

 

MY hope today is that you will join us. I hope you’ll buy a bed! I hope I’ll see you out on a crew helping to build a bed! I hope you’ll come to community dinner. I hope to see you at our farm, picking berries to take home. I hope you’ll share our social media posts. I hope you’ll donate some tools, time, or money to help us build this vision of a nutritious, socially just, environmentally sustainable local food system for ALL.

To buy a bed: https://victorygardeninitiative.org/blitz-registration/

To volunteer: https://victorygardeninitiative.org/blitz-volunteer-registration-hide/

To sponsor a bed: https://victorygardeninitiative.org/sponsor-a-blitz-garden/

To donate to VGI: https://victorygardeninitiative.org/donate/

To give an item from our wish list: https://victorygardeninitiative.org/wish-list/

To sign up for our newsletter: https://victorygardeninitiative.org/subscribe/

To follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/VictoryGardenMKE

To follow us on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/victorygardeni/?hl=en

 

I’m usually the one behind the camera, but I’ve been caught is a few Blitz pics over the years and it brings joy to my heart to look back at it all 🙂

Rolling Into 2021 with Awe, Thankfulness, and Gratitude

Dear VGI Community,

On behalf of myself and the entire board of directors, I would like to first acknowledge with awe, thankfulness and gratitude how we not only ‘weathered’ 2020 but how VGI went above and beyond difficult times.

With AWE:  At the staff and VGI leaders who got creative to continue to make the greatest impact

With Thankfulness: We are truly thankful to be a part of a community that is committed to social and food justice,

With Gratitude:  Reminds me of just how fortunate we are!

As we move forward in 2021 and on the journey of another year of MORE of what we do best! We are very excited, energized and ready to hit the earth/soil/ground running! We have new leadership in place with our Executive Director, Michelle Dobbs. She and the staff are certainly not in hibernation this time of year. They are busy with planning programming, coming up with creative ways to engage the Harambee Neighborhood, bring Chef Joya’s great food to more people, get more BLITZ garden beds installed and thinking of all we can do with the children we serve.

On the board level, I am again humbled, committed to our mission and enthusiastic to be the board chair for this year. Also, we have a new Vice-Chair who is an emerging/strong leader for VGI plus the community! Chelsea Cross wanted to take a moment to share her excitement on joining the board and her new leadership position:

“We live in a nation that perpetuates unhealthy eating with capitalistic ads for bad food, alcohol, and tobacco on our TVs and highways. These ads appease the companies with no care for our environment that mass produce our ‘food.’ As a repercussion and quid pro quo for Big Pharma, our medical system would rather treat instead of prevent. Armed with my education and health background, as Vice-Chair, ending these ramifications that reverberate across mostly low-income, minority communities is my dedication. It is an honor to carry the work started by Gretchen Mead so many years ago and I am incredibly grateful to learn from Susie and the rest of the VGI community. – Chelsea”

If you are looking to safely get involved with VGI here are few ways to do that now:

  • Mark your calendars for our Cultivate Harambee dinner series! These outdoor, socially distanced dinners will take place the first Saturday of the month from May-October. From 4-7pm you can drop by our Farm and Farmhouse in Harambee for a delicious meal prepared by Chef Joya using VGI produce. Stay tuned for more announcements on our website, newsletter, and social media as we’ll update as each event gets closer with what fun entertainment will be happening as well as volunteer opportunities!
  • Get ready for the 13th Annual Great Milwaukee Blitz! We’re still working on finalizing plans for a 2nd pandemic Blitz, so while our registration forms aren’t fully live yet, you can still sign up to get on the volunteer list here or onto the list for purchasing a bed here. Once the official forms are live, we’ll send you and email so you can sign up.
  • Check out our presentation at the virtual PBS Wisconsin Garden & Landscape Expo on Feb 20-21st! Michelle will be presenting “Big Gardening in Small Spaces” on 2/21/21 at 10am! Registration is free! 
  • As always, we greatly appreciate your support through a financial donation here or helping out with our wish list here.

 

Thank you to all our friends, supporters and community members!

Susie Ralston, Chairperson of the Board of Directors

2020: A Year in Pictures

 

by Christine Noelle, Director of Operations & Development

Hello Foodies, Gardeners, and Friends!

As we finally approach the end of this historic year, I am seeing a lot of people who cannot wait to forget 2020 and start fresh in the New Year. While I too am looking forward with hope for a better year, I don’t want to forget the lessons this past year taught me and I want to take a moment to acknowledge the amazing things that happened along the way. There were so many bright points amidst the chaos and uncertainty and I think it is important that we remember both the good and the bad. The things that gave us hope in times of darkness are powerful and we should remember to intentionally incorporate these things into our lives so that we are more resilient in the next hard season we face. So, I wanted to take a moment to look back at the amazing moments that VGI shared among staff and community.

The age old mantra that a picture is worth a thousand words is still true, so enjoy a Year in Pictures with minimal interruption from me! Happy New Year! Stay safe, healthy, happy, and wiser than yesterday!


Victory Garden Blitz

Despite having to drastically cut back on volunteer shifts and rising supply costs as well as many other unique challenges, we managed to pull off the Blitz once again, building another 500 raised garden beds across the city this spring!

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Victory Garden Urban Farm

We leaned in very hard to our 1.5 acre farm in Harambee this year. This plot of land not only helped us grow so much food for the community but was also a safe, outdoor greenspace in the middle of the city that helped us gather our thoughts and maintain some social aspects of our org in a safe, responsible way.

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Farmstand

We still ran our Free Roadside Farmstand this year and with our new kitchen we were able to preserve much of the harvest!

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Farmhouse

After two years, we finally finished up the major renovations on our Farmhouse early in 2020 and were able to have an Open House to show off the classroom and kitchen space just before Covid. Throughout the year, this space has allowed us to preserve food and even host community dinners by serving out the windows of the kitchen and eating socially-distanced style at the farm!

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If you loved seeing all the incredible local food and community building happening in these pictures, please consider an end-of-year donation to VGI! Every dollar donated helps to fund more food grown and given away, more gardens built, more mentoring opportunities, and more grassroots community work in Harambee!

Donate!

 

A Message from our New Executive Director!

by Michelle Dobbs, Executive Director

Every shut eye ain’t asleep. Every goodbye ain’t gone. – Grandma proverb

Fall is funny; maybe because hibernation looks a lot like sleep. The thing we often forget is that hibernation is a vital part of life. Every living thing needs periods of rest to ensure their survival, and
prepare for the next phase of growth.

Victory Garden Initiative looks a lot like it’s asleep these days. The farm is tucked in: winter gardens planted, compost shared, fully staffed, we’re gearing up for the last Cultivate Harambee event of the summer… seems pretty groggy from the outside. It’s different. Quieter.

What is important to remember is that we ain’t sleep. Mother Earth and her employees at Victory Garden Initiative are hard at work connecting with our neighbors through the darkness of winter. We’re outfitting our new building’s community room and kitchen to hold smaller, more intimate gatherings and classes. We’re managing our systems and operations to sustain ourselves and our neighbors in virtual formats by making tutorials and videos and sharing them widely. We’re completing our annual reports and appeals so that as people approach that End of The Year Giving part of their household budgeting, they will consider VGI. We are here, as we have been for the last ten years. Teaching, learning, sharing, graciously accepting the gifts that our neighbors offer.

The thing about this season is that we’re participating in our civic responsibilities of managing an urban farm from a distance now, so that we can all be safe when the winter passes over Harambee.

What’s also funny is that when the weather breaks again, we’ll be ready! We’re growing inside so that we can install garden beds through our annual (now No Contact) Garden Blitz, put volunteers and interns back to work on our farm, host learning events for our children, and certify another cohort of Food Mentors who will be prepared to teach those who never knew, or who want to remember, how to live in harmony with the earth in the middle of a food desert in the middle of the city. We’re working on fortifying relationships with past partners, and creating new ones.

I’m kind of looking forward to starting off by spending the winter with VGI. This undercover moment to gather ourselves is vital to our growth 2021. We ain’t asleep. We ain’t gone. We just getting ready for the next phase.

Cooking with Kids: It’s Not as Scary as You Think!

by Jay Johnson

As the Youth Program Coordinator at VGI, I have the privilege of working with young people and teaching them how to grow and cook food.  Every Tuesday and Wednesday throughout this past school year I cooked with about 15 elementary school aged children at their after-school club. To many of you, that probably sounds like a nightmare. I mean, fifteen third graders with knives and hot stoves?!? Even though it sounds like an absurd idea, I have learned a lot from young people and cooking with them.

  • Imperfection is OK: When we watch those recipe videos on Facebook  they always have the perfect amount of ingredients, it comes out perfect, and it looks tasty. While there are recipes for food, often young people get super excited to make things like blueberry pancakes and overestimate the amount of baking soda needed, or are underenthuised to make things like a black eye pea salad because they hate one veggie that is in it. Needless to say every recipe is a new adventure. Although things may not turn out as planned, such as bean burgers falling apart or finding out accidentally adding spinach to the black eyed pea salad doesn’t taste bad, we find what matters most in the end is the experience and the memories.
  • Young people enjoy the agency cooking gives them:  Agency is defined as the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. Oftentimes young people, particularly elementary aged young people, do not get a chance to make their own choices. Especially at school! School environments tend to be a sit-and-get environment where young people are told what to do pretty much all day. Within reason, I ask students what are some dishes that they would like to make, and because of that we have made things like veggie soup, quesadillas, and guacamole! Having the say in what they cook has students far more engaged in their recipes and eating the food they make.

  • Young people are really proud of what they make: I can not tell you how many times students have asked me if they could bring some of the food they made home for their family to try or see if they can run some down the hall to their favorite teacher! Even if the food looks or tastes less than spectacular, young people take pride in the food they have made and want to share with others.

  • Kids really love to try new things:  Growing up we probably all were picky eaters. Our parents threw a plate of those gross looking vegetables and sauces in front of us and we adamantly refused to eat it. When children are involved in making and cooking food, I see they are more willing to try new things. For example, when we make vegetable trays, instead of the usual vegetables I will throw in a vegetable like a radish or instead of tortilla chips I will substitute pita chips for dips we make. Since they were involved in the prep of the food it is a lot easier to convince them to try new things and ask for them again.

 

Overall, just as much as I have taught young people about cooking and preparing food, they have taught me equally as much.  From them I have learned, food is a great way to link generations and learn more about yourself and others.  If you are interested in more resources about cooking with children feel free to reach out to me at jay.johnson@victorygardeninitiatve.org.

large basket of freshly harvested carrots, cabbage, broccoli, and fennel

Healing a Food System on the Verge of Collapse

by Christine Kuhn, Co-Executive Director 

     Here at Victory Garden Initiative, we’ve been working on a vision for a community-led, environmentally sustainable, socially just, and nutritious food system right here in Milwaukee since 2008. At our new organizational headquarters in the Harambee neighborhood we run a 1.5 acre urban farm and just finished construction on our community kitchen and classroom space in February! On this “Urban Farm Campus” we envision a community coming together around the garden and table with neighbors to grow and cook food together, children learning about biology in the pollinator gardens in their own backyards, chefs cooking up local produce at local restaurants, and neighborhood stores stocking products created by their neighbors. This food system is as beautiful as it is strong! It provides not only nutritious food for the body, but for the mind as well. Our staff have been passionately working to build the programs and local infrastructure to make this vision a reality.

Like many other organizations, we are feeling the strain of Coronavirus. We’ve had to pause our community events and classes and, aside from our Farm Manager, our staff is currently working from home. But Wisconsin’s Safer at Home orders only confirm what I know to be true in the fiber of my being: that food production is and always shall be an “essential activity.” 

In the time of Coronavirus, we all know that toilet paper has bempty store shelves during coronavirus pandemicecome a hot commodity, but other store shelves are emptying too. Bread, meat, canned goods, dried beans, eggs, milk, and the list goes on.  Meanwhile, I keep seeing news stories and updates from major grocery stores and politicians assuring us that the supply chain remains strong and that shelves are only empty because of panic buying. All will be back to normal soon, they say. We just have to ride it out, they assure.

Personally, I’m not reassured.

The reality is, our food system has been broken for a very long time and it is only now, during an international crisis, that we can truly see the unfortunate ramifications of this.  While some families can afford to stock up for months of social distancing, others are on food assistance and can barely afford a weeks’ worth of food at any time. While videos are cropping up encouraging people to bake their own artisan bread, there are people living in apartments where access to a working stove and refrigerator is not even a reality. And while supply chain experts are telling us that shelves will be restocked soon, one has to wonder how they can be so certain of this, when our food is being shipped from across the country and across the globe? Whole countries are on lock down right now and 30+ states have enacted versions of Stay at Home orders. Yes, food production, manufacturing, and agriculture are all “essential activities,” and life goes on. But how can you ever be certain about the stability of a system which relies on a complex network of moving parts, far-flung across the globe? All it takes is for one piece to buckle under the pressure and the entire system collapses.

What if too many truckers get sick and shipping routes falter? What if too many of the migrant workers and seasonal farm crews can’t work the large farms in California, Florida, and the Corn Belt in the Midwest that supply most of our country’s grain and produce? What if there are outbreaks at grocery stores and they don’t have the staff to stay open? What if all air traffic is grounded? 

Maybe it won’t happen this time. Maybe COVID19 is not the straw that breaks the food chain’s back. But what about next time? What about the next virus? The next world war? The next drought? The next recession? The depletion of oil reserves? Are we certain we will have enough food to feed our families?

Infographic by Tim Norton of Oxfam Australia

I don’t ask these questions to scare you, ignite panic, or bring more dreariness to an already stressful situation. Instead, I ask these questions because I believe there is a better way and that it is not too late for us all to do something right now to build a better food system for today and tomorrow. The answer is for us to stop relying on a global food system and to start building a stronger, more resilient local one, in all places at all times. I’m not saying we can’t have Costa Rican coffee, California almonds, Atlantic Cod, or even Oreo’s ever again. But we can and should produce enough food locally to supply our own communities. Global food products should be a welcome addition to our own food supply, not a necessity.

While we can’t all be full-time farmers, we can all grow some of our own food. We can grow it in our yards, on our WWI poster that reads "Your Victory Garden Counts More Than Ever" with produce and garden in backgroundbalconies, at our schools, in our windowsills, and on our rooftops. We can grow it in our basements with the right lights. So many people have wide open grassy lawns which could be turned into productive growing space, not to mention the number of vacant, overgrown lots scattered across our cities. Now is the time to seriously consider transforming these spaces, and our lives, to build our capacity for self-reliance down the line.

This, my friends, is where Victory Gardens come in. Victory Garden Initiative has been on the front lines of this work in Milwaukee for 12 years now, building infrastructure in Southeast Wisconsin for growing local food. Each year, we install 500+ raised garden beds across Milwaukee. In 2020, we had hoped to finally breach the 5000 mark but with the current state of the world, we probably won’t make that milestone this year. But we also won’t be closing up shop either. Now more than ever we are determined to forge ahead and install as many gardens as we can to increase Milwaukee’s capacity for local food production. As of writing this, we’ve already sold 120+ gardens so far and, barring any drastic changes in the pandemic situation and recommendations from health officials, we are committed to installing each and every one of them! Not only that, but we are hopeful to sell even more, particularly in our organization’s home neighborhood of Harambee, a neighborhood that already faces food insecurity and economic disparities. These will only be heightened after Coronavirus sweeps through our nation.

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In addition to building more beds for individuals to grow food, we’re also ramping up production at our own urban farm. The Victory Garden Urban Farm in Harambee has always been a community farm, serving as a greenspace for the neighborhood to gather and a hub for educational activities to teach youth and adults how to grow their own food. In the wake of Coronavirus, it is even more important to provide these services. Our new Farm Manager, Aaron, is already hard at work planting the crops for this season and plans are underway for expanding our Pay-What-You-Can Roadside Farmstand, free Community U-Pick area, and on-site Community Gardens! We urge everyone who is growing food to consider sharing the bounty of your harvest with your neighbors or local food pantry!

If you can’t grow food (we’ll dispel those myths later), you can still do your part by supporting local producers. Unless you are reading this from Antarctica or the International Space Station (please drop me a line if you are, that newly prepared beds ready for plantingwould be incredible!) I guarantee that you have a local farmer within ~100 miles of you. Someone, somewhere, is growing and selling food. Support them. Buy from your local farmer’s market. Visit your local co-op. Look for products from your own region at the grocery store, or talk to the store manager about getting those local products in. Visit roadside farm stands and eat at restaurants that source local ingredients. Finally, be sure to talk them up on social media and leave a positive review so others can find and support them them too!

 

We will eventually beat Coronavirus and the world will return to some semblance of normal. But it will have a lasting impact on our society and it is up to all of us to make sure that we learn from this experience and make the world a better place because of it. We can’t return to the status quo. Now is the time to Move Grass and Grow Food!



For information and updates about the Great Milwaukee Victory Garden Blitz, please check out our website here or reach out to Montana, our Community Programs Manager at montana@victorygardeninitiative.org.

Christine can be reached at christine.kuhn@victorygardeninitiative.org

 

woman holding sign that reads "I pledge to grow more food"
Montana Morris, Community Programs Manager

woman laying down in a newly constructed raised garden bed
Christine Kuhn, Co-Executive Director

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter from the Board Chair

February 5, 2020

Dear Friends of VGI,

On behalf of the board of directors, committed staff and all the dedicated volunteers, we want to thank you all for helping us reach our Annual Giving goal of over $30,000 for 2019!! We are all deeply grateful for your generosity and continued belief in the impact we make in our community.  For all the people-children, parents, schools, churches that will benefit from these generous financial contributions-we say THANK YOU!

I am so excited to be starting another year as the Chairwoman of the Board.  It is such a gift to me to be able to serve in this capacity for an amazing organization. I am continuously reminded of the all the ways VGI weaves its mission into our lives.  So often, while going about my regular day, I meet people that talk about their experience with VGI. From across Milwaukee and especially in Harambee I hear how people appreciate being a part of   VGI’s growing community of neighbors, children and volunteers.

Victory Garden Initiative’s mission to help people grow their own food seems to permeate the community in every corner of Milwaukee.  When I learn of people’s interest and their passion to help the world become a better place through growing their own food, I understand, even more deeply, how important the work we are doing is to build community. VGI’s mission to improve our health and our food system is so important and the passion for our mission is spreading quickly. A good thing for us all!

If you too want to be more involved, here are some ways you can ‘get your hands in the dirt’:

  • Volunteer: We have group volunteer days, on-going office opportunities, internships, farming positions, composting operations, and higher-level committee work.
  • Enroll in our Food Leader Program. This program is a life-changing experience for its participants and will soon be offered free to Harambee residents.  More information on this program is coming soon.
  • Bring yourself and all your friends to our upcoming Open House for our new community kitchen/room on Friday, March 6 from 4-7 pm.
  • Get or give a garden – or do both! – during our 12th Annual Great Milwaukee Victory Garden BLITZ. It is an inspiring way to begin growing your own food.

2020 is going to be a year filled with building gardens, growing food, and fostering community. Don’t miss it!

Susie Ralston, Chairwoman of the Board, Victory Garden Initiative