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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 become 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?
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 balconies, 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.
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 would 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!
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.
We’re pretty sure that the only fool-proof way of getting kids to care about their food is to get them involved in growing and cooking it themselves!
We’ve seen this play out time and time again through our own Youth Education Programs. Right now, we’re in the middle of our After School Garden Club program at Riverwest and La Escuela Fratney Elementary Schools where we are working with youth every week in the classroom and their own school gardens. Each week, we focus on different topics such as how to make a healthy snacks, take care of their school gardens, compost, and other food system activities. Without fail, the favorite part of the program for every kid is the cooking. When we walk through the door, the excitement is palpable and our educators get asked dozens of times as they walk down the hallway “Are we cooking today!?” “Will it be delicious?” “Do we get to use knives?” “Can I be first today?!”
We’ve dubbed our cooking activities the “Chef-in-Training” program and the youth love being given the responsibility of working with real cooking knives, stove tops, and kitchen equipment. We teach the kids not only about cooking healthy meals for themselves but about how cooking can be a real career and the youth delight in talking about what it would be like to work in a kitchen as a chef or to take the recipes home and teach it to their parents.
Youth have been practicing their skills up to this point and learning to follow recipes. Pretty soon they will get to put their skills to the test by creating their own recipe, which is always a hoot! In this 3 part series, they learn about healthy smoothies, come up with their own recipes, and then put them to the test! The kids come up with amazing combinations and even more amazing names for their smoothies. It’s also a hilarious opportunity for our educators to get very literal and showcase the importance of clear instructions in recipe writing by throwing unpeeled bananas in that blender or teeny tiny amounts when they don’t give measurements! Hilarity always ensues.
It’s crazy to think that the year is already half over! But our programs continue on into the summer at our own 1.5 acre Urban Farm in Harambee! We welcome schools and day cares from all over the city to our farm for field trips and welcome about 15-20 neighborhood kids to the farm all summer long to work in our kids’ garden. This summer, with our new Community Kitchen nearly finished, we look forward to expanding our Chef-in-Training program and having the kids experience harvesting produce from the farm and taking it right into the kitchen to learn how to cook it up!
Many youths have taken the lead in the fight for climate and environmental action. As most vividly seen through the youth climate strikes that have taken place throughout the U.S. and other international regions, youths from all across the world have come together to advocate for environmental and social justice. Yet, there is still much more that can be done. With that being said, here are six environmental youth activists who can inspire you to stand up and be an advocate for social change!
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez – A 19yr old from Boulder, Colorado, and the Youth Director for Earth Guardians, an organization that teaches youth how to lead the charge in environmental and social justice activism. Within his personal activism, Xiuhteztcatl has fought for indigenous rights and climate change. He has also spoken at United Nations conferences and partook in several lawsuits against industrial corporations and the United States government for their lack of concern about the environment and the impact that this it is having on future generations.
Isra Hirsi – A 16yr old from Minneaopolis, Minnesota, and one of the Co-founders & Co-directors of the U.S. Youth Climate Strike. She is an environmental and racial justice activist, who has fought for climate change, an end to gun violence and more diversity & intersectionality within social movements. In addition to leading the U.S. Youth Climate Strike, she’s a member of a youth climate coalition called “MN Can’t Wait,” has written pieces for periodicals, such as Medium, and has educated people on the disproportionate effects that climate issues have on African Americans and other marginalized groups.
Jerome Foster II – A 17yr old from Washington, DC, and the Founder & Executive Director of “One Million of US,” a national youth-led organization that advocates for social justice reform and youth votership. Through his activism he has fought for environmental justice, climate action, civil rights and youth votership. He has also organized climate strikes at the White House, advocated for environment related congressional bills, such as the Climate Change Education Act, is the Editor-in-chief of “The Climate Reporter” and has received prestigious awards, such as the Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award.
Amariyanna Copeny – A 12yr old from Flint, Michigan, and the founder of “Dear Flint Kids” and “Wednesdays for Water,” two social media campaigns that advocate for access to resources for the children of Flint and access to clean water. Amariyana is famously and more commonly known by her nickname “Little Miss Flint.” She is an activist and philanthropist who dreams of growing up to be the President of the United States! She uses her activism to spread awareness about the water crisis in Flint Michigan and the lack of access to clean water around the world. She also has fundraised more than half a million dollars worth of money and supplies for kids that live in Flint Michigan.
Feliquan Charlemagne – A 17yr old from Ocala, Florida who is the National Creative Director and Florida State Lead for the U.S. Youth Climate Strike. Feliquan was inspired to get involved in climate activism due to his family being displaced from their home in the Virgin Islands because of climate change. Through his activism he provides awareness about the potential devastation from rising sea levels and economic destabilization that climate issues can cause for countries in the Global South. Feliquan also uses his story to teach about the trauma that families can suffer from through the disastrous affects of climate change.
Autumn Peltier – A 15yr old from Ottawa, Ontario, and the Chief Water Commissioner for the Anishinabek Nation, a political advocacy organization that works on behalf of the 40 First Nations across Ontario. Autumn is a clean water advocate who brings awareness to the sacredness that water has within indigenous cultures and to the inaccessibility to clean water on Canadian reservations. Due to her activism she has been given the title of “water protector” and “water warrior” and was invited to give a speech about clean water for the U.N. in both 2018 and 2019.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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 knowingyour 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, 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.