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 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 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

Preparing for Next Year

Friends,

Today it hit.  Winter is finally here and the growing season has come to an end.  Not even the spinach likes it this cold. For the next few months, our farming activities will mostly subside,  except those that prepare us for next season.

20992892_10155641658269451_5738995368619896517_nBut, for the VGI team, there is no decrease in activities.  We are planning and preparing for next year’s programs, events, and successes. This preparation includes funding our activities. Much like we are banking up on compost at the farm for next season, we need to bank up on financial resources right now for next season. We need the financial resources that it takes to teach people how to grow food, give families gardens, offer deeply discounted vegetables to our neighbors, and train others to lead their own version of grassroots change.

shovel-squad-blitz-2017_34206791023_oWe need you to support this preparation.  While economic disparity increases in our country, the social issues that our community is vulnerable to, exacerbate.  We can’t let up. We must continue to support grassroots efforts that change the over-corporatized food system from the ground up.  Help us remove the Milwaukee’s food system from the speculative Wall Street economy by buying local everything, and supporting LOCAL food production. Right here in our own city.

Next year we have plans to launch a CSA farm and to expand the micro-local restaurant sales.  Help us get over the financial hump so we can make it all work.

We are counting on YOUR perseverance, every single one of you, to ensure that the Victory Garden Urban Farm can continue to do its good work in Milwaukee.

Consider giving generously.  We need you.

~Gretchen

 

 

P.S. Wisconsin Foodie and Edible Milwaukee are offering a FREE subscription to anyone who donates to VGI.

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Calling All Future Food Leaders

2018 Food Leader Certificate Program Registration Now Open

The Food Leader Certificate Program is a unique and exciting intensive retreat program that trains up the next food leader. We are thrilled to have Erica Wolf join us again this year to share her vast knowledge of Community Organizing. We are also welcoming back Sean Laessig, Chief Mission Integration Officer from Cardinal Stritch University to inspire us to be Servant Leaders.

Delaney 2This unique experience includes three-weekend retreats that provide learning in the areas of Food system realities, team leadership, project management, connection through storytelling, gardening tips, and much more. Connect with fellow food leaders – plan your very own food system project – grow as a leader.

Hosted at the beautiful Wellspring Education Center and Organic Farm, located in West Bend, the vibrant setting offers the space to revitalize, reconnect, and inspire.

The 2018 Food Leader Certificate Program registration is now open. Come join this exciting and unique experience. The program is open to high school and adults alike.

For more information, click here

What are the past food leaders saying:

Grow Your Own Food, Abram Games, 1942, IWM PST 2893

The most valuable thing I learned in VGI’s Food Leader Certificate Program is that the support is there to be the change you want to see. The whole of us is more(stronger) than the sum of our parts. ~Colleen Patterson 

I absolutely loved connecting with like-minded, passionate individuals that inspired me to do better in my own life. As a new member of the Green Bay Area, I found a small community that welcomed me with open arms. ~Alex Smith

My favorite thing about the Food Leader program is the retreats and the new family you gain. After three retreat weekends together, I felt surrounded with love and support from my new community of food leader family members from all over the state. During the retreats, I felt energized by our shared passions and the progress each of us was making on our community projects. I know I’ve made some lifelong connections and sometimes you never know where those sparks will take you or how they will change your life. ~Mary Joy Hickey

Delaney 3Read other food leaders stories:

Featured Food Leader- Bradley Seibel

Featured Food Leader- Delaney Hutchinson

A Full Circle

During this year’s Victory Garden Initiative BLITZ, many garden stories touched our hearts. This particular story emboldens the importance of why we do what we do and reminds us of the power of people coming together, transcending all borders, to create a sovereign food system that directly serves the people in our community.

It began with a generous donor who sponsored the BLITZ gardens for refugee families in our community. A musician by profession, the donor said he was touched by the conversation with a refugee at a recent performance and he wanted to do something for the refugees in our community. Refugees face the challenges of having to completely readapt to their new host city, which includes where they will find their food from and how they will afford their food. What better solution than their own backyard and for free?

IMG_1725We then reached out to community partners Sheila Badwan and Kai Gardner Mishlove. Sheila advocates for and works with several refugee families, and connected us with families looking to grow their own food. Kai is co-founder of grassroots projects: Open Arms MKE and Team Refugee and has over 25 years of experience in social services working with vulnerable communities. She enjoys mobilizing community support to welcome refugee families in MKE. Over the last 3 years, Kai has assisted several refugee families with their acclimation in the US. She acts as a cultural mentor through her community volunteer work with various organizations including SEA Literacy MKE and the Aurora Walkers Point Community Clinic. She celebrates holidays with families, assists in their children’s education and assists with all the day to day necessary (and fun) activities that you would do with your family and close friends.

“Every activity and workshop that I’ve attended at Victory Garden Initiative has been awe-inspiring and confirmation of the positive aspects and potential of the community that exists in Milwaukee.  Victory Garden Initiative is definitely a Milwaukee gem.” -Kai Gardner-Mishlove

Through Kai, we were introduced to a family from the East African country of Eritrea among few other refugees. The 3 adult and 5 child family arrived in the United States in November 2016.

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Bun brewing with Kai (on right)

On a beautiful May afternoon in the late-Spring of 2017, our team of marvelous volunteers set out to install the gardens for the families who benefitted from this generous donation. They spent the day building garden beds, shoveling, moving dirt, pounding yard signs, and then capped it off by sipping freshly brewed “bun” made by the family.  Traditional coffee made from an elaborate ceremonial home roasting and brewing process. Kai is a big fan of Bun/Buna now.

The family takes pleasure in the garden for its aesthetic appeal and bountiful fresh harvests. Their garden favorites thus far are the variety of lettuces, tomatoes, and okra. Like many immigrants, the act of growing food connects these refugees to their home. It brings back many fond memories they made sharing meals with their family and friends that are left behind. A true sense of community can only be experienced when many agents come together to make it a better place. That is one of the many reasons why BLITZ has been a backbone of our mission.

The Great Milwaukee Victory Garden BLITZ is the NATION’S LARGEST GARDEN-BUILDING EVENT! Each year, over 300 Victory Garden Initiative volunteers install hundreds of raised bed gardens in backyards, front yards, schools, community centers, and places of worship – just about anywhere you can imagine! Gardens can be donated for to either build a garden for your backyard or gardens can be gifted to someone else’s backyard. So far, we’ve built over 4,000 gardens in the Milwaukee area since the program’s inception! To buy a BLITZ garden for a family in need, visit https://victorygardeninitiative.org/donate

DONATE NOW!

Special thanks to Kai-Gardner Mishlove, Kevin vieau and all the BLITZ volunteer for this story!

A Path to the Future

Dear Friend,

There is a Buddhist quote that lives in my mind, and pops forth every once in awhile at just the right moments: “If you are facing the right direction, all you need to do is keep on walking.”

This is precisely how it feels at Victory Garden Initiative right now – that we have been facing the right direction – and it’s all up to us to keep on walking toward a community-based, sustainable, healthy, and socially just food system for all people in Milwaukee and beyond.

We walk by delivering high-quality education programs, city-wide events, and by transitioning unused urban land into edible landscapes that build community, produce healthy food, and foster microlocal economies.

AA stats (1)As we approach 2018, we are filled with excitement and anticipation for what lies ahead. Not only will we execute the 10th Annual Victory Garden BLITZ, during which we will surpass a total of 4,000 urban gardens built in the Milwaukee area, we will also usher in our 8th year of transforming an abandoned urban lot into a food-producing education farm of jaw-dropping beauty. During our summer Youth Education Program (YEP!), we will watch the children find their love for eating vegetables in just a few short months, forever changing the course of their lives. And as our Food Leader Certification Program sends our mission spiraling outward to people across the state of Wisconsin, I know that we are on the right path.

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In the coming year, we will put a renewed focus on growing The Victory Garden Urban Farm. The agriculture sector in Wisconsin is the largest of all sectors, totaling 8 BILLION dollars worth of revenue, while our small-scale farmers are aging out of the industry, leaving an ever-widening gap of expertise. With your help, we will use The Farm as an opportunity to ensure that urban Milwaukeeans can conceive of farming as a rewarding and sustainable career.

Urban agriculture must be a consistent presence in the lives of urban dwellers if we are to walk toward the advancement of a food system that feeds all people healthy sustainably grown food and fosters OUR local economy, OUR people, and OUR ecosystem.

But we do not, and cannot do this work alone. We need each and every one of you to walk with us, putting your dollars and your time where your heart already lives. Every gift you give to the Victory Garden Initiative is a step in the right direction, and we are so grateful for your support. Please continue to walk with us by making your gift to VGI today.

~Gretchen

 

 

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What our program participants say

Friends,

I traveled to Sedona, Arizona a couple years ago, and made it my personal quest to understand the energy vortexes that are claimed to be present there. I mosied around at the local rock shop where people were purchasing an array of sparkling crystals that they were planning to ‘charge’ at the vortexes.

“Can you tell me what kind of energy is charging the crystals?”, I asked.

sedona“Its energy from the earth’s force.” someone told me.

“Where does the energy come from?”, I asked someone else.

“It’s the energy of all things.”, a young man told me.

“Why is the energy here?” I asked a 60-something lady.

“Some places have more energy than others, and this place seems to have more energy every time I come here. It’s healing.”

Ever since, I have wondered, if Sedona does indeed have some kind of alluring energetic qualities, that have in essence created the space. I did get a special feeling there, that I ponder even to this day.

Eight years ago, we were approached by Milwaukee Urban Gardens because the City of Milwaukee was hopeful that the 1.5-acre lot at 220 E. Concordia could be used as an urban agriculture site. When I walked onto this lot, it was a crisp day in the very early spring.  The sun was shining brightly on the entire lot and I was immediately enchanted. We imagined the entire lot lush with a harvestable forest, vines hanging with plump tomatoes, birds and butterflies fluttering about.  We imagined people gathering there to grow food together, building community and living a more sustainable, nutritious life.

From that time, a handful of people were compelled to transform this land from an abandoned tax foreclosed lot to the lush urban farm that it is today. And this lush farm, now called the Victory Garden Urban Farm, drew in more people, more activity, and seemingly more energy.

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Goose Island Brunch at the farm

Apparently, this piece of land has affected many others in the same way.  I now give 2 or more tours per week at the farm.  The neighbors come in to harvest fresh vegetables; students from area schools receive specialized, hands-on education programs about growing and eating good food; and our farmer sends produce to micro-local restaurants customers.

 

A couple years ago, the farm, drew a retired Belgian engineer, who brought with him dozens of edible perennials, and more fortitude than any 7 college interns advancing the farm even further.

Last year, someone planned a surprise marriage proposal at the farm.  Just last week, The Goose Island Brew Company held the most charming brunch at the farm. I watched nearly 100 people who had never been there before, look around, eyes wide, in awe of the oasis before them.  The Farm seems to be buzzing with more energy than ever.

HarambeeRecently, as I was perusing real estate websites, I noticed the obvious donut shape around The Farm, suggesting that there are no houses immediately surrounding that farm that are either for sale or foreclosed. Unusual in this area.  A sign perhaps, of this energy’s allure, bringing residents to live, work and play by the farm.

This question still wiggles around in my mind, however – Did the people bring the earth’s energy to this site or did the earth’s energy bring the people?…. Or even more, is there a difference?

 

Come see us and get the vibe. I dunno, bring your crystals.  Maybe it’s really a thing. Can’t hurt to give it a try.

~Gretchen

 

Victory Garden Urban Farm

Victory Garden Urban Farm as it looks today!                                                             Photo Courtesy: Lance Massey