Many of you heard the news that after decades of painting a powerful vision of a sustainable, community-based food system, Growing Power has closed its doors leaving behind an incredible legacy and several projects around town that will need either support or transitioning. Recently, I sat in front of the Milwaukee County Board’s Park and Rec Committee to finalize a resolution that Victory Garden Initiative will help with the next iteration of one of these projects, the Oak Creek Parkway Orchard, an 8-acre parcel of land that has been dedicated to orchard space and was formerly managed by Growing Power. While at the meeting, one county board member asked, “Is the recent loss of Growing Power an indication that Urban Agriculture isn’t going to keep the promises that it made to the city as an economically viable effort?” The room sat nervously for a moment while I explained that from our end, things are going strong. We are a robust organization with a strong board, successful programs, and careful management of our finances.
What I didn’t get a chance to say is that the well-intended county board member was asking the wrong question and therefore, I gave him the wrong answer. After the loss of Sweetwater Organics, and now Growing Power, perhaps we can draw some conclusions that aquaponics has so far not proven to be an economic force, however, this is a limited view of success. I can’t help but wonder when it became common place to see projects as a success only if they come with an economic benefit.
Looking at Urban Agriculture from a different lens one would easily conclude that urban agriculture is thriving, pumping(?), and shifting on all levels, from grassroots groups to institutional partnerships, to corporate programming. While Growing Power quiets, Green Vets has taken its own direction with Growing Power, according to a recent Journal Sentinel article. Meanwhile, there is much buzz about Venice Williams’, director of Alice’s Garden announcement that she is leaving the church that houses the Body and Soul Healing Center and renovating a new healing center. Simultaneously, as many as a dozen young farmers are launching small independent efforts around town, at the large gardens at 6th and Howard, in Riverwest, and in partnership with the UW Extension. The Fondy Food Market is working with the city and other partners to expand its market space. The BeerLine Trail project has made Urban Agriculture a major component of its strategic plan. Even mega-nonprofits that do emergency food relief, such as Feeding America are now claiming that urban agriculture is part of their strategic plan for feeding our community. The TIME for Urban Agriculture is only just beginning. Urban Agriculture HAS proven itself as a gateway for community action, spiritual healing, neighborhood redevelopment (think Walnut Way), re-imagining health, feeding people good food, and maintaining deep cultural traditions. All of these benefits derive from Urban Agriculture – AND, in spite of competing against the corporate industrial complex of the food system, Urban Agriculture still manages to make a small income in many cases.
Victory Garden Initiative is a great example of this. While earning a modest income to support our programs, we have been doing this work for nearly TEN years.
They say that time flies when you are having fun. Time also apparently flies when you are helping people grow their own food. We’ve spent ten years helping people in Milwaukee (and sometimes surrounding communities) grow their own food by developing programs, evaluating our work, writing grants, and bringing people together. Ten years of teaching people how to compost, start seedlings, and plant trees. Tens years of bringing people together with the purpose to implement their shared values of community, good food, sustainability, equity, and health, helping them find a route from their hearts to their actions. Ten years of moving away from the corporate industrial food system, to one that cares for this community. Ten years of transforming people’s yards and homes into edible, more ecologically vibrant urban landscapes.
All of this started at my own kitchen table, which we outgrew in a few years, and moved to the Milwaukee Environmental Consortium (MEC). As serendipity would have it, just as MEC is in need of a new space, THE MOST PERFECT building across the street from The Farm has opened up and is ready for a new owner. The building is a former Pabst Pub, and includes a large public gathering space for learning and eating, an adequate kitchen space, storage space for equipment and preserved foods, and office and meeting space. The building has all that we could ask for… plus character – hardwood floors, cream city brick, and even the original icebox in the basement.
Though we have been doing this work for ten years, our new building will give us the ability to move to a deeper level of impact, meaning, and connection. We will serve more neighbors, teach more people, and share more good food. Once in the building, we will have deeper partnerships with the neighboring schools and community organizations. We will launch a CSA program this spring and expand our partnership with local restaurants. Our workforce development projects will be expanded, offering more food processing and culinary programs. We will cook meals, directly from the garden, with and for our neighbors. We will invite you all to be our guests.
Join us on February 22nd, at the Fruity Nutty Affair, to see the official kick-off of our building project.
We can’t wait to share this moment with you all,
Click here to see images of the new building.