In Food We Trust

Nearly all of us have been in a situation in which we have been severely betrayed and we learned that someone we love is not who we thought they were.  Our belief in the reliability, truth or strength of a person is forever diminished.  At best, a breach in trust can trigger our own personal growth, resilience, autonomy of spirit, and a more solid foundation for relationships moving ahead. But, depending on the violation, our own personal tendencies, and so many other factors, this lack of trust can forever shake the foundation of who we are. Sometimes the anger, sadness, and even apathy can consume people for the rest of their lives.  

As you seek support you will be counseled that forgiveness is the key to moving forward, that keeping the anguish in your heart will only harm you.

But what if the betrayal keeps happening? What if the impact of repeated betrayals causes irreparable damage and on-going trauma to the person who has been injured? What if one cannot escape the betrayal because it is out of one’s control? Is the act of forgiveness truly an adequate response to a person who will harm others for the duration of his life? Forgiveness, it seems, is an overly simplistic response to harmful behaviors that ought be stopped.  

I’m going to make a leap here, and suggest that this feeling of betrayal is happening all around us right now. Every institution, law, corporation, politician, every cornerstone that holds the foundation of this country is under scrutiny, and is the chosen perpetrator of some group’s betrayal, weaving a web of suspicion, outrage and rage so complex, its source is no longer identifiable. A lack of trust has consumed the national psyche, and we walk around holding post-trauma emotions and hyper-vigilance, our heart-racing, ready to pounce on anyone who reminds us of (?) the betrayer…. whomever or whatever that betrayer may be.  Hands

So, what does one do in a time when corporations are selling us out for larger profits overseas? When the banking regulators are in cahoots with the mortgage lenders? When the DNR gets defunded to protect big money-interests rather than environmental, our church institutions fail to protect children, and the FDA has lost control over the industries they manage? When it seems that we have been betrayed by every layer of civilized society, what does one do?  

Well, I for one, suggest forgiveness.

Just kidding. I don’t suggest forgiveness.

Forgiveness simply isn’t enough when you are dealing with repeat offenses. At some point, we must decide that we are going to act in our own best interest to no longer be in a position to be subject to betrayal… in other words, we must change the power dynamic so that the untrustworthy do not have control.

Food has been at the center of this conversation about institutional trust and betrayal.  We have been subject to an industry that wants control over the world’s genetic code, that over produces corn syrup, that raises animals in cruel and unnatural ways and suppresses good food science that could save lives. We have found shoe rubber chemicals in our bread and our kids have gotten sick because of the food they eat in school. Our money supports the workers of the global agricultural industry who are modern day slaves. It’s time to know exactly what we are eating, it’s time to stop being the victims of institutional betrayal and take back our food system.

Thinkers like Michael Pollan and Vandana Shiva have allowed us to see through the malignant behaviors of the food industry, and have triggered us to go back to the roots of food… quite literally.  We, all of us, as agricultural beings, are becoming ever more determined to remove ourselves from a relationship with the industrial food system that moved beyond a few incidents of betrayal to an abusive relationship, leaving us sick and vulnerable.  

We seem to be saying, “No More.”  We have grabbed fiercely ahold of our internal locus of control, and said, “We aren’t going to interact with that untrustworthy, hornswaggling food system again, unless it is on our own terms.”

So here we are homesteading, making our own yogurt, going to farmer’s markets in droves, heading to restaurants that support our local food producers.  We are purchasing foods with our conscience.  We are growing our own food, in our own space and saying to those that can no longer be trusted, “We won’t take it any more.”

Join us, all of you, this month, today, in taking our power back into our own hands, where we can rely on the source.  Come help the kids in Harambee know that their work is valuable to this community by purchasing the vegetables they helped grow.  Decide to make change in your own community by registering for our year long Food Leader Certification Program. Join us at the FarmRaiser in September, or host a Five Mile Meal, in order to expand this rich network of people who are demanding change.  
Action is the pathway towards healing ourselves.

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Farewell from Alysse

by Alysse Gear
Program Support Specialist

A few weeks ago, our FarmStand opened for the season. In between weeding, planning, talking responsibilities, and eating salads fresh from the garden, I told two of our main youth staff (self-proclaimed managers Alex and Ivan—see section above) that I would be leaving a little early this year. Their response: “I know you’ll still be here, Alysse.”

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This is my favorite photo from our first summer of the FarmStand. Pictured are Imani, Alex, Davion and one of Alex’s little brothers.

In nearly three years of growing up alongside each other—them quite literally, me in a whole slew of nonprofit skills—they know me too well to expect me to stop coming to Concordia Gardens. After all, helping with the FarmStand has never been an official part of my job, but I find myself there on Thursdays more weeks than I don’t. Watching the kids funnel their creativity, thoughtfulness and energy into the FarmStand, turning into the sharpest little entrepreneurs in the process, gives me so much hope for our future. And it is exactly the kind of thing I want to be part of every single day.

After years of writing grants (with a special place in my heart for our youth education), marketing our programs and empowering volunteers to help make them happen, doing much of the administrative dirty work to keep this beautiful organization afloat, crunching numbers and running events, it is time for my bittersweet departure.

My time at Victory Garden Initiative has challenged me to think bigger, empowered me to turn my ideas into reality, and showed me just how powerful a group of people can be with a common vision. July 21 will be my last day on staff, but it will certainly not be my last as part of this movement.

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I hope to see you at the FarmRaiser on Sat., Sept. 10!


So now it’s up to all of us—the volunteers, the donors, the supporters, the cheerleaders, the community. It’s up to us to keep digging up our lawns and replacing them with gardens, sharing peas and conversations with passersby. It’s up to us to take a little bit of money we save from growing our own food to donate a garden for a family in need. It’s up to us to lend a hand, turning the desires of our hearts into the actual, tangible world we wish to see.

Looking back on the 2013 Victory Garden Initiative that I joined—not even 1,500 gardens yet, three staff, Concordia Gardens’ production area just a sparkle in Gretchen’s eye—I am so proud to see how far we have come. We’re DOING this!

As I move on to pursue a career in teaching elementary school, I know our beloved VGI is in excellent, incredibly resourceful, capable and creative hands. And I don’t just mean Kelly’s and Alex’s, Gretchen’s and Quinn’s—I mean all of ours. Since that very first little BLITZ in 2009 that started it all, this has been a community effort, an incredibly resilient vehicle for all of us to pour our hopes and dreams into, yielding delicious food and stronger community.

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Eric, Yaa, Ahmed and I with the last soil delivery of the 2015 BLITZ. Volunteers (and Public Allies!) like these three are what keep this mission moving.

So before I depart, I want to use my one last newsletter for a few personal requests to ensure our momentum continues forever and ever until VGI is no longer needed; “When fruit trees fill our parks and nut trees are harvested by our neighbors, when food pantries house vegetable gardens and school children participate in growing their lunches, we will have a secure, sovereign, socially just and sustainable food system”—this is VGI’s vision.

  • Visit the FarmStand! It’s open 2-6 every Thursday, and Concordia Gardens’ produce is divine.
  • Join the Food Leader Certificate Program! My “unofficial” project as a 2013 Food Leader was to make a leap into the gardening and environmental education world—and it’s safe to say I succeeded. This is your chance to invest in yourself, and I hope you take it.
  • Sign up for a volunteer orientation in July! These are the last I will be leading, and I’d really like to see you.

I am forever thankful for my time with all of you.

Until we meet again,
Alysse

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Our Attitude of Gratitude

by Gretchen Mead
Executive Director

Friends,

With deep thanks we wind down this year’s BLITZ, our 8th.  We take the gifts that you have given us to heart, and always, always utilize them to help more people grow their own food.  Though we will be challenged to thank every single person who helped us build 555 gardens this year, we are going to give it our best shot.

BLITZ photo for Blog

 

Deep thanks to all of our gardeners, the hundreds of you who purchased gardens, yes, even for the smallest amount of money. It is your desire to make this world a little bit better by growing your own food that makes it all real. Real gardens. Real food. Real people. Stacking up by the hundred every year, there are now thousands of you in Milwaukee. Thank you.

And to the volunteers. The hundreds of you as well. You worked SO hard, through inclement weather, when you could have been relaxing on your patio, when you could have chosen not to care; you built gardens for people all over Milwaukee and supported a mission that you believe in.

Thank you to the hundreds of individuals who signed up all on your own.

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And thank you to the below team efforts: 

  • 88.9 Radio Milwaukee
  • Accounting Professionals
  • Blitzdkriegs Men’s Roller Derby
  • Colectivo Coffee
  • Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin
  • GMR Milwaukee
  • Green Design Center
  • Independence First
  • Johnson Controls
  • Lowe’s
  • Mandel Group
  • Milwaukee Peace Corps Association
  • Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation
  • Mount Mary Dietetics students
  • NorthShore Bank
  • Outpost Natural Foods Co-op
  • Physicians Accounting
  • Representative Evan Goyke
  • UnitedHealthcare Community Plan
  • USBank
  • Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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Thank you to all those partner organizations who supported the BLITZ and/or received gardens during the BLITZ, some whom we have worked with for years and some new.  We are honored to work with you, shoulder to shoulder, making Milwaukee a stronger community.

THANK YOU:

  • Centro Hispano Milwaukee – Head Start
  • Clarke Square Neighborhood Initiative
  • CommonBond Communities
  • Company Brewing
  • Congress Public School
  • Ebenezer Church
  • Five Points Neighborhood Association
  • Fratney School
  • Garden Homes Neighborhood & 30th Street Industrial Corridor
  • Grateful Girls, Inc.
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Housing Resources Inc.
  • International Institute of Wisconsin
  • Jewish Family Services
  • Kingo Lutheran Church
  • Latinos por la Salud
  • Martin Drive Neighborhood
  • Milwaukee Riverkeeper
  • Mitchell Park Domes
  • Neu-Life Community Development
  • North Shore Montessori School
  • Pierce School
  • Reformation Angel Community Gardens
  • Renew Environmental Public Health Advocates
  • Sherman Park Neighborhood Association
  • Silver Spring Neighborhood Center
  • St. Anthony High School
  • St. Francis Children’s Center
  • Tabernacle Community Baptist Church
  • The North End (Mandel Group)
  • Trowbridge School of Discovery and Technology
  • Urban Ecology Center
  • Washington Park Partners
  • Wauwatosa Montessori School
  • West Allis Health Department
  • Wisconsin Conservatory of Lifelong Learning
  • Women Encouraging Women
  • Zablocki Elementary School

Thanks to those champions who make connections, bring people in, and otherwise go out of their way to make this event shine.  We need your advocacy and willingness to go out of your comfort zone in order to bring people to this cause and ensure the work gets done.

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  • Aaron Habeck
  • Angela Mitchell – City of Milwaukee
  • Apple Jackson – Johnson Controls
  • Barbara Richards
  • Britney Roberson – Washington Park Partners
  • Bryan Hartsook – Wisconsin DNR
  • Carl Nilssen – Riverworks
  • Celia Benton – Layton Boulevard West Neighbors
  • Corrie Mitchell – US Bank
  • Eric Fowler
  • Gail Bennett
  • George Bregar – Company Brewing
  • Grace Sherer
  • Hamptony Guridy
  • Hannah Harris – Habitat for Humanity
  • Ian Brown – City of Milwaukee
  • James Jutrzonka – Blue Ribbon Organics
  • Jane Hawes & David Shapiro
  • Janine Gasparich
  • Jeff “Dirtman” Leswing
  • Jennifer Ziegler
  • Joy Murray – Enterprise Truck Rental
  • Joyce Andrews – Stein’s Garden & Home
  • Ken Gear
  • Mary Pipito & Wild Thing
  • Nick Vannucci – Garden of Flavor
  • Ramie Camarena
  • Pete Brands
  • Sannia Green
  • Sophia Carpenter
  • Wendy Mireles – Cafe Corazon
  • Zack Brazan – Habitat for Humanity

Thanks to all of the deep generosity of our sponsors.  With your gifts, we were able to say “yes” to every single family that wanted a garden.

  • Bliffert Hardware
  • Blue Ribbon Organics
  • Brewers Family Foundation
  • City of Milwaukee Neighborhood Improvement Development Corporation & Strong Neighborhoods
  • Case/CNH Industrial
  • Colectivo
  • Echelon Innovation Campus
  • Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin
  • Garden of Flavor
  • Green Tree Garden Club
  • Habitat for Humanity & Lowe’s
  • Johnson Controls
  • Meijer
  • Organic Valley
  • Stein’s Garden and Home
  • The North End
  • United Healthcare
  • WE Energies
  • Zilber Family Foundation

With DEEP GRATITUDE,

~gretchen

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Record-breaking BLITZ 2016

by Kelly Moore Brands
Community Program Manager

Early mornings, late evenings, sleeping like a bear in hibernation in the in-between hours.

Muscling through each day to build as many gardens as we can. 27309621341_22b95ecf05_o

Getting dirty, shoes filled with soil, dealing with rain and wind and hail (oh, my!), but also sunshine and laughter and the smiles of hundreds of volunteers and gardeners.

Relying on our amazing team to get it all done.

Five-hundred and fifty-five gardens in 15 days. That is the BLITZ.

It is one of the most rewarding things that we do here at Victory Garden Initiative – building gardens for people of all ages, ethnicities and income levels in every ZIP Code of Milwaukee and beyond. Just one example of how lucky we are to live here and do this work: our volunteers are incredibly tough – when the weather failed to bring us warmth and sunshine and daisies, they had to deal with it. When I asked them to go out all day and build gardens, they came back at the end of the day, soaking wet but still smiling, telling me that they built 72 gardens in the pouring rain! But with rain comes rainbows, and this year, by the end of the BLITZ, it was all rainbows:

  •       381 gardens built and filled with soil
  •       171 yards of soil delivered to fill existing gardens for a total of 552 gardens established26773820233_b68ccca3c7_o
  •       3,100 packets of fruit, vegetable and flower seeds delivered to gardeners
  •       1,000 vegetable seedlings made available to BLITZ gardeners at Weber’s Greenhouse thanks to Weber’s, MATC and MPS teachers and students
  •       Over 350 volunteers including groups from 19 Milwaukee organizations
  •       12 gardens installed at churches, 31 at schools and 37 at community spaces
  •       Over 50 gardens installed in the Washington Park neighborhood alone (a new record!)
  •       Sponsorships from 17 local and national organizations, helping us subsidize more gardens than ever before!

With each garden, we know we are closer to building a food system that feeds all people equally; with each food crop planted in someone’s yard, we are helping Milwaukee engage in healthy practices. Whether you BLITZed with us, painted signs, or supported us in any other way, thank you for all your hard work and dedication. As you can see, we literally could not do this without you.

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Thank you especially to: 

  • Case/CNH for the use of their skid steer
  • OneTouchPoint for donation of our Move Grass Grow Food yard signs
  • Our BLITZ Committee – the best in the business!
    • Dirtman (Jeff Leswing) – you are in the trenches with us every day and move soil like nobody’s business
    • Aaron Habeck – your dedication to the food movement is inspiring, and your truck driving skills are on point
    • Dennis Grzezinski – your constant support, from painting signs to connecting us to donors, helps us keep growing the BLITZ
    • Chris Steinkamp – we wouldn’t have wheelbarrows (or maps!) without you
    • Mary Creegan – you get the Energizer Bunny award – always asking “what more can I do?”
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The Road to Confidence: A Food Leader’s Story

by Natalie Kane & Hannah Kiger
Events & Outreach Interns

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Brian (pictured above at the 2014 Fruity Nutty Affair) heard about the Food Leader Certificate Program through taking gardening classes at the Urban Ecology Center (UEC). But this was by no means the beginning of one of our best volunteers’ food stories. Growing up in difficult economic times, Brian remembers what it’s like to not have access to the nutritious food he needed. “I grew up in a family where we had periods of time where we didn’t have a lot of money and we got food that wasn’t always the best given to us. So knowing that and growing up and now having a good job I’ve always remembered that not everybody has the opportunity that I now have. Not everybody has a choice. So working for those people, whether it’s my job or not my job, is important to me,” he explains.

“I also had some health issues for a period of time that were based from a poor diet. I started to eat healthy and got a membership at Outpost. Then I bought a house and wanted a garden. My garden was not really successful the first year which lead me to the classes at the UEC and eventually to the Food Leader Certificate Program.”

Brian initially joined the program to fine-tune his gardening skills, but he was also interested in the community-building skills that he could gain through the retreats. “For me, the retreats were sort of difficult, because prior to that I was a little bit more shy. There were a lot of team activities that we did together. We cooked together and ate meals together. It was just a lot of opportunity to open up and meet new people.” He learned about different types of people through the program and even made some friends: “It was just great to meet people who think like me,” he says.

After completing the program, Brian was able to revamp his home garden and use the rest of the skills he learned in other aspects of his life. “The program has helped me build a lot of confidence in what I can do and what I’m good at. I walked into it not really knowing anything about gardening—and walked out feeling super confident. I’ve actually become a Master Gardener and a Garden Mentor since then.”

Brian’s garden has even created a tighter relationship within his own neighborhood: “I get a lot of positive comments about my garden. The first year I grew pumpkins and squash, people loved it. We actually took those pumpkins and we carved them for Halloween with the neighbors on both sides of us, and the kids loved it. It’s built a small community. The guy that lives across from us and the people that live on either side come to hang out in our front yard. It wasn’t like that before. I think that if everyone had gardens that would be awesome. It would get everyone out in their front yards and talking with each other.” Amen, Brian.

“I didn’t have all of this care or knowledge to begin with. It’s really been a process to get from where I was to where I am now. It was a radical swing in my lifestyle and thought process. There’s positive change all around us. You just have to find the bright spots.”

We are so grateful to have Brian as one of our Garden Mentors—and one of our brightest spots. Interested in becoming a Food Leader yourself? Check out our webpage and watch for the application coming fall 2016.

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Steering our Collective Curiosities

by Gretchen Mead
Executive Director

As the story goes, Sir Isaac Newton was resting under an apple tree when an apple fell square on his noggin, triggering one of the most brilliant lines of questioning in human history, leading to the discovery of gravity. Newton’s restful observation led to curiosity. And curiosity led to discovery.

Observation has a way of doing that – triggering our curiosities.  

Last week I was on a spring break stay-cation with my kids. It was soothing to settle in with them, observe their interactions, intentionally foster downtime free from lists, technology, expectations, a schedule. The process of settling in was interesting: The first day they were irritated and bored. For a brief moment I thought, “We have to plan something for these kids to do so spring stay-cation is not a total bomb! Bust out the bouncy houses and movie theaters ASAP!” Luckily, early morning on day two, before anyone else was awake, I went for a walk.

Being the gardener that I am, I love spring deeply. But this year, the busyness and task list of everyday life along with larger world dynamics has left me with a dismal feeling about the rush of spring. Something is not right. I sit at my computer screen with my eyeballs wide and trancelike, flooding my brain with brief, harsh stories—political strife, mass displacement of our fellow humans, unrest, war, poverty, climate disruption—all wearing on my spirit. My internal voice is unquiet, my mind busy with chatter, filled up to the top with more and more information to process. The moment that I stop the continuous stream of input, I feel an uncomfortable stirring. What is this sensation?

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When I was a child, I was often in close proximity to both the stinging nettles and jewelweed that grew wild in the bed of our creek. One day, I squeezed the succulent jewelweed and found a cool, slimy juice in my hand. I applied the juice to the rash I had from running through the nettles ten minutes before and was soothed—a solution that arises from one’s experience with the earth. I’m no Isaac Newton, but much was discovered in that time.

Au contraire….am I feeling bored? Yes, I’m bored out of my gourd, too. Me AND the kids. How can this be?

It occurs to me: Boredom is a vastly important bellwether, the space between stimulation and curiosity. Overstimulation triggers an array of failed coping mechanisms–apathy to addiction, anxiety to depression. Boredom is the empty space that yawns when we are not being fed thoughts nor generating thoughts on our own. The state of boredom is an essential transition toward the curiosity necessary to deeply ponder and, like Newton, to discover the mysteries of the universe, whether they be scientific, divine, or both. These days, we do not have enough boredom to stimulate curiosity.

Curiosity, it seems, requires observation, quietude and a free-flowing mind. At this moment in time, we are doing a pretty awful job of teaching ourselves and our children how to be bored, so that we can be curious.

Not bad for a morning walk.

….

This realization drew my thinking to the spiritual therapy our new gardeners often report experiencing when they recognize the benefits of gardening. Gardening transitions our minds from anxiety to calm. It gives us a moment to be bored and time to observe and become curious about the garden. And it often goes even deeper than that, right toward one’s sense of God in relationship to the natural world at their fingertips.

Busyness takes us away from God (or Allah, or Yahweh, or the Life Force, or the Vortex, or….). Gardening, the slow meandering process of using our hands in the soil, moves us toward God. It moves our children toward God. And it fosters our innate curiosity about the world around us, moving us toward our most deeply grounded, human selves in relationship to the natural world of which we are a part.

….

When I got home from my walk, the kids and I grabbed a warm, fuzzy blanket and sat down on the porch to think about our garden. Surely the grapes will produce this year, the pears will be fat, and we will discover the way a specific beetle seems to keep away the aphids.

This spring, unplug. Get bored. Do it long enough to point yourself and/your family members toward curiosity.  Who knows what might emerge from this place…another Newton story, or perhaps a glimpse of God.

There many ways to get there, but gardening is my favorite.

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Green Bay Garden BLITZ: April Update

by Kim Diaz (Green Bay Garden BLITZ, Food Leader 2015-2016)
and Alysse Gear (Victory Garden Initiative – Program Support Specialist)

Blitz boxes are SOLD OUT.

Don’t worry, Milwaukee—we’re talking about the Green Bay Garden BLITZ! It is with pride and joy that we share some updates about this BLITZ Your Town success led by two of our very own Food Leaders who will graduate the program this August.

Green Bay, our very first BLITZ Your Town trainee, is about to enter their third Garden BLITZ since their training in 2014. The Green Bay community has snapped up all the raised bed garden registrations, with 100 garden orders placed. The only room left is on the wait list!

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In addition to all the individual homes receiving gardens, our friends in Green Bay are also installing boxes at the following locations this year: Veterans Manor, Salvation Army, Boys and Girls Club, Karaws Childrens Garden, East High School, Golden House, Clarity Care, Royal Montessori Academy, The Mustard Seed, Dean Foods, Nature’s Way, and Encompass Day care. (Many thanks to Angela for managing the sales and Cheryl for placing those reduced-fee beds!)

Can’t wait for the Great Milwaukee Victory Garden BLITZ on May 7-May 21? Get your BLITZ biceps growin’ at the Green Bay Garden BLITZ on April 29-May 1. (We’re already doing some push-ups to prep for pushing all those wheelbarrows of rich, organic Blue Ribbon Organics compost-soil blend here in MKE.)

Other Green Bay Garden Blitz highlights:

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Green Bay Garden Blitz 2016 T-Shirts are done!! Many thanks to the Blitz volunteers who spent their Saturday making our tees—with special gratitude to Tami Cornette for designing them, Linda and Ben Grignon (from Woodland Studios) for doing the screen prints, and Sara Georgel for organizing and coordinating the screen printing event.

The Green Bay Garden Blitz’s next community-building adventure: Volunteer Training on Thursday, April 21st at 5:30 PM at Brown County Extension. Their goals: 100 volunteers for the Blitz weekend, 6 to 8 teams a day, 33 to 44 volunteers a shift. All those exciting numbers add up to 100 Blitz boxes delivered and installed in one weekend!

Whew. Are you ready?

Sign up to volunteer for the Green Bay Garden Blitz here.

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Deep Impact: A Food Leader’s Story

by Natalie Kane & Hannah Kiger
Events & Outreach Interns

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Sammi Kaufman (third from the left), is a 2015 Food Leadership Certificate Program (FLCP) graduate. She joined the FLCP after hearing about a friend’s experience in it. Little did she know that her own experience would impact her life so deeply and mold her future path.

Being a part of the program kindled her passion for socially and environmentally just and nutritious food systems, and she says it gave her the extra push she needed to incorporate thinking about the food system into every part of her life. She says, “I found that the things I was thinking about in the program were the things I wanted to be thinking about all the time.”

Sammi learned about more than just the food system. Through the weekend retreats, she found the time to relax and connect with like-minded people. “I’m the kind of person who’s always running from place to place,” she says. “The time I was able to spend at the weekend retreats was relaxing and helped me connect to something bigger than my day-to-day hustle.”

She also found great value in the Move Grass Classes, because the things she was learning deepened her relationships. She says, “I learned how to prune and care for fruit trees, knowledge I then used to prune my parents’ fruit trees. They loved that I learned how to do that. I was able to take what I learned and pass it on to someone else. It was very rewarding.”

Sammi’s food story didn’t end with her graduation from the program. She was starting her second year of graduate school when she finished the program, and her Food Leader Project has become her thesis. She says, “My project is a work in progress. I’ll be finishing my thesis this spring, and the work I’ve done has led me to pursue doctoral programs in Geography. I plan on using that to work in the food system for the rest of my life…So maybe by the end of my life I can say that I have finally completed the Food Leader Program!”

Check out Sammi’s blog all about dairy-free living, for delicious recipes (like the peach jam pictured below), reviews, and more!

Dairy Free State photo for blog(Photo Credit: Jesse Egan)

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Wooing the World with Grassroots, Sustainable Local Agriculture

by Gretchen Mead
Executive Director

Last week I had the great honor to sit in front of my son’s 1st and 2nd grade class. These 6- through 8-year-olds interviewed me about what Victory Garden Initiative does, asking me: “What inspires you?” and “Do you grow peaches?”

I was there to educate them, but believe me: I learned so much more than they did. The thing that struck me most was how quiet, intentional, focused and absolutely charming this room filled with 42 seven year-olds was. The culture was so purposeful and so kind-hearted, values and ethics permeating everything they learned. The teachers said very little, and the children aspired to participate the best they could. These educators maintained the quietest power over the class that I have witnessed in many years.

Recently, I have been reading and teaching about power in social movement and found some analysis of the United States’ rise to a superpower. Analyst Joseph Nye claims, “The United States has dominated others with [hard economic and military power], but it has also excelled in projecting ‘Soft Power’ with the help of its companies, foundations, universities, churches, and other institutions of civil society; US culture, ideals, and values have been extraordinarily important in [the rise of American power].” He goes on to define Soft Power as “the ability to shape others’ long-term attitudes and preferences” and makes the point that Soft Power is key to long-term national security.

Interesting point, Mr. Nye. So you are kinda saying if we can ensure people love us, they will be less likely to hurt us. Ha!

As the United Nations Climate Summit exclaims the role of agriculture in the proliferation of greenhouse gases; as countries across the globe close their doors to Monsanto, GMOs and Roundup; as the UN publishes reports about local, sustainable agriculture being the ONLY route forward to a sustainable future, perhaps it is time for the US to once again lead the way with ideals that the world will want to softly align with.

The problem is one of ‘Sticky Power.’ Back to Nye and his fascinating categorization of political power: Sticky Power is the kind that, once aligned with, either through hard economic and military coercion or Soft Power, get the aligners Stuck. It’s not all bad to be Stuck in some ways. In this most important example, consider if the US and China didn’t have entirely embedded economies; they would have no real reason to try to get along. Maybe ‘Sticky Power’ is the next candidate for a Nobel Peace Prize or for Time magazine’s Person of the Year.

To wrap all this up in time for you all to catch the next episode of Wisconsin Foodie, I suggest this means that it’s all up to us. The global economy and the power that it wields isn’t subject to the power of a government—ours or anyone else’s. It’s Stuck. It cannot heed the UN’s recommendations nor the huge amount of science pointing to the need for a dramatic shift in global agricultural practices. We can keep waiting for politicians to change policies and for big business to shift practices, but in spite of the great amount of accountability they—we—are all Stuck.

It seems the time for transparency has come. Time for our government to be honest about the Stuckness of it all, time for our government to remember that it is a government by the people, for the people and WITH the people; with the people is perhaps the most important piece. The Food Movement is big and bold. The people are speaking. Local, sustainable agriculture is the foundation of the people’s power through the way we spend our money, the enterprises we enter, the nonprofit work we support, the things we teach our children, and the culture we create. It’s time for the United States of America to once again charm the rest of the planet with its ideals and values, graciously earning the role as the Soft Power of the world.

Just like we learned in elementary school.

 

What do you think? Do you feel Soft or Stuck? Share your comments below or on Facebook!

 

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Annual Giving Campaign Thank You!

by Susie Ralston and Moshe Katz
VGI Board Members

Dear VGI Friends,

Thank you to every single person who contributed to this year’s Annual Giving Campaign. With your generosity, Victory Garden Initiative has set, accomplished, and surpassed a lofty goal, gratefully receiving over $30,000 to cap off a fruitful 2015. $20,000 was matched by the Herzfeld Foundation to fund our youth programs. THANK YOU!

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In 2015, VGI also elected two new Co-Chairs to lead our Board of Directors. Let’s take a moment to introduce ourselves and tell you a bit about why we decided to accept this role.

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If we haven’t yet met, my name is Susie Ralston, and I am proud and grateful to serve as one of your VGI Board Co-Chairs.

As a volunteer-turned-board member, many reasons compelled me to roll up my sleeves and support the “grow-your-own” food movement VGI is leading. Perhaps the most poignant one came on a warm, sunny day this summer when I took my 24-year-old daughter to visit Concordia Gardens: She grew up in a holistic environment filled with fresh food and now lives in the city of Chicago. My city girl got out of the car and stood in the middle of VGI’s urban oasis; she didn’t move but simply stood in awe of the neighbor children picking the carrots, greens and beans their families loved! The look in her eyes mirrored the glee in one boy’s eye as he shared his harvest with her.

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My name is Moshe Katz, your other Co-Chair. These past months have been a great expression of contributing to the things I believe in. I began working with VGI years ago when I built gardens for the renters in my apartment properties. I felt then, as I do now, that everyone should have an opportunity to grow their own food. Food gardening gets us outside and offers us the most nutritious fresh vegetables possible, teaches children lifelong lessons, and offers a timeless connection to the natural world.

Since I witnessed the effect of those gardens on my tenants, I have participated in helping many other garden projects grow though my work with VGI. When I was asked to be the Board Co-Chair, it was a natural progression of my commitment to this mission.

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As Board Co-Chairs, we are very proud of how 2015 has been a year filled with GROWTH at VGI, and we are committed to GROWING the organization in the new year! To ring in 2016, we would like to invite you to GROW with us in 16 ways:

  1. Grow your own food. On May 7-21, 2016, the Great Milwaukee Victory Garden BLITZ will continue with 500 more gardens. Purchase a garden for your yard, your child’s school, or your loved one–today!
  2. BLITZ Your Town. Does your community need to grow its own food movement? We can bring the BLITZ to your neighborhood.
  3. Become the Food Leader your community needs.
  4. Patronize our FarmStand to purchase your produce from kids growing and selling food in their own community!
  5. Celebrate with your comrades in this movement. Do you have your tickets yet for the 2016 Fruity Nutty Affair?
  6. Share your abundance. Do you put your money where your mouth is? Individual donors are the single most important funding source for VGI’s mission.
  7. Confirm your commitment to this work: Take the pledge and become a member.
  8. Host a dinner with your friends and our Executive Director to engage them in the grow-your-own food movement.
  9. Help us plan an event. (In August, our friends at Braise catalyzed our first 5-Mile Dinner!)
  10. Become a Garden Mentor and help your friends and neighbors grow their own food.
  11. Make your home the center of VGI activities in your neighborhood. First step: Potluck!
  12. Gather 9 other people in your community to win a Fruity Nutty orchard.
  13. Contribute your skills and talents to VGI’s infrastructure. Your marketing skills, community connections and green thumb have found a home: Volunteer!
  14. Come to Concordia Gardens for a work day.
  15. Be an intern.
  16. Come to the office and say hi! (We just want to see your happy face.)

In 2015, VGI grew more food in front yards, urban farms, schoolyards, businesses and along city trails than we could’ve predicted. It’s up to all of us to keep this momentum going—even when we want to be inside hibernating!

An undercurrent of support fuels these accomplishments, so in 2016, we will also continue to grow in our donor support, fundraising efforts, attendance at our annual events like the Fruity Nutty Affair and more. All this fruitful work is meaningful and delicious, but it could not happen without the investment of our community: you! We look forward to an exciting 2016 filled with even more GROWTH!

With deep gratitude,

Susie & Moshe

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