by Gretchen Mead
Founder & Executive Director
I want to tell you a story.
Once upon a time, a group of neighbors learned about a parcel of barren, unutilized, city-owned land. It was an acre and a half of land, not a previous industrial waste site, right in the city of Milwaukee. Full sun, amazing location! The friends stood on the land, looking around in an oddly dreamy way, imagining a lush, abundant, ecosystem that grows food for the surrounding community.
They imagined children picking from a magical food forest. The saw fat, plump tomatoes wet with late summer dew. They saw picnics and potlucks. Singing and dancing. They saw the the stuff fairy tales are made of. Considering all the factors—lack of access to fresh produce, ecological degradation, food related health epidemic, local and global food insecurity, the grid-locking constraints of politics and business, economic resources being outsourced through the food system, the need for systemic change of this wicked problem—the friends listened to the loudening chatter in the back of their minds and found that they had no choice but to eschew their normal routine and get to work fixing it. (Anything else was to deny the full human experience of their friends and neighbors.) So they set to work, righting the wrongs of the food system by turning this land into a robust, community-based urban fruit and vegetable farm.
Turns out that the friends were not alone. Hundreds—even thousands—of people wanted to join in the fixing. As people learned of the project, they offered what they could. Soil donations came. Landscapers brought wood chips and leaves for composting. Church groups came to clean up garbage. Neighbors offered a water hook-up to provide water for plants. People signed up to help build water-retaining berms and swales. Young and learning carpenters built a small outdoor classroom and rainwater harvesting shelter. Expert chefs lent their passion and skill to turn garden-fresh food into dishes sold at fundraisers. Teachers brought their classrooms to learn about math among the fruit trees. Neighbors prepared authentic Puerto Rican rice and raw kale salad for community members. Children came to the garden to help plant. And weed. And water. And harvest. And EAT. Especially to eat. Or perhaps especially to make friends. Yes, especially to make friends.
But this is not the happy ending to the fairy tale, and the building is not complete. Adjacent to this 1.5-acre farm are three homes shuttered during the foreclosure crisis, with more concentric circles of economic loss in neighboring blocks. The church across the street is empty, having turned over three congregations since the friends began this vision five seasons ago. Just a few weeks ago, a neighbor was shot and killed in the street on a warm Sunday afternoon.
Food is the uniter in this fairy tale, no doubt, but uniting us is not enough. We must build on this moment, on the glory of this land now known as Concordia Gardens, and use it to make even bigger impact. We must use this site to heal economic, racial, and systemic devastation caused and fostered by a broken food system. Though Victory Garden Initiative has launched this opportunity, it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to begin building the future. It is your time to join in on the fixing. The time is now.
In the next year, in addition to all the motivating and action-based programs that we run, Victory Garden Initiative will double down on its efforts and commitments in the community surrounding Concordia Gardens. The lush urban farm there is the beginning of a small “Agrihood,” an intentional community surrounding and supported by this community-based farm. With your generous donation, can we truly make this fairytale a life-changing reality for the Milwaukee community. When we listen to the chatter in the back of our mind, apathy is not an option.
Hear it. Feel it. Build it.