When I first arrived back to Milwaukee after spending two and a half years in the Peace Corps in rural Panama, where I had lived without electricity and showered under the stars, I was in a bit of culture shock. The grocery stores! The electric washer/dryers! The refrigerated pet food! It was all amazing, disgusting, enthralling and disappointing in turns. I longed to find a healthy balance between the way I had lived in Panama and the comfort-inducing inventions of the modern world (it would take a lot for me to give up my washing machine these days).
After traveling the globe, living on both coasts of the US and places in the middle, too, I never thought I would find an organization like Victory Garden Initiative, right in the place I had grown up, amid the sprawling suburbs of the Midwest. An organization that helps people grow their own food in innovative and action-oriented ways, that provides green space, that promotes a culture of knowing where your food comes from, in a quietly radical way.
I was lucky enough to land a job here after volunteering for a number of months. From the beginning, I was thrown right into the chaos, getting to know more neighborhoods in Milwaukee than I ever knew existed growing up. My husband and I bought a house in the city, and promptly started gardening on our own. While I was an agriculture volunteer in Panama, it is a vastly different experience to tend to a tropical garden than a temperate one. There, you can simply throw a stick in the ground and it will sprout roots and leaves within a matter of days. You just have to watch out for the loose chickens, horses and pigs (I lost so many plants to those damn piglets!). Milwaukee, in my own backyard; this is where I really learned to garden and grow food – experiencing powdery mildew and blossom end-rot, learning to companion plant and starting our own compost bin. Getting messy in the dirt, and enjoying every minute of it.
Being in the Peace Corps made me confident to conquer my fears, and helped prepare me for the more public opportunities presented to me by my job at VGI – representing the organization on both television and the radio, at big events and in front of intimate groups of really smart people. My time at VGI has been a vast learning and growing experience, and it has impacted me deeply. I’ve met incredible people whose lives have been impacted by our work – Food Leaders sharing their stories; kids at the FarmStand selling veggies; Garden Mentors, chefs and educators teaching others how to grow and eat good food; and each of the hundreds (thousands, really) of BLITZ volunteers, gardeners and sponsors I’ve been in touch with over the last two and a half years.
Together, you and I have planted 11 community orchards, delivered over 1,000 gardens (and we’ll deliver 500 more at this year’s BLITZ, fingers crossed!), hosted more than 30 Move Grass Classes, trained 18 Food Leaders and 45 Garden Mentors, and had a ton of fun doing it all. We are a community built on the knowledge that growing your own food empowers us all, connects us to the land, and gives us the freedom to eat what we want.
I feel so lucky to be connected to a network of talented and passionate people doing good environmental work across Milwaukee, from food to water to conservation policy to land stewardship and beyond. Thank you all for the work that you do, for the time you commit to good causes like VGI and for touching my life in a way that I will never forget.
I’d also like to extend a big, heartfelt thank you to all of my family and friends who have supported me and this organization’s work – to my parents and my husband, especially, for not only lending their vehicles and tools whenever I asked, but attending events and donating their time to volunteering with VGI. I am honored to know you and to be loved by you.
It will be difficult to separate myself from the daily tasks of this organization, but as I move on in my new role as Environmental Projects Coordinator at Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers, I know that I will run across many of you through that work, and I look forward to expanding my knowledge in Milwaukee’s water circles.
To all of you, the VGI Community: please continue to show up to events, to support VGI and its good work, to grow your own food, to show Gretchen, Beverly, Ian, Logan, Meenal and Eric (our new BLITZ Coordinator!) what an amazing group of people you are.
Until we meet again…now let’s get to work!
p.s. If you want to say farewell in person, come to the BLITZ! There’s still time to volunteer or get a garden or order soil to be delivered during the Great Milwaukee Victory Garden BLITZ – help us reach our goal!