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