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.

….

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.

….

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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Holiday Gift Giving Guide: VGI Partner Edition

by Natalie Kane
Events and Outreach Intern

Victory Garden Initiative is so grateful for the businesses in our community that find delicious and special ways to collaborate with us. Together, we are creating a food system that feeds us all well.

This holiday season, we have gift suggestions to help you show them the support they have shown us:

For your favorite brunch date:

SimpleKoreanBowlSimple Café is the place to bring the brunch-lover in your life. Their seasonal menu boasts delicious breakfast plates like pumpkin pancakes and one of VGI’s perennial favorites: the Korean breakfast bowl.

Spice up someone’s life and take them to Café Corazón. They source classic Mexican deliciousness from their family farm and other local outlets, feeding heart and soul for meat eaters, vegetarians, and vegans alike in a cozy little café. They may be known for their margaritas, but their brunch is not to be missed.

Beans and Barley is a one-stop-shop for your specialty grocery needs, and a perfect brunch location, too. They have a full service deli, catering services, bakery, market, and restaurant! (We can’t get over their little alpacas this season!)

For a culinary adventure with a friend:

Café Manna is dedicated to serving fresh, made-from-scratch food. Bring your favorite foodie here to try something new like one of their exotic sandwich creations or their guacamole potato skins!

Inspired by the exotic flavors of Spain and Portugal, Amilinda offers a unique dining experience downtown or gift cards for purchase online! And check out their gorgeous Portuguese-style rooster collection—the sweetest in the city.

For an aspiring chef (or someone who needs a little help in the kitchen!):

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Take a class with your friend that aspiring chef; purchase a Braise gift certificate online. Or pop in for their Odds N’ Ends Happy Hour (5-7 pm Tuesday-Thursday) and enjoy half off Braise bites at the bar!

Glorioso’s Italian Market offers daily specials, gift baskets, catering, and even culinary classes! Transport yourself and your loved ones to Italy by entering their market.

For a love that lasts through the seasons:

Visit Kasana in The Third Ward for fresh and local food or have them come to you! They bring organic and sustainable food to all the events they cater.

Meraki is a noun that is defined as the soul, creativity, or love put into something. Give the gift of their ever-changing menu selection filled with soul.

lereve

Can’t get your loved one a trip to France this holiday season? Stay in the Milwaukee area—Le Rêve has you covered. Le Rêve serves traditional French bistro breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and you can’t miss their pastries.

For the health nut:

Wildflour Bakery makes the yummiest healthy treats. Check them out online or in one of their four locations all around Milwaukee to give the wholesome gift of fresh baked goods.

Want to send delicious, healthy meals to someone you love? Purchase them Fresh Packs (ready-made, healthy, wholesome meals) from Urban Caveman and they’ll never be hungry!

For your holiday party guests:

If you’re throwing a holiday party or hosting a corporate event, check out Ball ’N Biscuit Catering. They’ll make whatever dish you want (even your Grandma’s secret recipes), or choose from their menus!

parta

Patra EcoDinnerware makes compostable, 100% natural dinnerware from fallen leaves that both your holiday party guests and the Earth will love.

Serve Martha’s Pimento Cheese to your guests. It’s perfect as an appetizer with crackers and can also be used as an ingredient in some very tasty dishes like pimento cheese burgers or pimento cheese and pumpernickel sandwiches!

Purple Door Ice Cream can make your party different and special this year by catering ice cream to your guests. They make over 130 flavors of ice cream (including seasonal eggnog, gingerbread, 3and peppermint), ice cream cakes, and ice cream sandwiches that guests of all ages are sure to enjoy!

For yourself and your family – because everyone deserves some lovin’:

One of our staff members loves to send a New Year card—what a nice holiday tradition! Clark Graphics can help with all your printing needs. In fact, they help us with all of ours!

Look to Community Building and Restoration for all of your home improvement needs. They are locally owned and pay special attention to your needs. No job is too big or small!

Share in the comments if you do your holiday shopping at any of these wonderful places!

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The Power of Intention

Dear Friends,

You could call it serendipity, but I call it intention.VGI-Logo-Stacked-Color-TransparentBkgrnd

Darian comes to the garden after school every day to work at the FarmStand. He and the other FarmStand kids sell the produce they helped grow to the neighbors. They make a little pocket cash, learn marketing skills, and understand the value of hard work. Darian takes home a bag of fresh veggies for his mother when he leaves. His family’s diet improves. His ability to focus in school increases and, unlike many of his cousins, he graduates from high school and enters college. For six months out of the year, 20 households eat fresh veggies that Darian helped grow.

Meanwhile, little JoAnn has a BLITZ garden in her front yard. She has access to all the good food she needs regardless, but when she is outside in the garden with her mother, watching the bees pollinate her tomatoes, she makes the connection between food and the urban ecology around her. When JoAnn grows up she naturally chooses to eat foods that are grown without the use of pesticcropped-img_20140904_162634.jpgides. She uses her dollars to create alternative food markets, contributing to a better world through her purchases.

Gayla walks from her house across the street from our small urban farm. When I mention that I haven’t seen her in a while, she tells me that she just got out of the hospital again. “This place is my saving grace.” She heads toward the production area with her small daughter in tow. They harvest a bag of veggies to cook for dinner.

Martha grew up on a small family farm. She recalls the day the family farm foreclosed. She was seven, and her family lost everything—including access to good, fresh food. After a lifetime of feeling the loss, Martha found our Food Leader program and began to respond. She started Gramma’s Gardens at area daycares in her hometown.

This could be serendipity. But I choose to believe that the deep intention of the good work that we do with YOUR support has made this long, otherwise unattainable string of events occur.

Research shows that people who garden eat more vegetables, are healthier and lead more productive, happier lives. Research shows that FarmRaiserneighborhoods with gardens have less violence and increased civic engagement. Research shows that kids who grow up gardening with a mentor have a stronger environmental ethic and are more likely to engage in land stewardship as an adult. Research shows that children who grow up eating home-grown vegetables are more likely to foster a local economy.

The only luck in this game, is that somehow, some way, we had a chance to share our mission with you.

Our goal this year is $30,000. The Herzfeld Foundation has offered us a $20,000 match in support of the youth education work we do at Concordia Gardens for a total of $50,000!

With intention, contribute to our work this year. We can foster serendipitous happenings all over Milwaukee by helping this community grow its own food.

Your intentions will multiply with every gardener.

~gretchen

PS: Today, we are thrilled to launch our first-ever text-to-donate service. To support this mission, text VICTORY to 27722 and follow the prompts to donate—and you might just be the first!  

PPS: I thought you would enjoy hearing from some more of the people we work with. Your support means the world to us.

“The work all of you do every day is inspiring and gives me hope for the future, as a lifelong resident of the inner city neighborhoods, which often receive harsh misunderstanding or a lack of attention altogether by so many other Wisconsin communities. Thank you for your example of going above and beyond your fair share of work.”

–       Gillian M., volunteer

 

“This event did more than train us on how to build garden boxes….it also helped us to build our sense of community by building a network of urban farmers that are growing their own food and working together to become a healthier and more self-sufficient, food-independent community. Thanks to VGI we have plowed the ground and planted seeds of good food for good health for so many Green Bay children and families.”

–       Kim D., Green Bay BLITZ Your Town! trainee

 

“VGI gave me the courage to stand in my own truth as a consumer, a community member, and most importantly as a leader in the food system. Moreover, VGI has served as a model for the development of Grow It Forward, the food-based project I lead.”

–        Amber D., Food Leader

 

“The garden really changed my life for the better. Last year, when I came out of the hospital, I had a stroke, and I wasn’t doing well both mentally and physically. My life just changed. If I go over there, I can actually feel God’s presence.”

–        Gainon E., Concordia Gardens neighbor

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2015 Holiday Gift Guide

by Natalie Kane
Events and Outreach Intern

The holiday season is the perfect time of year to show those around us how thankful we are for them. The trouble? How to give a meaningful gift that friends and family will appreciate and use all year round. Whether you’re a pro gift-giver or someone who has no idea where to start, we’ve come up with some ideas for someone close to you or for a community member in need.

Give the gift of growth.

Move Grass Grow Food in a BLITZ garden!

Registration for BLITZ gardens begins December 15, 2016.

At VGI, we believe that everyone deserves access to fresh, healthy food all the time. This means you, your neighbors, your friends and family – EVERYONE! During the Great Milwaukee Victory Garden BLITZ, VGI builds and installs raised beds all around the greater Milwaukee area. These raised beds make an inspiring gift for new homeowners, a great first step for someone looking to break free from our dominant food system, and even a treat for a seasoned gardener.

Through the BLITZ, you can also donate a raised-bed garden for a family in need, giving someone the ability to grow their own fresh, healthy food.

Can’t use a raised bed? VGI partners with LGarden to offer affordable, accessible elevated gardening solutions for those who still move, groove, and garden, but don’t bend and squat. LGarden makes elevated beds that are also great gifts for apartment or condo dwellers who don’t have yards to grow food in.

Give the gift of knowledge.

Seed Starting

Here are some seeds started by a few of our volunteers after Seed Starting 101.

Move Grass Classes are designed to help you build communities who grow their own food. Together, we’re creating a community-based, socially just, environmentally sustainable, nutritious food system for all. It all starts with you!

Move Grass Class Passes come in bundles of 5 and make the perfect gift for a friend or family member who you know wants to learn how to make a difference in their community. You can also donate a 5-class Move Grass Class scholarship for a community member in need to learn how to grow and cook good, healthy food.

Give the gift of leadership.

Through the Food Leader Certificate Program, participants learn to grow their own food, speak knowledgeably about the food system,

Our 2014-2015 Food Leader Class had their graduation retreat at Wellspring.

Our 2014-2015 Food Leader Class had their graduation retreat at Wellspring.

and lead food projects in their communities. A scholarship will help send an emerging leader in need on three weekend retreats, give them access to all Move Grass Classes, and provide them with the skills of leadership and community building that will help them make a difference in their community. This investment in the future would fit snugly into any box as a gift certificate.

 


Give the gift of style.

Grown in Milwaukee

Our volunteer Naomi created this design and screen printed each shirt by hand!

For the most mysterious person on your list, we have the veggie-themed, super-soft t-shirt of your dreams. We are now offering our slim fit, hand screen-printed, organic, fair trade t-shirts, first available at the FarmRaiser now for purchase online. Give to your friends and family so they can represent our favorite city and its abundance.

Have more ideas? Share in the comments!

 

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Rites of Passage

by Gretchen Mead
Executive Director

Dear Friends,

Once or twice per month I receive an email from someone whose soul is on fire. S/he is burning on the inside—flipping through seed catalogues, Netflixing food documentaries in rapid succession, locating every farmers market in town, trying new recipes—her heart beating ever so loudly to live a life that has deeper meaning.

Food Leader Retreat at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, 2013

Food Leader Retreat at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, 2013

This burning goes with her everywhere: in line at the bank; project managing for ABC Corp; while ordering a pizza. At night, there comes an intangible longing for more—deeper community; healthier living; kinder, gentler interactions; depth and presence. The chatter in the back of the mind is loudening and the heart requires a response. The dissonance between values and lifestyle grows. And then this person emails me:

“Dear Gretchen,
I have been thinking about the work you do for a long time. I currently work at ABC Corp. I go to work every day to pay the bills, but I need something more. I need to find a way to change to live the life that I believe in.”

This person is a Food Leader waiting to happen, they just don’t know it—yet. They don’t know that they can live the life they want.

I have a theory about this fire and our Midwestern sensibilities. We Midwesterners hold this fire back; we suppress it for as long as we can. We say things to ourselves like, “I don’t have time,” or “I don’t have the money,” or “I’m not that kind of person.” We ponder, “Who am I to call myself a leader? Who am I to make a difference?”

My question to you is this: Who are you NOT to act on your deepest desire to live a life that fuels your soul’s fire?

You are blessed with a burning fire in your heart that drives you to do something more.

Food Leader Retreat at Wellspring, August 2015

The Food Leader Program has, for many people, been the response to their fire. Increasingly, we care about those who grow our food, the land that it is grown on, the quality of the food, the cultural relevance, the sustainability, and the economic implications of the food system. We are awakened enough to know that we want something else. The Food Leader Program helps people know what they want and gives them the skills to go for it.

In a world where we can sign up for a college degree online, we know that skill-building is not all there is to it. The Food Leader Program acknowledges the need for more. We develop a strong network, walk our talk, and focus on the transformative process each person needs to turn the burn into action.

Past graduates have said these things:

“Mindful consumerism. For me it started with watching Food Inc, Super Size Me, King Corn, Growing Cities, and How Cuba Survived Peak Oil. Watching these films lit a spark which quickly led to a burning inferno. What could I do? How could I become more self-sufficient? Could I inspire others in my community to do the same? Continue reading

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