Letter from the Director: Winter Is Coming

No, I’m not making a Game of Thrones reference, though I did think it might get your attention.

In a recent conversation with a friend, I was reminded how many people move towards happiness during the summer season. “It’s about this time of year that I finally feel like myself again. And, then, I look ahead and I know winter is coming again and I start bracing myself for it.” my friend said in regard to her potential decision to leave the state of Wisconsin for warmer weather.

Right now in the Midwest, everything is as lush, ripe, juicy, sexy, and beautiful as it’s going to be this year.  We, in return, soak it up with outdoor drinks, hikes, and swim-time activities. Yet, we all know, that in just a couple months winter will creep up slowly; first a chilly few evenings, then the dramatic color change of fall, and then the nighttime frosts that turn into frozen landscapes and dull, dark, thudding days and nights. We will all slug through it, like we did last year, some of us faring better than others.

In a favorite song, singer/song writer Dar Williams describes her own depression, “It feels like a winter machine that you go through and then, you catch your breath and winter starts again, and everyone else is spring bound.” The idea of a ‘winter machine’ is a rich metaphor for what it feels like to have your moods so controlled by outside forces of winter, spring, summer, fall – our disconnect from the natural world, and complete reliance on the built environment giving us the closed up, dull thud of winter.

But we in the midwest are earthy and hardy. We are one generation from farming.  Our rich soils produce food that feed the world. Having outdoor drinks, and getting your swim on, may not be enough to firmly ground us, and help us prepare for the winter machine. We cannot escape our evolution as earth lovers and soil tenders by attending outdoor festivals and loving margaritas. We, in fact, still need our mother earth and our mother earth still needs us at a deeper level.

In reviewing the research, we found that, in 2010, nearly 80,000 Milwaukee residents reported that they had been diagnosed with depression and nationally, over 42 million people were diagnosed in 2013 – this is 17% of the total U.S. population¹.  These numbers demonstrate a national crisis that is reflected locally, and all but ignored from the perspective of prevention.

We also know that the distribution of mental illness across the population is not equitable.  Individuals living in poverty, people who are considered a racial or ethnic minority, and veterans all have higher self-reported rates of poor mental health and higher clinical diagnosis of mental illness.²

It is no surprise to us at Victory Garden Initiative, that the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, “What Works for Health” shows that using a multi stakeholder approach of pairing community building activities such as “gardening, group exercises and community art projects along with housing development, leadership training and supports for low income and public housing residents” is more effective at treating trauma and mental illness than any one of these programs can be on their own.³  

Gardening has been shown to be effective at relieving acute stress, lowering the risk of heart disease, increasing brain health and immunity, improving productivity and restoring concentration.⁴ Community gardening and individual gardening has also been shown to improve anxiety and depression, decrease social stigma surrounding mental illness and increase access to care for populations that are typically underserved.

A Penn State professor wrote a compelling letter calling for more rigorous research after experiencing success from a 2013 gardening project.  He wrote, “From our experience planning a community garden on the campus of the Pennsylvania State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, we learned that gardens are perceived as a valuable resource for persons affected by mental illnesses, particularly those whose diagnoses carry significant social stigma.”⁵  

A Utah State Ph.D student found that professionals who work with veterans believe that the complexity of PTSD requires treatment that involves an interdisciplinary approach and that Veterans Affairs Hospitals with horticulture therapy incorporated into their patient programs show a reduction in the duration of inpatient stays.⁶  A successful veterans garden in Brentwood, Calif., saw similar results and reported shorter inpatient stays, faster progress of participants to “participate more fully in the world” and increased rates of employment among those who were active in the gardening program.⁷  

Seed StartingMaking that plan the garden in the late winter, getting outside in the early spring, staying outside through the summer, then the fall, bringing that food in for winter consumption is the antidote to the winter machine.  Helping something grow, under your care, from soil, to seed, to plate, to soil again, is a way to be in flow with the cycles of life, rather than succumbing to the machine. We lead, tend, love, foster, care for, the earth and our health, rather than summer partying for three months than hiding until we can enjoy Summerfest again. We also eat. We eat the nourishment that we have created with our own two hands. And, we touch.  We touch the very biology from whence we were created. We eat the earth, directly.  And, we often do it in the company of others.

There is no other activity that can give us a more in-depth, complex, connection to our own carnal and spiritual duality, at once.

I appreciate the subtle rebellion of this quote from renowned author and cultural seer, Margaret Atwood. She notes, “Gardening is not a rational act. What matters is the immersion of the hands in the earth, that ancient ceremony of which the Pope kissing the tarmac is merely a pallid vestigial remnant.” Even our patriarchal, other-worldly religions, have not totally lost track of the ancient wisdom of touching the earth.

Recently, the Kubly Foundation has also become aware of the mounting evidence showing that gardening does, in fact, heal the soul. Victory Garden Initiative has been awarded a substantial gift to create materials that will increase public awareness of the healing powers of gardening, specifically as it relates to mental health. We couldn’t be more thrilled to offer this information to the general public. If your place of employment, leisure, friendly nonprofit organization or other institution would like to dispense materials to help more people understand the mental health benefits of gardening, please let us know.  We are in the process of developing these materials currently.

Beyond dispensing materials, consider how gardening might be implemented into your life and those around you. Maybe because you or someone in your family is depressed, or suffering from mental illness, but maybe even more so that you prevent suffering.

Though we still have a good month left before summer concludes, you better believe it that winter is coming. Will it be a machine or a time to slow down and resonate deeply with the natural rhythm of our humanity?

~Gretchen Mead

(Special thanks to Kelly Moore Brands for her excellent research on this topic)

Gretchen’s tips to keep your summer-fresh soul glow during the rest of the seasons:

1)  Extend your gardening season as long as you are able. Many of us understand the light and refreshing feeling of getting your tomato plants in May and placing them directly into the soil. But gardening stops and starts long before it is time to get those tomato plants from Stein’s.

2)  Take off your shoes. Don’t let your hands be the only conduit to the soil. Your feet can also absorb the mysterious bacteria that has been increasingly shown to be medicinal.

3) Compost everything that can be composted as if it truly matters that his valuable material once again becomes earth and food.

4) Harvest something fresh every day. This routine is very valuable in the same way as daily exercise, and brushing our teeth is. Integrate it into your life.

5) Order a few seed catalogs and read through them in January. Begin the dreaming and planning as early as possible.

6) Start your own seeds: Beginning with onions indoors in February and throughout the spring, as directed on the seed package. Yes, it’s convenient to plant something that someone else fostered, but build your capacities for knowing those seeds and how to care for them, from start to finish.

7) Plant edible perennials. Rhubarb, raspberries, and fruit trees will add so much joy to your gardening joy.  They return every year with such ease and in early spring.

8) Forage the earliest wild, edible greens at your local park or forest.  Not only is this fun and thought-provoking, this will start your spring diet off in just the right direction, filled with rich minerals that are likely depleted from our typical winter diets.

Reference list:

¹ Policymap, 2016

² MHA, 2016; Torres & Vallejo, 2015)(APA, 2016

³ County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, 2016

⁴ Van Den Berg & Custers, 2011; Eliades, 2013; Maller et al., 2005

⁵ George, D., 2013

⁶ Brock, 2011

⁷ Gardening Matters, 2012

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Youth Internship Report

By Roxanne Hanna, Youth Education Coordinator


Youth Interns measuring rainfall

After two months of solid programming with the youth interns, we now have two weeks left. We have gone deep with this program, incorporating not only principles of gardening, but also ecology, cooking, natural building, project design, and communication skills. We’ve hosted parent potlucks, distributed food from the farm for interns to take home, practiced yoga in the garden, identified (and ate!) wild edible plants, sold produce around the neighborhood via a bike trailer, cooled off with a sprinkler, harvested from plants we started from seed, practiced food preservation through drying and fermenting, installed no-till gardens, learned about bees and pollination, and preserving and defending water. It has been a very, very busy two months! At times hectic and tense, and at times joyful and fun. It has not been without challenges unique for each individual intern sprinkled in. Every child has come into the group bringing their own experience, personality, talents, and struggles, all of which have come together to form a dynamic space for learning that is specific to the needs of the kids.

Lesson session

I feel amazed and grateful for all we have experienced and accomplished together, and I think the lessons from this will continue to unfold for weeks, months, and years after the 2017 program is over. They have ownership of these skills now. And I hope that someday I will get the opportunity to see them in action in their own way, but even if it doesn’t make it back to me, I know that the 65 total hours we have spent together thus far have been well worth it every time I ride my bike to or from the farm and kids run along the sidewalk calling my name to stop and ask me questions or tell me about their day or tell me what is growing from the seeds we gave them. I also have learned so much from them and I know I will carry these lessons with me wherever I go in my path of teaching. That said, I am looking forward to coming to completion with this program, and shifting focus to serving more kids through field trips and scout days. Dirty hands heal the land!

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True Cost

The seed of introduction:

“A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”

~Franklin D. Roosevelt

Today, much traveled, highly processed and heavily marketed food has become so much the norm that many people no longer know where their food originates. Industrial Agriculture has heralded “cheap and plentiful food” as one of its greatest achievements.”~Menu for the Future, Chapter 2

Let’s examine the hidden costs of this food system – to farmers and farmland, to animals and to the environment.

“Large-scale industrial agriculture depends on engineering the land to ensure the absence of natural diversity. But as the recent emergence of herbicide-tolerant weeds on US farms has shown, nature ultimately finds a way to subvert uniformity and assert itself.”


Photo courtesy wakingtimes.com

Industrial animal food production has one goal: to turn creatures into meat. These intensively managed factory farms are called concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO’s). The animals are chosen for rapid growth, ability to withstand confinement (some literally don’t have room to turn around), and resistance to the pathogens that grow in these conditions. Advocates say it’s an efficient way to produce, cheap, good-quality meat for consumers.

Opponents raise three basic complaints: first, the treatment of animals. CAFO’s house them as tightly as possible where they never see grass or sunlight. If you can envision 1,000 chickens in your bathroom in cages stacked to the ceiling, you’re honestly getting the picture.

A second complaint is pollution. So many animals in a small space put huge volumes of excrement into that small space, creating obvious waste storage and water quality problems. CAFO animals of the US produce about 6 times the volume of fecal matter of all humans on our planet. Animals on pasture, by contrast, enrich the soil.

A third issue is health. Confined animals are physically stressed and are routinely given antibiotics in their feed to ward off disease. [More than] ¾ of all antibiotics in the US are used in CAFO’s. Even so, the Consumer’s Union reported that over 70% of supermarket chickens harbored campylobacter and/or salmonella bacteria. The antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that grow in these conditions are a significant new threat to humans.


Art by Sue Coe. Toronto Pig Save

Currently, 98% of chickens in the US are produced by large corporations. If you have an opportunity to buy some of that 2%, a truly free-range chicken from a local farmer, it will cost a little more. So what’s the going price these days for compassion, clean water, and public health?”

~From Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, Camille Kingsolver, and Steven Hopp (2007).

Let the conversation germinate and grow:

Are you willing to pay more for “compassion, clean water, and the public health” by purchasing humanely treated animal products? Why or why not?

If you eat fish, do you know where your seafood comes from? Even if you don’t eat seafood, are there choices you could make that would be better for the health of our oceans?

Practical Exercise:

As recently as two or three generations ago, it was possible for people to know where their food came from and what went into the process of getting it to their tables.  Today, most of us don’t give a lot of thought to these things. During the next week, select one meal, and write down everything that you eat and drink. Then do you your best to answer the following questions:

  • What factors did you consider in choosing what to eat at this meal?
  • Where did the food come from? Where was it grown? Where was it processed?
  • Most people find it difficult or impossible to answer the second Question. For which food was it hardest to find answers? Does it concern you?


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Right to Grow Food!

By Beverly Tyree

Stand Up! Join the Fight! We have the right to grow our own food!

Grow Your Own Food, Abram Games, 1942, IWM PST 2893There have been challenges with the right to grow our own food in our own yard. The challenges often include neighbor relationships, local ordinances, lack of knowledge, and much more. We, at VGI, know this all too well. Gretchen and other community members fought to change city ordinances in Shorewood to allow growing food in front yards. Prior to that, only backyard gardening was allowed.


Recently, one of our 2017 Food Leaders, Kim Fruin, came across this type of challenge with the City of Green Bay. Kim Fruin, a Green Bay urban homesteader, has worked hard to create a homestead that provides healthy food for her family and an educational setting for her children. In early July, she received a citation regarding her urban homestead. You can read the Green Bay Gazettes take on this here.


The citation indicated that she needed to clean up and remove many items used for her homestead. If not done, she would have to pay $691 per infraction. She was looking at making major changes to all the work she put toward creating a sustainable access to food for those she loves.

HandsEnter the Food Leaders. Kim Diaz, a 2015 Food Leader graduate also from Green Bay, became aware of the situation. Once aware, she quickly mobilized, sending the word out to fellow Food Leaders, to make calls to the city, send messages of support to Kim, and offer to help clean up the homestead.  Friends from Green Bay, Food leaders from all over, joined Kim F.  in picking up the fight for the right to grow food on our own land. With advocacy and help, Kim F.’s homestead quickly became compliant with the city and the City of Green Bay heard loud and clear that the ordinances need to help urban farmers.

Well Done Food Leaders!

While Kim Fruin’s incident was focused more on non-food related code violations, it is important to be aware of ordinances that may restrict front yard or home gardening.  There have been many instances throughout the nation such as Orlando, Florida, Ferguson, Missouri, Sacramento California, and much more where local ordinances have negatively impacted citizens or home owners ability to grow their own food.

Do you wonder if this might happen in your locale? We, at VGI, encourage you to pay attention to local workings. Check with your town or city. Contact them to find out what their stance is on urban farming, gardening, or homesteading. Be Active! Join the Fight!


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Featured Food Leader- Delaney Hutchinson

Meet Delaney Hutchinson, Food Leader Certificate Program 2017

“And forget not that the earth delights to feel your feet and the winds long to play with your hair”, I picked this quote to start my bio because I think it’s something we can all relate to. I think pretty much everyone, some more often than not, forgets to stop and smell the rose and really enjoy the gifts life gives.

DelaneyMy name is Delaney and I am 17 years old. I currently go to McKinley Academy whose staff I cannot thank more for giving me this opportunity to be the in the food leader certificate program. I grew up in the state of Washington and was very lucky to have a mom who served home cooked meals every night and tried to keep nutrition an important part of my sisters and my own lives. When I was 14, my mom inherited some money from my grandmother who passed away. The cost of living was beginning to be too much so we decided to move to Manitowoc. Where we were paying $2,100 a month for a three-bedroom apartment, here my mom bought a house a with four bedrooms and a finished basement for $50,000. Moving was a huge culture shock, going from a very active community that always had youth opportunities and things going on to a town that didn’t even have a community center was different. Since I was little I’ve always been into the outdoors, exploring, and going on adventures. But it was my first year at McKinley that really sparked the passion I have for food and plants. After a few months at McKinley and being a very active student, I was given the opportunity to participate in a program called S.T.E.E.R, (Success Through Empowering Experiences and Rigor). S.T.E.E.R was kind of the group of kids that all the other students were envious of. They were the ones out in the community and leaving school every day. From ropes courses to volunteer to projects to just having fun. The program, which I still participated in this year, really has taught me to work hard then play hard and that no matter what if you try your best the outcome you get will be the best you could’ve gotten. When I came into S.T.E.E.R we had just gotten our first greenhouse, shortly after I was able to attend the Wisconsin Food Summit which really got me interested in the food movement. In my life, I plan to do and change many things. Delaney 3I want to change what people view as important and I truly want most people on this planet to live a life that they are happy with which I feel right now only a small part of our population is doing. I have always been very into politics and the Food Leader program has really shown me how political the food movement really is. The skills I’ve learned in this program really don’t stay within it. I will use these skills in my own life and community. I think the program has given me a very good basis and outline on the steps I need to make change, within myself, my community and others. Although the program is food/plant driven I think anyone who wants to do something in their community or do something for themselves would greatly benefit from the things I’ve learned here. I think being the youngest in the program I would have to say experiences like this are critical for our youth. In high school, kids really need to be given a lot of opportunities and experiences to get a feel for their passions. It is so important for our youth to find their passion and want to do something about it. If we had a community full of people doing things every day that they loved I think the world and people in it would a lot happier place. It is so important for us to be having the conversation about what’s wrong with our society, what can we change or do better, how can we be able to sustain ourselves?

Delaney 2I think the food leader program executes this well and really gets people thinking. This year I was given the opportunity to work with Riverview Elementary, a pre-k and kindergarten school. I was able to work with them on creating a mosaic for the wildlife themed playground and we are currently working on creating a riverbed with a water garden. They currently have about four playgrounds, the wildlife playground, a sand dune, and still about a whole football field of space not being utilized. Bouncing around ideas we talked about some raised beds and greenhouse being installed there. They loved the idea and we are now coming up with a floor plan of how that will look and where things would go, what materials we will need etc. and in a few weeks, we want to start figuring out a program that revolves around the gardens. Students from McKinley and myself would go over there a few days a week to do planting, check on plants, do some cooking and eating, and just really get into talking about and experiencing food and plant culture.

I think the food leader program really helped me for planning with this and making connections. I hope for my project to be a huge success and really get young minds thinking about how cool and important eating and growing is.

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Featured Food Leader- Bradley Seibel


“Gardening is an active participation in the deepest mysteries of the universe.” -Thomas Berry

“He who understands nature walks close with God.” -Edgar Cayce

bradley 1My name is Bradley Seibel and I am a recent graduate of Marian University in Fond du Lac, where I am from and now live. As I was finally coming close to completing my theology degree after eight years I was gripped with fear. For so long I had the one goal of graduating, knowing that if I made it to that point it would be a miracle. When I finished my junior year it dawned on me that I might actually get it done, after which I would have to figure out what the next step was. I was spending hours a day researching graduate programs, thinking I would go the route most undergraduate theology students go – ministry. A dearly remembered friend of mine, Kathy, used to always say something to me that didn’t make sense during the early days of my spiritual development, she would say, “If you want to make God laugh, make plans.” I understand that much better now than I did then. The main reason why I struggled with my decision to attend graduate school was because I don’t necessarily fit into any religion, although I do have a particularly strong affinity for Christ for reasons I won’t explain now. As a rather devout, but not religious, follower of Christ I believe we are all called to ministry. It’s naturally human to want to help others, no matter how covered up that may be by our egos. I knew I wanted to be of service, but how was the question. After much doubt and confusion that I would follow with prayer and reflection it seemed to come together on its own, the path was laid out so clearly before me.

Bradley 4I have always loved nature. As a teen, I practically lived in natural areas, partly because sometimes I had nowhere else to go but mostly because I loved being there. I got my first taste of gardening at a retreat center in Portage called Bumpity where I met Kathy and her husband Bob. I learned about meditation and began my slow but steady ascent towards healing. One of the things that helped me the most was being out in their 2 acres of gardens. My mind wasn’t quite clear at that time, to say the very least, but it was enough to plant the seed that began to sprout just last year. When it dawned on me what to do it was such a relief, such a weight off my shoulders. I didn’t want to go to graduate school, at least not now. I don’t want to get up on a pulpit and preach, I want to be on the front lines. I want to do practical things to help people transform their lives, like Bob and Kathy helped me so very much. There’s not a day that goes by my heart does not fill with gratitude for what they did for me. Included in that gratitude is my advisor, Joyce Bautch the head of the theology department, who found an internship for me in Portland, Oregon with an organization called Eco-Faith Recovery. Theirs is a blend of spirituality and sustainability that was salve to my searching soul. They promote a system of practices for awakening leadership, among which is conscious leadership development. With the internship came a 750 dollar stipend, the exact amount for a student in the Food Leadership Certificate Program of Victory Garden Initiatives. I didn’t think that was a coincidence and decided to use my stipend for the program. I have learned so much and have been so inspired by the food leaders I have met.

Bradley 2I am only one person and can only do so much. With that said I want to do the most good I possibly can with the one life I have to live. So, I put two and two together and realized that by growing food and helping to change the food system I can effect change in a myriad of ways. Growing food strengthens the local economy, creating opportunity for so many to support themselves. Growing food strengthens our sense of community, nothing brings people together quite like food does! Growing food protects the environment, up to 60% of greenhouse gas emissions are related directly or indirectly to unsustainable farming practices. And obviously, growing food makes people healthier, giving more people access to fresh produce. And when people are healthier, they are happier. So, I decided to start an urban farm named AeroAbundance, LLC; that is after my plans shifted and changed and rearranged so many times I can’t count. God sure got a lot of laughter out of me this last year, and I’m laughing at myself most of the time too. I kept worrying about every little thing and then when I would just let it go everything fell into place. Funny how that works, isn’t it? An angel investor, Louise Taylor, has paid for everything and I can’t thank her enough. I’m using an aeroponics system developed by Ben Staffeldt to grow food year round in an office space I’ve remodeled to grow and sell produce in. The plants grow so much faster and they are so much more nutrient dense than traditional methods. Also, the systems use very little energy and water to maintain, only about 55 gallons every two weeks. The sprayers were developed by NASA and they create a mist with particles so small the roots can actually take nitrogen and oxygen from the air itself! The future of food is amazing, and we get to be a part! How cool!

Bradley 3A part of me wonders if I am wasting my theology degree, but then I come to my senses and realize I’m using it more than some ever do. As much as this feels like my project it doesn’t at the same time. I’m just as curious as to how this is going to evolve as anyone else. It’s becoming quite an adventure and I’m excited to journey it together with other food leaders I have had the good fortune to meet.

Bumpity Road Retreat – No place on earth quite like it

Art Garden Aeroponics YouTube Channel

Eco-Faith Recovery Practices for Awakening Leadership

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Conscious Kitchen

“Food is our common ground, universal experience.” ~James Beard

“Our everyday food choices have the capacity to change the world. Demand influences supply. So it makes sense to choose wisely, consciously. The factory farming of cattle (and other animals) is an energy-intensive, inhumane, earth-polluting, greenhouse gas-releasing endeavor. Once you learn that, how hard is it to replace that burger with a smaller one that came from a well-treated grass-fed animal? Not very. “ ~Menu for the Future, Chapter 1

Have you ever thought about making conscious changes in your kitchen? In your eating? If so, does the idea of a “conscious kitchen” inspire or overwhelm you?

In what ways can it be both inspiring and overwhelming at the same time? What might be one step you can take toward a conscious kitchen?


P.S. Menu for the Future is one of many discussion guides offered by Northwest Earth Institute that provides insightful and inspirational reading to begin a conversation, whether it be with friends, colleagues, coworkers, and people coming together for a common cause like the Food Leader Certificate Program. If you are interested in finding out more about this discussion guide or others, check out http://www.nwei.org. If you order, make sure to mark your affiliation to VGI in the drop down box at checkout.

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Letter from the Director: The Global Grassroots

“I don’t like people who eat dogs.” my then 7-year old son said matter-of-factly to our two South Korean house guests, totally out of the blue. Without missing a beat, one of them gently replied, “We try to have tolerance for all people.”  With a little discomfort, we finished our ice cream and said our goodbyes. They had been pleasant enough house guests during their two weeks in Milwaukee while studying the food/water nexus at the Global Water Center.  They chose to stay with me because they wanted to be in a place with others whom they would have commonality.  It was an unusual and enlightening ending to our shared time, but not a bad ending.

A few months later, a delightful man from Ghana came to study urban agriculture as part of an international leadership development program that is funded by the US. Department of State.  As we all did, my son instantly liked him.  He was quick to smile, had a gentle spirit, and perhaps most importantly, seemed to enjoy it when my son climbed on him.  One night, while getting to know each other, and playing with our new puppy, Freeman casually said, “In my country, we eat dogs.” My son’s disposition changed, and he looked Freeman straight in the eyes, proclaiming, “I don’t trust you anymore.”

Freeman looked to the ground and put his hand on his heart as if physically injured, while my son left the room, and went to bed for the evening.

I didn’t know what to say exactly.  I, too, was horrified by the thought of a human being eating a dog, but unlike my son, I wasn’t in a position to let it be a barrier to developing a relationship with this otherwise wonderful human, who had traveled this far, in order to make his country a better place, by learning how to help people there grow their own food.

Over the months, Freeman worked on the farm in all kinds of weather, he charmed schools groups, inspired our older youth, and simply added to the character and flavor of everything that was happening at the farm.  Without really acknowledging it, my son overcame his discomfort with Freeman’s cultural food difference. When he left four months later, we were sad to see him go, and we still talk about his shining energy today.


Freeman Ahegbebu with his students from “Changing the Dream Garden Initiative” class in Ghana. April 2017

Freeman was just one of many international internships that VGI has housed over the years.  We have worked with El Salvadorians, Hungarians, Haitians, Brazilians, Hmong, Syrians, Indians, and too many more to mention. People from all over the world are coming to the same realizations that we as citizens of the United States of Americans have had. It doesn’t really matter which country we were born in, we are all subject to the same humongous multinational corporations that control the quantity, quality, and variety of food that is available to people everywhere.

Funding for the national agriculture programs that promote local, sustainable agriculture is  diminishing. President Trump’s recently announced budget, will deliver a 31% cut to the EPA’s funding, which is the one remaining strongholds for ensuring the the Department of Agriculture performs its due diligence in protecting farmers, land, consumers and the earth, from vulture companies such as Monsanto, Cargill, Du Pont, and Archer Daniels Midland.  These companies are exerting their insatiable wills globally, diminishing communities, addicting naive farmers to expensive and short-term agricultural strategies, and depleting soils and health.  To be quite honest, sometimes the effort to stop this death train seem futile.

But, when I look back on all the people from around the world that we have touched throughout the years, the emerging global movement to resist the continued globalization of our food system is clear. In the same way that our work has had ripple effects in southeastern Wisconsin, it is sending winds across the seas.

I have long believed that growing our own food is perhaps one of the most agreed upon strategies for making the world a better place.  It is unifying, across political lines, religions, cultures, genders, ethnicities, sexualities, income levels and practically any other dividing line we can contrive in our discerning human brains.

The original victory garden movement during World War II is often referred to as the most unified time in our country’s history. Given the global interest in taking control back from these large agricultural conglomerates the issue seems to be one that we can rally around, not only on a national scale, but a global one –  unifying the world against the new axis powers, the trifecta of large corporations, governments, and corrupted media outlets.

This year during our BLITZ to install 500 gardens, we received a gift from a donor who wanted to give gardens specifically to refugees families. We were able to build gardens for a handful of families from various countries. The one that stands out most for me, is a group of four Syrian brothers who until a few months ago, had been places all over the world in various refugee camps. Just a couple weeks before landing in the U.S., they found themselves at the same camp being told that they would go to the U.S. the next day.  They landed in Milwaukee, and by nothing short of a miracle, all four brothers and their families now share an apartment building together. In spite of differences, it is easy to see how beneficial this is for everyone involved.

34145423644_04f75a1337_o (1)

VGI Team enjoying tea with a refugee family during BLITZ 2017.

Sometimes, the cultural differences of those we perceive as dramatically different, those between whom we draw lines, creating an ‘other’ have more in common with us than we might think at the outset.  At Victory Garden Initiative, we believe that growing our own food can help these lines be less divisive. We believe in bringing people together towards solutions. We believe that grassroots efforts can make a more equitable world. We hope you’ll consider getting involved in our work, at any level, to help this happen.

A few months after Freeman went back to Ghana, I had a young Saudi Arabian man staying in one of my rooms.  The week before I knew he was coming, I had ordered a half of a hog from a local farmer, so pork was inevitably on the menu for the next several months.  I’ll never forget the way I felt when he walked into my kitchen one evening, and I explained that he was welcome to join us, but that I thought he should know what kind of meat it was.  When I told him, his face lost its color. A look of disgust, and maybe even fear washed over his face as he slowly paced toward the hunk of meat on the table, staring at it for a very long minute.  He did, however, agree that the powers that be need some undermining.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite prose, entitled Lines in the Mind, by Donella Meadows.

Think global, act local.



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Another BLITZ in the Books

By Eric Anderson

Community Events Coordinatorshovel-squad-blitz-2017_34206791023_o

From May 13th – 27th Victory Garden Initiative was again able to build over 500 gardens throughout the Milwaukee Area! This was our 9th BLITZ, and the gardens built this year bring our total number of gardens built to over 3500. We may have had some rain, but it didn’t slow down our many volunteers who fanned out across the Milwaukee area to test out their shoveling skills.

This year, thanks to generous donations and sponsorship, we were able to subsidize more gardens than ever before. We built:

  • 31 gardens in the Layton Boulevard West Neighborhood
  • 21 in Clarke Square
  • 37 within 53218 
  • 15 in the Washington Park Neighborhood

We we’re also able to subsidize other gardens throughout the city for organizations and individuals who needed some extra help. Many BLITZ gardens went to first-time gardeners, and plenty of the gardens went to gardeners who had ordered BLITZ gardens in the past and wanted to grow even more.

34719335712_d001f288c1_oThe BLITZ aims to engage residents from throughout the Milwaukee area and encourages everyone to grow their own food. Growing food in your own backyard (or front yard!) helps improve our city’s food system and brings us closer to an environmentally sustainable future. The gardens built and soil delivered this year will help connect people of all ages to the source of their fruits, vegetables, and herbs. 

The BLITZ Numbers:

  • 514 gardens built or yards of soil for gardens delivered (That’s at least 900,000 pounds of soil)
  • More than 2100 hours or volunteer time donated during the BLITZ alone
  • 19 volunteer groups donated their time
  • Over 3000 packets of seeds delivered to gardeners
  • 63 yards of soil moved in a single day (A BLITZ record!)
  • 31 gardens at schools, 9 at churches, 33 for nonprofits, and 42 for community organizations


Many Thanks To:

The generous sponsorship of the Zilber Family Foundation, Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin, Elm Grove Junior Guild, The Milwaukee Bucks, MGIC, Colectivo, Neighborhood Development Improvement Corporation, Marking Services Incorporated, Mandel Group, Johnson Controls,  Bliffert Lumber and Hardware, We Energies, PKSD, and The Fill

Habitat for Humanity for allowing us to take over their space for 2 weeks and providing constant support

Case/CNH for allowing us to use their skid steer

Stein’s for all of the seeds we distributed to gardeners

Organic Valley for all of the great snacks

Blue Ribbon Organics and James Jutrzonka for providing our wonderful soil

The Urban Ecology Center, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, and Housing Resources for letting us borrow their shovels, rakes, and wheelbarrows

Lakefront Brewery for the use of their trailer

MATC Students and Faculty for creating a recipe booklet to distribute to gardeners

Kelly Moore-Brands for guiding me through my first BLITZ

All of the other VGI staff for their tireless support

Jeff Leswing (Dirtman) for brightening our days and moving an incredible amount of soil

Willie Jacks for the snacks, motivation, and willingness to lead volunteers on FIVE garden-building routes in one day

Every other volunteer who made this BLITZ possible

The BLITZ is truly a community effort, and without the help of so many others this program could never have become what it is today.


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Solutions: Powdery Mildew

powdery.jpgWhat it is

So what is powdery mildew anyway? This fungus is a type of mildew that is marked by a white floury covering consisting of spores on both sides of a plant’s leaves. It is one of the most widespread fungal diseases and no plant is completely immune to the disease. This type of fungus is host specific, meaning if you find it on one type of plant, it doesn’t mean it will spread to your other plants. For example, if you have powdery mildew on your roses, it won’t spread to your lilacs. While the spores can move from a specific type of plant to the same type of plant by wind, they can also spread by direct contact through insects, animals and gardeners.

What to Look For

Powdery mildew is most happy when plant leaves are dry, the lighting is low, temperatures are warm and humidity is high. Ideal conditions for powdery mildew growth is often during the late spring or early summer when evenings are still cool, but the days are beginning to get warm. At first the powdery mildew looks like dust and may be able to be brushed off with your hand, but it comes back and appears as light white or gray spots on the tops and bottoms of the leaves, stems, flowers and even fruit or vegetables.

How to control the Fungus

These remedies have been proven effective, but just like all diseases, they can build up a resistance to remedies. So we recommend spraying for powdery mildew every week (or recommended amount per remedy), but alternate between remedies as there are 8 recipes to choose from.

  1. Milk: Mix one-part milk to two parts water; spray once a week.
  2. Baking Soda: 1 tablespoon baking soda, 2 tablespoons ultra fine canola oil, 1 gallon of water. Combine all ingredients and shake well; spray once a week.
  3. Garlic: Blend two bulbs (not cloves) of fresh garlic in a quart of water with a few drops of liquid soap. The creation should be strained through cheesecloth or other sort of strainer to remove solids and then refrigerated. That concentrate should then be diluted 1:10 with water before spraying the plants once a week.
  4. Compost Tea: Mix one part of finished compost with six parts of water and let it soak for a week, then strain and dilute with water until it’s the color of tea; spray once a week.
  5. Oil (vegetable seed, canola, mint, rosemary, sesame, fish): Any of these oils can be used, at a rate of 2.5 to 3 Tablespoons per gallon of water, with the addition of a quarter-teaspoon of liquid soap to emulsify the oil. Spray every 7-14 days.
  6. Mouthwash: Mix one-part generic, ethanol based mouthwash with three parts water and spray on plants once a week; make sure to not spray new budding plants as it will damage them.
  7. Vinegar: Mix 4 tbs of vinegar with 1 gallon of water. Reapply every three days.
  8. Water: As stated above, powdery mildew does not survive well in moist conditions, so spraying the plants in the later part of the day with water from your hose just might do the trick!

How to Prevent

  • Make sure there is enough spacing between your plants
  • It is harder for the spores to spread when the plant leaves are wet, so it is important to keep the moisture levels up. The mildew also loves the cool air so try and plant in a place that gets plenty of sunlight.
  • Remove or treat all infested weeds and plants on your property and cut away infested twigs on fruit trees at the earliest signs of infestation Throw away the infected plants, do not compost!
  • Maintain healthy plants. Stressed plants are often attacked first, so it is important to monitor and remove unhealthy plants.



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