A Path To The Future

Dear Friend,

There is a Buddhist quote that lives in my mind, and pops forth every once in awhile at just the right moments: “If you are facing the right direction, all you need to do is keep on walking.”

This is precisely how it feels at Victory Garden Initiative right now – that we have been facing the right direction – and it’s all up to us to keep on walking toward a community-based, sustainable, healthy, and socially just food system for all people in Milwaukee and beyond.

We walk by delivering high-quality education programs, city-wide events, and by transitioning unused urban land into edible landscapes that build community, produce healthy food, and foster microlocal economies.

AA stats (1)As we approach 2018, we are filled with excitement and anticipation for what lies ahead. Not only will we execute the 10th Annual Victory Garden BLITZ, during which we will surpass a total of 4,000 urban gardens built in the Milwaukee area, we will also usher in our 8th year of transforming an abandoned urban lot into a food-producing education farm of jaw-dropping beauty. During our summer Youth Education Program (YEP!), we will watch the children find their love for eating vegetables in just a few short months, forever changing the course of their lives. And as our Food Leader Certification Program sends our mission spiraling outward to people across the state of Wisconsin, I know that we are on the right path.

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Victory Garden Urban Farm


In the coming year, we will put a renewed focus on growing The Victory Garden Urban Farm. The agriculture sector in Wisconsin is the largest of all sectors, totaling 8 BILLION dollars worth of revenue, while our small-scale farmers are aging out of the industry, leaving an ever-widening gap of expertise. With your help, we will use The Farm as an opportunity to ensure that urban Milwaukeeans can conceive of farming as a rewarding and sustainable career.

Urban agriculture must be a consistent presence in the lives of urban dwellers if we are to walk toward the advancement of a food system that feeds all people healthy sustainably grown food and fosters OUR local economy, OUR people, and OUR ecosystem.

But we do not, and cannot do this work alone. We need each and every one of you to walk with us, putting your dollars and your time where your heart already lives. Every gift you give to the Victory Garden Initiative is a step in the right direction, and we are so grateful for your support. Please continue to walk with us by making your gift to VGI today.  




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What our program participants say


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Keep it simple — what’s in your meal?

The seed of introduction:

“The interesting thing I learned was that if you’re really concerned about your health, the best decisions for your health turn out to be the best decisions for the farm and the best decisions for the environment – and that there is no contradiction there.”

~Michael Pollan


Celebrated author Michael Pollan once said that if food came from a plant, eat it and if it was made in a plant, do not. Although humorous, this phrase sums up the current state of our food industry. Pollan’s advice actually has widespread implications and examines the very question: What is food? A strong argument could be made that even though processed foods may begin as whole food, it is altered in such as way that the end results does not even resemble food.

Advances in science have allowed the food industry to evolve – making food easier and cheaper to grow and with more desirable characteristics in terms of shelf life and freshness. These advances sometimes cost you as well. Consider the average cracker on the market today. It has an average of eight or more ingredients, several of which are additives for taste, color or shelf life. Additionally, the cracker is most likely made with

ingredientsrefined non-whole grains and will cause a rapid rise in blood sugar and insulin followed by a rapid fall. This rise and fall may cause you to be hungry again soon and overall less satisfied. Is also may contribute to inflammation if foods such as the cracker are typical in your diet.

Finally, that cracker may be loaded with saturated fats, trans fats (hydrogenated oil) and a whopping amount of sodium. All of these put you at risk for heart disease, stroke, and hypertension. Think about it, that’s just your cracker – what else are you eating throughout the day that has numerous ingredients, many of which you don’t have a clue even what they are?

~Excerpt from What is Food and Where is it Coming From; Menu for the Future, Page 66.


Let the conversation germinate and grow:

Do you currently use labels to make food purchasing decisions? Is the labeling understandable? How might it be improved?

Think about your health. What might changing your diet do to improve it?

Do you ask questions at the store about your food’s origin? How can you find out more about where your food comes from?

Practical Exercise:

Find out more about food labels and what they mean at http://greenerchoices.org/labels/

For one week, list everything you eat. Notice how much fresh food you eat and how much prepared food you eat. Think about Michael Pollan’s statement – if food comes from a plant eat it, and if it comes from a plant, do not. What changes might you make and how would that affect your health?

Are you still gardening? If so, what are your planting? If not, are you thinking about gardening next year? What would you want to plant?

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Start Them Young!

By Roxanne Hanna

With the conclusion of the intern program mid-August, we have been hosting more field trips lately. Even though we are more limited in the amount of depth we can get into (because we only have one day together) I have enjoyed every field trip we’ve had so much. Many of the children have surprised me with their total enthusiasm and lack of fear with the bees. There have been times when we have given field trip groups an entire run-down of the bee hives, showing them the big-eyed appearance of the drones, the pollen sacks on the legs of the returning worker bees, and even passed around a fresh honeycomb to taste. Even when someone would get stung, which only happened twice, they were very calm and able to receive my lesson on using plantain as a poultice for the stings. To my own amazement, both children who used this method reported no pain and reduced swelling in less than a minute after applying!


A glimpse of recent Field Trips at The Farm!

They also enjoy tasting fresh herbs that you can’t even find in a store, like the sweet anise hyssop, or the pungent nasturtium, or the crunchy succulent purslane. I can’t help but recall a farm field trip that I experienced in school while working with them. It always stands out as a clear and vivid memory, more so than most others I have of that time. Sometimes I wonder if that field trip may have impacted me in ways that I am unaware, and maybe it was those first tactile experiences that I accessed when I was drawn farming as my passion in adulthood. One thing I am reminded of each and every time we host children at the farm is that connection with soil, plants, and animals is so absolutely important for young people.

They bloom with the new tastes and smells and feels, they break down barriers that keep them out of the soil, and they get to experience the magic of a random butterfly landing on them, or a worm they can hold, or a caterpillar they found. There can’t be the too much hands-on experience of nature to cultivate a lifelong loving relationship with the wild. So let’s get them started young!

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Feed The World

The seed of introduction:

“Since our break with nature came with agriculture, it seems fitting that the healing of culture begins with agriculture, fitting that agriculture takes the lead.”

~Wes Jackson

Sooner or later the question comes up, whether it is between two friends sharing a pot of stew made from local grass fed beef and their garden harvest livestock farmers gathered on a pasture walk, neighbors working together to tend a flock of backyard chickens, or organic vegetable producers discussing yields at a conference.

“But can we feed the world this way?”

Feed The World

75 or 100 years ago, such a question would never have entered your dialogue. To ask a  local farmer or homesteader how his or her production methods were going to feed the world would have been absurd. The local producer’s job was to support the family, the community, and his/her bioregion – not the world.

Following World War II, with the onset of the “Green Revolution”, feeding the world became a national mantra.

The question remains: Can the local, sustainable food movement in the United States feed the world? The answer: No. Nor can the industrial agriculture paradigm. No one can feed the world. One country cannot do it, nor can any specific model of production. The earth must be allowed to reclaim its natural productivity. That’s why we need local and regional food systems, designed to work harmoniously with local ecosystems. While certain ecological lessons may apply, it would be absurd to think what works for us in upstate New York for producing food is going to necessarily work in Africa. There is no such thing as a universally applicable production practice nor a universally acceptable diet.

That is not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned about global starvation. But if enabling everybody to have access to good nutritious food is really our goal, we need to look deeper than crop yields and feed conversion ratios. In addition to the complicated politics involved, we need to examine our individual actions?

How are your daily habits impacting humanity’s access to a nutritious food supply? Our daily sustenance should not require that other people in the world go without nourishment. Our daily sustenance should not demand excessive fossil fuels for growing, processing and transporting the food to our tables. Beyond that, our consumption habits ideally should not be requiring people in foreign lands to destroy their own access to clean water and fertile soil for the sake of dyeing our clothing, building our electronics, or making our children’s toys.

Untitled design (3)‘Feed the world’ starts with individual accountability. It needs to be considered in every home, in every business. But the question must be reframed. Rather than asking farmers if the methods they use can feed the world, we need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “Do my choices help enable the world to feed itself?” If the answer is no, then it is time to make different choices.”

~Excerpt from Instead of Trying to Feed the World, Let’s Help It feed Itself by Shannon Hayes; Menu for the Future, Page 43.

Let the conversation germinate and grow:

  • What choices do you make that impact the ability for the world to feed itself?
  • What can you do today that will enable the world to feed itself?

Practical Exercise:

  • Find out what kind of farm your food comes from: agribusiness, family farm, industrial organic, etc.
  • Find out where your food is sourced – how far did it travel.
  • Create a team and join the Northwest Earth Institute’s 2017 EcoChallenge

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An evening with Patricia Holland

Patricia Holland, an avid gardener and Riverwest resident, is renting a community garden bed at the Victory Garden Urban Farm this season. We sat down with her at the Victory Garden Urban Farm to learn more about why she participates in the community garden here. Her passion for growing food started when she was a little girl growing up in Mississippi. She helped her mother in the garden then and fondly remembers her trips to the garden to get some Okra. “When I was a little girl, my mom sent me out to get okra for breakfast. The plant was taller than I was, this tall (raising her hand above her waist), unlike the tiny. I was like I gotta get that last piece of okra. I told my mother that I broke the stalk of okra at the top of it but it was still blooming. I broke the stalk but I got the okra. I got what she wanted. So from then on I started gardening.”, Patricia recited the story with a smile on her face and the golden glow of the setting sun.


Patricia Holland with her vegetables at Victory Garden Urban Farm


For Patricia, the ‘why’ of growing food is simple — “I just love gardening to feed people. There are so many hungry people out here that don’t need to be hungry” — and feed hungry people she does. Patricia is a constant face and leader at the Riverwest Food Pantry plot at the Farm, where all the produce grown there is donated to the Pantry. Just this season they have distributed hundreds of pounds of produce from the plot. In addition to working in the garden, she also helps with food demonstrations at the pantry.

IMG_9669Community gardens grow more than just food, according to Patricia. It’s a place to build community and get to know your neighbors. Earlier in the season, she and several other community gardeners hosted a volunteer day at the Farm with a meal after. “We all got along and cooked out here. We wanted to bring the neighborhood in. You know, and I think it was awesome.” The community gardeners also take care of each other. “We come over here and we mow around everybody’s plots whether they here or not… And that’s what we’re for. Help each other. We all can get along, just get along.” The garden is also a space for families. They can “come in and bring their kids and then, you know just explore this beautiful land out here. It would be so good for the community” because “we need more people to get involved with this. We need more people to garden or teach their kids how to garden. It’s fundamental.”

Patricia’s passion is clear as she speaks of growing food and building community. “We need to eat to live… What we grow, we eat.” Patricia brings many helping hands and smiling faces to the Victory Garden Urban Farm and we are thankful to her for all that she does.

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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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