Letter from the Director: We Are STILL the Ones We’ve Been Waiting for

Dear Friends,

By now, you have probably simmered down your post-election emotions, for better or worse.  Maybe you celebrated. Maybe you cried.  But, you certainly cared about the outcome. This time around, it seems that everyone wanted change… maybe you thought it was coming from a Washington outsider, or a woman, or the separation of big business and government.  Maybe you mixed it up and said, ‘This is crap. I refuse to vote.’ (I know you are out there.  At least ten people told me this.)

Why am I bringing up this angst-ridden election again, you ask?  Well, because, guess what? Nothing has changed, yet again, as far as I can tell. We still have the same food system as we did on November 8th. Glyphosate is still found in unsafe quantities in far too many foods. Obesity is still on the rise. Corn syrup is still the cheapest high-calorie poison you can buy, sealing the fate of the health of many low-income families. Some of the most magically productive soil on the planet is still washing down the Mississippi in the fall rains.  Need I go on?

Victory Garden Initiative was founded on this truth “We are the ones that we are waiting for” to make the changes we wish to see in this world. Now, more than ever, this resonates deep into the core of who we are.  There is no politician that will, once voted in, make the policies needed to create a community-based, socially just, ecologically sustainable, and nutritious food system for all.  Grassroots heroes like Aldo Leopold, who fostered private landowner conservation programs in our great state, and Percy Schmeiser, the Canadian farmer who independently fought Monsanto for decades and finally won, knew in their gut, just like we do, that change is truly up to us.  Each and every one of us. It can be accomplished by growing our own food, through our day-to-day activities and through the ‘voting’ power of every dollar we spend.

This year, we need you more than ever. We need your financial support to ensure the success of the powerful grassroots programs that we run.  Our programs affect direct change in the food system. We don’t protest the world we don’t want, rather, we BUILD the world that we DO want, row by row. Garden by garden. Yard by yard.

Please consider supporting our cause this year. Know it in your soul, that you are doing the right thing, by making a contribution towards a community that grows its own food.

Grow food where we live. Donate so others can do the same.

~gretchen

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Cultural Exchange: A Letter from VGI’s Community Solutions Fellow, Freeman Ahegbebu

freeman-ahegbebu-1My name is Freeman Ahegbebu, and I am an innovative young Ghanaian with a deep passion for community development, promoting education, and assisting disadvantaged children. Growing up, my father worked as a corporate driver while my mother traded palm oil to support the family.  While we were far from rich, food was on the table, and my siblings and I knew it was expected of us to complete our education.  

After graduating high school, I became a student teacher in the science department of a junior high school.  During my tenure there, two students who were siblings lit the fire I have for community development, especially in education.  I could tell that their parents struggled every term to pay the school fees, as they were always late in payment and the children rarely had food for lunch.  Many times I forfeited my own lunch for them and developed a close relationship while we talked over our special shared meals. At the same time, my father lost his job, which left my three younger siblings without financial assistance for their education.  My elder sister and I were thrust into the family “breadwinner” roles as we were both employed.  While my father was struggling for steady employment again, I was exposed to the hardships and challenges many Ghanaian families face in accessing education for their children.  It was as if my own siblings were the two students who I shared lunch with everyday.

After four years, my father found employment and things in my own family started to return to normal.  The two students I had been working with graduated with distinction and continued onto high school with support from their extended family.  This experience showed me first-hand the determination and challenges faced by a family in sending their children/siblings to school.  It also strengthened my belief in the power of education.

Through the past few years I have watched countless students flourish when given the opportunity to learn without having the constraint of school fees looming over them and their families.  I know that development is a slow process, which will take many years, and even generations to unfold.  That being said, I also know that in other places development initiatives exist that significantly increase access to education.  I am motivated by the prospect of ending this struggle for a basic education, and firmly believe that it is possible in my community and throughout Ghana.

I began volunteering with Cheerful Hearts Foundation during its inception and have continuously worked to improve and expand our role in the community. One of the three villages we target is Senya Beraku, a poor fishing community of about fifty thousand people. Many children are forced to work in the fishing industry, foregoing an education. Tragically, we discovered that Senya Beraku is a place where many children are being sold or trafficked to other fishing communities for exploitation or slavery. By collaborating with our community liaisons and stakeholders, we developed a community sensitization and education program aimed towards both children and adults. This was a great start but we felt as though we could accomplish much more.

Currently, we have rescued, sponsored and placed over 40 children in school. There are plans to begin rescuing children from Lake Volta and construct a rehabilitation center to address the mental health concerns of these victims. Throughout this experience, there have been many doubts in the organization and the project’s ability to effect change in the community. It has now been 7 years and the signs of our accomplishments are spread throughout the community, especially on the children’s faces. I have learned that many things seem daunting at the beginning but that shouldn’t dissuade you.

I am currently here in the USA through the State Department’s Fellowship program called the Community Solutions Program for four months, doing my Professional Development Internship with the Victory Garden Initiative (VGI). Personally, I learned that one could lead others to accomplish great feats with skilled minds and minimal resources. During my internship I have learned more about innovating sustainable farming while honing my gardening  skills and leadership capacity in a setting that promotes establishing honest and trusting relationships between the community and local development organizations which focus on child-welfare and lucrative use of farming land.

I have learned from the hands-on experience VGI provided me that it is not enough to simply have the skills and knowledge. This makes me feel very confident in my ability to convey the  knowledge gained to create a positive, forward-thinking and empowered community back home.

Currently there is a two-fold problem in Senya Beraku, Ghana, where communities are not utilizing cultivable land and instead depend on fishing as a sole source of income, as well as children not focusing on education and instead fishing to support their families. Upon returning from the Community Solutions Program, I plan on implementing a project focused on innovation and alternative income generation through use of cultivable land in order to alleviate dependency on fishing and allow children the opportunity to focus on their education.

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Transition to Fall

Fall is the best time of year in Milwaukee. The weather is pleasant, lacking both the extreme humidity of August and the biting cold of December. The air is cool and crisp in the morning, but warm and light in the afternoon. The leaves are starting to change from their vibrant greens to glowing golds, earthy browns, and eye-catching crimsons.

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A pumpkin at Concordia Gardens

Fall is also a joyful time for the farmer – when most of the crops are ready to harvest, ending the summer season with a bounty of greens, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, and more. However, it is far from the end of the growing season; there’s still plenty of time to harvest giant, rotund pumpkins (for cooking or for carving), hardy root vegetables, and cool-weather kales and cabbages.

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Savoy Cabbage The farmer sees the change in seasons not simply as decreasing temperatures and sunlight, but as the earth’s sign  ready to produce different kinds of crops.

The signature fall crops are long-anticipated and well worth the wait. Pumpkins and squash, for example, are usually planted in late May and can grow through October. There is no greater sense of pride in a garden than going out to find a baby pumpkin growing from what used to be a flower on a vine. You check your pumpkin often, watching the progress of its growth, until one day it is orange and jack-o-lantern sized.

Fall crops are often sweeter than their summer cousins as well. There’s scientific proof behind this: as the weather gets colder, plants convert starches into sugars as a natural cold protectant. Sometimes, these cold-conditioned vegetables are different colors because of different growing conditions, like the crisp, “Red Russian” kale, a favorite kale variety that originates from Siberia. At a time when many locals are saddened by the cooler weather and fewer daylight hours, the vegetable selection actually becomes more exciting.

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Lacinato Kale

The unsuspecting champions of the fall growing season are root vegetables. These plants are so tough in their design because most of their mass is still in the ground. Root vegetables have an extremely smart growing technique, as soil is highly insulating and can keep the plant warm even into into November and early December, depending on the region. That means you can still grow radishes, carrots, turnips, and beets while the leaves are falling.

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These radishes at Concordia Gardens still have some time until harvest!

Technically, the growing season doesn’t have to end until the true end of fall, around November. We gardeners just have to change our mindset: the crops we grow, our growing techniques, and the kinds of meals we cook with the vegetables from our gardens.

We switch from tomatoes and peppers to pumpkins and turnips. We find clever ways to protect our precious plants, like blanketing them with freshly fallen leaves or building cold frames. We learn how to make new fall recipes, like squash soups and roasted beets. This is not the end of homegrown produce for the year; it’s simply a time of transition.

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In Food We Trust

Nearly all of us have been in a situation in which we have been severely betrayed and we learned that someone we love is not who we thought they were.  Our belief in the reliability, truth or strength of a person is forever diminished.  At best, a breach in trust can trigger our own personal growth, resilience, autonomy of spirit, and a more solid foundation for relationships moving ahead. But, depending on the violation, our own personal tendencies, and so many other factors, this lack of trust can forever shake the foundation of who we are. Sometimes the anger, sadness, and even apathy can consume people for the rest of their lives.  

As you seek support you will be counseled that forgiveness is the key to moving forward, that keeping the anguish in your heart will only harm you.

But what if the betrayal keeps happening? What if the impact of repeated betrayals causes irreparable damage and on-going trauma to the person who has been injured? What if one cannot escape the betrayal because it is out of one’s control? Is the act of forgiveness truly an adequate response to a person who will harm others for the duration of his life? Forgiveness, it seems, is an overly simplistic response to harmful behaviors that ought be stopped.  

I’m going to make a leap here, and suggest that this feeling of betrayal is happening all around us right now. Every institution, law, corporation, politician, every cornerstone that holds the foundation of this country is under scrutiny, and is the chosen perpetrator of some group’s betrayal, weaving a web of suspicion, outrage and rage so complex, its source is no longer identifiable. A lack of trust has consumed the national psyche, and we walk around holding post-trauma emotions and hyper-vigilance, our heart-racing, ready to pounce on anyone who reminds us of (?) the betrayer…. whomever or whatever that betrayer may be.  Hands

So, what does one do in a time when corporations are selling us out for larger profits overseas? When the banking regulators are in cahoots with the mortgage lenders? When the DNR gets defunded to protect big money-interests rather than environmental, our church institutions fail to protect children, and the FDA has lost control over the industries they manage? When it seems that we have been betrayed by every layer of civilized society, what does one do?  

Well, I for one, suggest forgiveness.

Just kidding. I don’t suggest forgiveness.

Forgiveness simply isn’t enough when you are dealing with repeat offenses. At some point, we must decide that we are going to act in our own best interest to no longer be in a position to be subject to betrayal… in other words, we must change the power dynamic so that the untrustworthy do not have control.

Food has been at the center of this conversation about institutional trust and betrayal.  We have been subject to an industry that wants control over the world’s genetic code, that over produces corn syrup, that raises animals in cruel and unnatural ways and suppresses good food science that could save lives. We have found shoe rubber chemicals in our bread and our kids have gotten sick because of the food they eat in school. Our money supports the workers of the global agricultural industry who are modern day slaves. It’s time to know exactly what we are eating, it’s time to stop being the victims of institutional betrayal and take back our food system.

Thinkers like Michael Pollan and Vandana Shiva have allowed us to see through the malignant behaviors of the food industry, and have triggered us to go back to the roots of food… quite literally.  We, all of us, as agricultural beings, are becoming ever more determined to remove ourselves from a relationship with the industrial food system that moved beyond a few incidents of betrayal to an abusive relationship, leaving us sick and vulnerable.  

We seem to be saying, “No More.”  We have grabbed fiercely ahold of our internal locus of control, and said, “We aren’t going to interact with that untrustworthy, hornswaggling food system again, unless it is on our own terms.”

So here we are homesteading, making our own yogurt, going to farmer’s markets in droves, heading to restaurants that support our local food producers.  We are purchasing foods with our conscience.  We are growing our own food, in our own space and saying to those that can no longer be trusted, “We won’t take it any more.”

Join us, all of you, this month, today, in taking our power back into our own hands, where we can rely on the source.  Come help the kids in Harambee know that their work is valuable to this community by purchasing the vegetables they helped grow.  Decide to make change in your own community by registering for our year long Food Leader Certification Program. Join us at the FarmRaiser in September, or host a Five Mile Meal, in order to expand this rich network of people who are demanding change.  
Action is the pathway towards healing ourselves.

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Farewell from Alysse

by Alysse Gear
Program Support Specialist

A few weeks ago, our FarmStand opened for the season. In between weeding, planning, talking responsibilities, and eating salads fresh from the garden, I told two of our main youth staff (self-proclaimed managers Alex and Ivan—see section above) that I would be leaving a little early this year. Their response: “I know you’ll still be here, Alysse.”

FarmStand

This is my favorite photo from our first summer of the FarmStand. Pictured are Imani, Alex, Davion and one of Alex’s little brothers.

In nearly three years of growing up alongside each other—them quite literally, me in a whole slew of nonprofit skills—they know me too well to expect me to stop coming to Concordia Gardens. After all, helping with the FarmStand has never been an official part of my job, but I find myself there on Thursdays more weeks than I don’t. Watching the kids funnel their creativity, thoughtfulness and energy into the FarmStand, turning into the sharpest little entrepreneurs in the process, gives me so much hope for our future. And it is exactly the kind of thing I want to be part of every single day.

After years of writing grants (with a special place in my heart for our youth education), marketing our programs and empowering volunteers to help make them happen, doing much of the administrative dirty work to keep this beautiful organization afloat, crunching numbers and running events, it is time for my bittersweet departure.

My time at Victory Garden Initiative has challenged me to think bigger, empowered me to turn my ideas into reality, and showed me just how powerful a group of people can be with a common vision. July 21 will be my last day on staff, but it will certainly not be my last as part of this movement.

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I hope to see you at the FarmRaiser on Sat., Sept. 10!


So now it’s up to all of us—the volunteers, the donors, the supporters, the cheerleaders, the community. It’s up to us to keep digging up our lawns and replacing them with gardens, sharing peas and conversations with passersby. It’s up to us to take a little bit of money we save from growing our own food to donate a garden for a family in need. It’s up to us to lend a hand, turning the desires of our hearts into the actual, tangible world we wish to see.

Looking back on the 2013 Victory Garden Initiative that I joined—not even 1,500 gardens yet, three staff, Concordia Gardens’ production area just a sparkle in Gretchen’s eye—I am so proud to see how far we have come. We’re DOING this!

As I move on to pursue a career in teaching elementary school, I know our beloved VGI is in excellent, incredibly resourceful, capable and creative hands. And I don’t just mean Kelly’s and Alex’s, Gretchen’s and Quinn’s—I mean all of ours. Since that very first little BLITZ in 2009 that started it all, this has been a community effort, an incredibly resilient vehicle for all of us to pour our hopes and dreams into, yielding delicious food and stronger community.

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Eric, Yaa, Ahmed and I with the last soil delivery of the 2015 BLITZ. Volunteers (and Public Allies!) like these three are what keep this mission moving.

So before I depart, I want to use my one last newsletter for a few personal requests to ensure our momentum continues forever and ever until VGI is no longer needed; “When fruit trees fill our parks and nut trees are harvested by our neighbors, when food pantries house vegetable gardens and school children participate in growing their lunches, we will have a secure, sovereign, socially just and sustainable food system”—this is VGI’s vision.

  • Visit the FarmStand! It’s open 2-6 every Thursday, and Concordia Gardens’ produce is divine.
  • Join the Food Leader Certificate Program! My “unofficial” project as a 2013 Food Leader was to make a leap into the gardening and environmental education world—and it’s safe to say I succeeded. This is your chance to invest in yourself, and I hope you take it.
  • Sign up for a volunteer orientation in July! These are the last I will be leading, and I’d really like to see you.

I am forever thankful for my time with all of you.

Until we meet again,
Alysse

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Our Attitude of Gratitude

by Gretchen Mead
Executive Director

Friends,

With deep thanks we wind down this year’s BLITZ, our 8th.  We take the gifts that you have given us to heart, and always, always utilize them to help more people grow their own food.  Though we will be challenged to thank every single person who helped us build 555 gardens this year, we are going to give it our best shot.

BLITZ photo for Blog

 

Deep thanks to all of our gardeners, the hundreds of you who purchased gardens, yes, even for the smallest amount of money. It is your desire to make this world a little bit better by growing your own food that makes it all real. Real gardens. Real food. Real people. Stacking up by the hundred every year, there are now thousands of you in Milwaukee. Thank you.

And to the volunteers. The hundreds of you as well. You worked SO hard, through inclement weather, when you could have been relaxing on your patio, when you could have chosen not to care; you built gardens for people all over Milwaukee and supported a mission that you believe in.

Thank you to the hundreds of individuals who signed up all on your own.

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And thank you to the below team efforts: 

  • 88.9 Radio Milwaukee
  • Accounting Professionals
  • Blitzdkriegs Men’s Roller Derby
  • Colectivo Coffee
  • Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin
  • GMR Milwaukee
  • Green Design Center
  • Independence First
  • Johnson Controls
  • Lowe’s
  • Mandel Group
  • Milwaukee Peace Corps Association
  • Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation
  • Mount Mary Dietetics students
  • NorthShore Bank
  • Outpost Natural Foods Co-op
  • Physicians Accounting
  • Representative Evan Goyke
  • UnitedHealthcare Community Plan
  • USBank
  • Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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Thank you to all those partner organizations who supported the BLITZ and/or received gardens during the BLITZ, some whom we have worked with for years and some new.  We are honored to work with you, shoulder to shoulder, making Milwaukee a stronger community.

THANK YOU:

  • Centro Hispano Milwaukee – Head Start
  • Clarke Square Neighborhood Initiative
  • CommonBond Communities
  • Company Brewing
  • Congress Public School
  • Ebenezer Church
  • Five Points Neighborhood Association
  • Fratney School
  • Garden Homes Neighborhood & 30th Street Industrial Corridor
  • Grateful Girls, Inc.
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Housing Resources Inc.
  • International Institute of Wisconsin
  • Jewish Family Services
  • Kingo Lutheran Church
  • Latinos por la Salud
  • Martin Drive Neighborhood
  • Milwaukee Riverkeeper
  • Mitchell Park Domes
  • Neu-Life Community Development
  • North Shore Montessori School
  • Pierce School
  • Reformation Angel Community Gardens
  • Renew Environmental Public Health Advocates
  • Sherman Park Neighborhood Association
  • Silver Spring Neighborhood Center
  • St. Anthony High School
  • St. Francis Children’s Center
  • Tabernacle Community Baptist Church
  • The North End (Mandel Group)
  • Trowbridge School of Discovery and Technology
  • Urban Ecology Center
  • Washington Park Partners
  • Wauwatosa Montessori School
  • West Allis Health Department
  • Wisconsin Conservatory of Lifelong Learning
  • Women Encouraging Women
  • Zablocki Elementary School

Thanks to those champions who make connections, bring people in, and otherwise go out of their way to make this event shine.  We need your advocacy and willingness to go out of your comfort zone in order to bring people to this cause and ensure the work gets done.

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  • Aaron Habeck
  • Angela Mitchell – City of Milwaukee
  • Apple Jackson – Johnson Controls
  • Barbara Richards
  • Britney Roberson – Washington Park Partners
  • Bryan Hartsook – Wisconsin DNR
  • Carl Nilssen – Riverworks
  • Celia Benton – Layton Boulevard West Neighbors
  • Corrie Mitchell – US Bank
  • Eric Fowler
  • Gail Bennett
  • George Bregar – Company Brewing
  • Grace Sherer
  • Hamptony Guridy
  • Hannah Harris – Habitat for Humanity
  • Ian Brown – City of Milwaukee
  • James Jutrzonka – Blue Ribbon Organics
  • Jane Hawes & David Shapiro
  • Janine Gasparich
  • Jeff “Dirtman” Leswing
  • Jennifer Ziegler
  • Joy Murray – Enterprise Truck Rental
  • Joyce Andrews – Stein’s Garden & Home
  • Ken Gear
  • Mary Pipito & Wild Thing
  • Nick Vannucci – Garden of Flavor
  • Ramie Camarena
  • Pete Brands
  • Sannia Green
  • Sophia Carpenter
  • Wendy Mireles – Cafe Corazon
  • Zack Brazan – Habitat for Humanity

Thanks to all of the deep generosity of our sponsors.  With your gifts, we were able to say “yes” to every single family that wanted a garden.

  • Bliffert Hardware
  • Blue Ribbon Organics
  • Brewers Family Foundation
  • City of Milwaukee Neighborhood Improvement Development Corporation & Strong Neighborhoods
  • Case/CNH Industrial
  • Colectivo
  • Echelon Innovation Campus
  • Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin
  • Garden of Flavor
  • Green Tree Garden Club
  • Habitat for Humanity & Lowe’s
  • Johnson Controls
  • Meijer
  • Organic Valley
  • Stein’s Garden and Home
  • The North End
  • United Healthcare
  • WE Energies
  • Zilber Family Foundation

With DEEP GRATITUDE,

~gretchen

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Record-breaking BLITZ 2016

by Kelly Moore Brands
Community Program Manager

Early mornings, late evenings, sleeping like a bear in hibernation in the in-between hours.

Muscling through each day to build as many gardens as we can. 27309621341_22b95ecf05_o

Getting dirty, shoes filled with soil, dealing with rain and wind and hail (oh, my!), but also sunshine and laughter and the smiles of hundreds of volunteers and gardeners.

Relying on our amazing team to get it all done.

Five-hundred and fifty-five gardens in 15 days. That is the BLITZ.

It is one of the most rewarding things that we do here at Victory Garden Initiative – building gardens for people of all ages, ethnicities and income levels in every ZIP Code of Milwaukee and beyond. Just one example of how lucky we are to live here and do this work: our volunteers are incredibly tough – when the weather failed to bring us warmth and sunshine and daisies, they had to deal with it. When I asked them to go out all day and build gardens, they came back at the end of the day, soaking wet but still smiling, telling me that they built 72 gardens in the pouring rain! But with rain comes rainbows, and this year, by the end of the BLITZ, it was all rainbows:

  •       381 gardens built and filled with soil
  •       171 yards of soil delivered to fill existing gardens for a total of 552 gardens established26773820233_b68ccca3c7_o
  •       3,100 packets of fruit, vegetable and flower seeds delivered to gardeners
  •       1,000 vegetable seedlings made available to BLITZ gardeners at Weber’s Greenhouse thanks to Weber’s, MATC and MPS teachers and students
  •       Over 350 volunteers including groups from 19 Milwaukee organizations
  •       12 gardens installed at churches, 31 at schools and 37 at community spaces
  •       Over 50 gardens installed in the Washington Park neighborhood alone (a new record!)
  •       Sponsorships from 17 local and national organizations, helping us subsidize more gardens than ever before!

With each garden, we know we are closer to building a food system that feeds all people equally; with each food crop planted in someone’s yard, we are helping Milwaukee engage in healthy practices. Whether you BLITZed with us, painted signs, or supported us in any other way, thank you for all your hard work and dedication. As you can see, we literally could not do this without you.

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Thank you especially to: 

  • Case/CNH for the use of their skid steer
  • OneTouchPoint for donation of our Move Grass Grow Food yard signs
  • Our BLITZ Committee – the best in the business!
    • Dirtman (Jeff Leswing) – you are in the trenches with us every day and move soil like nobody’s business
    • Aaron Habeck – your dedication to the food movement is inspiring, and your truck driving skills are on point
    • Dennis Grzezinski – your constant support, from painting signs to connecting us to donors, helps us keep growing the BLITZ
    • Chris Steinkamp – we wouldn’t have wheelbarrows (or maps!) without you
    • Mary Creegan – you get the Energizer Bunny award – always asking “what more can I do?”
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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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