Blitz is on its way, and it’s going to get down and dirty. That’s
just fine with volunteers and staff members at the Milwaukee-based
Victory Garden Initiative, who plan to create about 500 vegetable
gardens across the city May 10 to 24.
the organization’s executive director, says the goal for this year’s
Great Milwaukee Victory Garden Blitz is for the event to become as
synonymous with the city as Bradford Beach and Summerfest.
Mead founded the
Victory Garden Initiative in 2008 after she started growing food in
her Shorewood front yard, sparking an interest in urban agriculture.
"It was really a group of friends who had been doing a lot of
reading and learning about the food system, climate change, social
justice issues and feeling a sense of urgency about addressing these
issues and making a decision to help people grow their own food in
Milwaukee as a response," Mead says.
first Victory Garden Blitz in 2009 resulted in 40 new gardens; the
next year it installed 100 raised-bed gardens. In 2013, volunteers
created 503 gardens during the Blitz.
The Blitz is
also about removing the barriers that exist for urban gardeners, Mead
says. "A lot of the land in the city is not growable," she
notes. "It’s really low- quality soil. When land is developed,
topsoil is scraped away and taken somewhere else.
reason is contamination, often with lead and mercury. Lead comes from
leaded paint and gasoline and exists in the soil, especially in older
houses," she says. Victory Garden raised beds are filled with
organic soil so that gardeners can cultivate safe, nutritious
vegetables, fruits and herbs.
Initiative Program Manager Jazz Glastra says about 250 volunteers
worked on the project last year, "and many of those people were
‘repeat offenders,’ volunteering day after day during the
For Glastra, the
Blitz is not just about growing food, it’s about building
communities. In a formal evaluation of the project, an intern from the
UW-Milwaukee School of Public Health found that the vast majority of
people who grow food in Blitz gardens share that food with friends and
grow something with your own two hands, going from a little seedling
to something you can eat, you can’t help but share that with the
people around you," Glastra says. The front yard is often the
best spot for an urban garden, she adds, because "it brings the
Garden Initiative project is its annual Fruity Nutty Five, which
awards five neighborhoods an "edible forest" of fruit and
nut trees. Glastra says the ground rules are that the community must
demonstrate a minimum of 10 neighbors will either plant trees or care
for the trees if planted in a vacant lot or park.
neighborhoods have to organize themselves," Glastra says,
"and they come to us with a proposal for their own vision. They’re
building community as they go."
what is happening in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood, says Tammy
Neeb, a graduate of the Victory Garden Initiative’s yearlong Food
Leader Certification Program. It’s one of many classes offered by
the Victory Garden Initiative, all aimed at promoting urban
Neeb says she
signed up for the course because she and her husband, Jim Kosakowski,
are second-year gardeners and were hungry to learn more about growing
their own food. She also had a professional interest. Neeb is a
foreclosure coordinator in the city’s Neighborhood Services
Department and is interested in revitalizing vacant lots. "Each
food leader is supposed to do a community project," Neeb says,
"so my husband and I walked around and knocked on doors and met
people we never met before."
commitments to qualify for the Fruity Nutty Five competition, the
neighbors created a video and won an orchard. Because Bay View’s
Tippecanoe Park had recently lost many trees to an emerald ash borer
infestation, the neighbors decided it was the perfect place to grow an
neighbors got together and planted three dozen fruit and nut trees in
the park. Students at nearby Clement Avenue School helped water and
prune the trees, and neighbors helped the students build raised garden
beds. "It was just really a great success story for our
community. All of these amazing things happened," Neeb says.
"You instantly create a network of people who are going to
naturally look out for each other. Now you’ve got teachers, parents,
students and neighbors around the school interacting. On top of that,
it created community and neighborhood pride."
A project in
Concordia Park in Milwaukee’s Harambee Neighborhood is helping to
create a community-based food system. Mead says when the Victory
Garden Initiative first began cultivating the city-owned park four
years ago, the soil was so compacted that rainwater ran off of it and
into the sewers. Today, it has 35 community garden plots and an
board member Erik Lindberg says he is most interested in the cultural
changes that can happen through urban agriculture, "making people
see their relationship to their food, the environment and each other
in a new way." Mead says the broader vision for the Victory
Garden Initiative is to create "a localized, sustainable — in
the true sense of the word — community-based food system."
think about the food system and growing my own food, I think about how
I can help my family and community have access to really good, fresh
food. Literally, I’m eating the earth, drinking Lake Michigan and
using the sun that shines for sustenance. I’m connecting myself to
this land and these people in a way that’s really profound." m
information on the Victory Garden Initiative, go to
victorygardeninitiative.org. Visit mmagazinemilwaukee.com for a list
of garden clubs in your area.