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  • 01 Apr 2014 5:06 PM | Jazz Glastra (Administrator)

    Breaking Bad, Wendell Berry-Style

    By Gretchen Mead

    Ten years ago, I stood in the middle of my old potato field in central Wisconsin, picking large, round stones from my rototiller path and moving them into a centralized pile in the middle of my one acre vegetable garden.  Large swaths of land, surrounded by stone fence-rows made by farmers before me, mark the landscape of the central Wisconsin potato fields. What kind of fortitude they must have had to till and work that field until it was ready for planting.  I sometimes imagined their strong bodies, clear minds, and determined spirits. I would stand up on this pile of rocks to get a height advantage and better see the lay of the land.  I would stand there urged to become solid, with two feet planted, my chest out and my hands on my hips, imagining the fortitude of my ancestral farmers. If I was lucky, the wind would blow my hair back so I could see clearly.

    I love thinking about this - the tenacity of those revolutionary farmers before us, waking in the middle of the night to shoot a fox in the chicken coop.  Pouring water in freezing weather, plant by plant, over a crop of tomatoes to prevent them from freezing.  Training horses, day in and day out, to become perfect teammates that pull huge ploughs that turn over the earth.  Losing an entire year’s crop and starving all winter, barely pulling through March. Those farmers were badasses.

    Fast forward to the softer, gentler times that we have now.  Food is nearly always available for the great percentage of our population. Most of us interested in urban farming are not going to starve to death if there is an early frost.  Though urban farming is hard work, there are safety nets in place if we fail.  We have so much handed to us as compared to days gone by. Why are we not yet more successful, you ask?  

    Though we face a skills deficit as we work to train a new generation of farmers, our struggle, I might suggest, is not with the raw hardship of the work that needs to be done. Rather, our struggle is one of the spirit.  It is one of passion, or perhaps a battle with our own apathy.  We toggle between watching the next episode of “Breaking Bad” and spending an hour of devoted time composting our lawn waste.  We spend our hard-earned, taxed dollars on long-deserved island vacations, but can’t find the money we need to develop a farm.  We read the new 300-page Vandana Shiva book and worry late into the night, waking up to find a way to forget about it.  Our comfort food, not our religion, is the opiate of the masses.

    Wendell Berry at once captures the source of our noncommittal attitude while simultaneously asking us for more, in his famous Mad Farmer Liberation Front.

    He taunts:

    Love the quick profit, the annual raise, vacation with pay.

    Want more of everything made.

    Be afraid to know your neighbors and to die.

    And you will have a window in your head.

    Not even your future will be a mystery any more.

    Your mind will be punched in a card and shut away in a little drawer.

    When they want you to buy something they will call you.

    When they want you to die for profit they will let you know.”

    Wendell Berry is too progressive to let us off the hook by poking fun at our apathy alone.  He goes on with a series of revolutionary acts, that in my opinion, make Walter White appear to be a conformist.

    “So, friends, every day do something that won't compute.

    Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing.

    Take all that you have and be poor.

    Love someone who does not deserve it.

    Denounce the government and embrace the flag.

    Hope to live in that free republic for which it stands.

    Give your approval to all you cannot understand.

    Praise ignorance,

    for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed.

    Ask the questions that have no answers.

    Invest in the millennium.

    Plant sequoias.

    Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant,

    that you will not live to harvest.”

    Read this rant weekly, while ditching the next “Breaking Bad” viewing party and you will begin to envision a new way to think about who is and is not a ‘bad ass’ in this day and age.  I suspect Walter White will seem less like a demigod anti-hero, and more like a sellout if you let the writings of Wendell Berry seep into your soul. (OMGoddess, I bet I’ll get emails about this statement :/ )


    We have some rebellious opportunities for you. Right now. In Milwaukee.

    Recently, because of your support, because you believe in what we are doing, because we are getting work done that you believe in, we were able to purchase Concordia Gardens from the City of Milwaukee.  This 1.5-acre property is a true hidden gem in the Harambee neighborhood.  This year, we are teaching programs there, growing half an acre of

    vegetables, and expanding Milwaukee’s first public food forest. We are close to winning $12,000 for the expansion of this project from Troy-Bilt and Keeping America Beautifu

    l–provided that you all vote. You can even vote every day!

    A few days ago, I met a young artist at Concordia Gardens.  She contacted me about taking portraits for her senior project that demonstrated using urban agriculture to create a sense of place in Milwaukee and Detroit.  We walked around the garden, and decided to start the shoot on top of the pile of urban rubble that we have collected from this land over the past four years.  I stood on this pile in the center of the garden and felt myself put my two feet solidly on the ground.  I held my chest out, put my hands on my hips and hoped for the wind.

  • 01 Apr 2014 8:28 AM | Alysse Gear (Administrator)

    Early Spring Volunteer day with Students from Hamline University

    By Will Martens

    It has been a long, cold winter in Milwaukee! I am writing this on the 27th if March and we have just had our first 40° day of 2014. Last fall at Concordia Gardens,  the 2500 gallon cistern was installed, and the main production area of the farm was laid out. And despite the deep freeze, a few things happened at our land over the winter.

    The biggest news is that we now OWN the land at Concordia, a huge step for our organization! It's ours, and we couldn't be more excited.

    We have also been able to procure a large amount of green (read: high nitrogen content) material in the way of compostable vegetables. The material has been piling up and with the warm temperatures we didn’t want the piles to create a nuisance our neighbors. We needed to get them covered. This leads me to the second occurrence.

    Green Man Tree and Landscape has donated a large amount of composted mulch. We got over 200 yards of composted carbon-rich material. This is an incredible amount of mulch and will go a long way in helping us build good soil in which to grow our vegetables this season and for many to come. This material is perfect for mixing in materials like the above-mentioned compostable vegetables! We are looking forward to a second delivery by Green Man of composted manure to further enhance the soil production at our facility.

    Finally, we had our first volunteer day of 2014 with students from Hamline University from Minnesota's Twin Cities. A great group of nine individuals chose to spend their spring breaks together in Milwaukee visiting, touring, and volunteering with businesses and non-profits promoting urban agriculture in our city.

    Wow! What a group! These nine volunteers arrived at Concordia Gardens to bright sun but a blustery wind and temps in the high teens that made the morning quite chilly. They first undertook a spring cleaning of sorts. They picked up trash that matriculated onto the farm over the course of the winter. While the volunteers got moving, the sun got shining on the mulch pile, which was frozen when everyone arrived. By the time the cleanup was completed, the mulch had thawed a little and was even putting off a little heat! (Pretty amazing to seegases rising off the pile like a mirage in the desert!) The students, who were led by student leaders Jenni and Marco (under the tutelage of Nancy), worked hard and were able to cover both of the compost piles that had grown through deliveries made by volunteers throughout the winter months (Thanks regular volunteers like Zahner and Sarah Moore!). They did that all before lunch. 

    After lunch everyone worked together to transport more of the mulch to the main production area of the farm. We were able to complete adding another four rows of soil to the main area. This is hard work and they did it all with hand-tools and wheel-barrows. They were not short on smiles or positive attitude, and that made all of the difference. Thanks so much to the Hamline University Volunteers! Jenni, Marco, Yolanda, Wah Wah, Nancy, Eddie, Megan, Rin, and Nick made my first event coordinating volunteers for Concordia Gardens a very pleasant and very memorable experience.

    I am happy to announce that our twice-monthly work days are (and will continue to be) the first Saturday of every month as well as the third Sunday of every month (except May). In May we have the Garden Blitz—and that means countless opportunities to volunteer. Here’s a link to help get you started if you’re interested:

    Though the winter has been long, there is a stirring of spring and we will be planting soon… So sign up here for to rent a raised bed at Concordia Gardens!

    Finally, Concordia Gardens would be just an idea without the hard work of our many volunteers. Please consider lending a hand on the farm during our regular volunteer days. You can sign up ahead of time here:

    …or you can just come down to the farm on the first Saturday and third Sunday of the month!

    Thanks for reading our Concordia Gardens update! Enjoy my photos of our Hamline University volunteers moving all of that composted mulch from Green Man Tree and Landscape.

  • 01 Mar 2014 9:53 AM | Alysse Gear (Administrator)
    Bartolotta Restaurants to Support Victory Garden Initiative in its Restaurants and Beyond in 2014

    [This article reposted from the Bartolotta Restaurants blog. Original here.]

    Bartolotta’s announces partnership with VGI that includes a March campaign in the restaurants, a significant commitment to VGI’s Annual Blitz in May and more

    MILWAUKEE – February 26, 2014 – Throughout the month of March, every Bartolotta restaurant will feature one specialty cocktail and one first course – a soup, salad or appetizer – in honor of Bartolotta’s 2014 
    Spot-On campaign partner, Victory Garden Initiative (VGI). All profits from those items will be donated to the organization.

    This is one part of a multi-layered partnership with VGI this year that will allow Care-a-lotta, the charitable arm of The Bartolotta Restaurants, to provide support and help create awareness for VGI’s mission throughout the community. Together, Care-a-lotta and VGI will work to create a secure, sovereign, socially just and sustainable food system in Milwaukee.

    VGI will host its sixth annual Victory Garden Blitz May 10-24, during which time the group and its hundreds of volunteers will build at least 500 4x8-ft. raised-bed gardens throughout the Milwaukee community. This Blitz typically takes about 3,000 hours of manpower, and Bartolotta’s has committed 1,000 of those hours to be covered by its staff and their family and friends.

    “The Care-a-lotta Board immediately recognized the passion and importance behind VGI’s mission, and we share their dedication to providing fresh, quality food,” said Jennifer Bartolotta, head of the Care-a-lotta board. “Our employees are very excited to grab their shovels and roll up their sleeves to take part in this exciting and worthy endeavor.”

    Following the Blitz, VGI will have a strong presence at Northpoint custard stand on Milwaukee’s lakefront this season, which is the key 
    component of Care-a-lotta’s annual Spot-On campaign. The two organizations will find creative and impactful ways to raise funds, friends and awareness for VGI throughout the summer. More detailswill follow in the coming months.

    To see the full lineup of drinks and first courses available throughout Bartolotta’s restaurants in March, please click here.

  • 04 Feb 2014 11:16 AM | Alysse Gear (Administrator)

    Stories from the Pantry

    by Gretchen Mead

    Do you have any idea when you have enough? Enough food. Enough water. Electricity. Heat. Trips. Books. Stuff. Options. Do you know?

    This year I made a New Year’s resolution to spend NO money on food during the month of January.

    I did this for two reasons: because I have food stored that I need to use, and because sometimes I want to know in my soul when it is that I have enough. That’s all, just enough.

    Full disclosure: I didn’t succeed in full. Some things came up that I didn’t expect, like a three-day trip to Green Bay, then a rush home to orchestrate my eight-year-old’s first ever Rock Star Slumber Party...and I needed a birthday cake, pronto. While in Green Bay, I went on a tour of the Oneida Farms and realized it was the perfect opportunity to purchase some local, sustainably grown meats for the next few months, so I did. 

    But, mostly, it was a successful month of digging deeper into the pantry to eat what I have, and to always feel like I have enough.

    Though I did miss many foods, it turns out my life was very full. Full of food, yes. But also full of stories of abundance, connection, and community that left me more fed than I’d felt in a long time.

    Twice a week we ate corn grown in my hometown by our locally famous sweet corn farmer, Fencel’s.  As a child, I de-tassled corn for this farmer. My mom bought it at peak season 2013 and spent an afternoon bagging enough for my family to eat all year. Over a bowl of corn chowder, I told my children the story of Fencel’s sweet corn.

    A friend went salmon fishing on a charter boat in Lake Michigan this year and gave me several pounds of this freshly harvested local fish. I baked it and mushed it with the rest of my cream cheese and some homemade yogurt, making a delicious spread.  Imagine that fish, swimming deep off the shores of Lake Michigan, the water it drank. Imagine the rainstorm rushing off the streets, to the lake, to that fat salmon to our table. Imagine.

    I have been able to trade my extensive home-canned tomato products ranging from chili sauce to marinara to salsa for things such as eggs, bread, and pretty much anything else that I found myself in need of. This chili sauce is the same recipe that my grandmother used and that I unearth from an old recipe box every year.

    And, finally, all the local, seasonal fruits that I have picked and stored away with friends and family have given us edible reminders of last year’s abundant apple season, and the sunburn we got while picking strawberries at Barthels. Having this fruit on hand, and deciding to use ONLY it, has given rise to new forms of pretty much everything. Savory when you thought sweet. Dinner when you thought breakfast.  I have made delicious juice-like drinks by blending various fruits until they make a pulpy sweet concoction. It’s not the kind of juice that we have come to expect from the store…

    ...but after a month of pantry eating, I can’t help but wonder why I ever cared about expecting food to be like the stuff we can get at the store. Always the same quality, processed this way, then that way, with exact amounts of sugars, added flavors, and plastic packaging. Who said that’s the way it’s done? Who said that is security? Who said knowing that we can buy whatever we want from the store equates to abundance?

    This month, my pantry taught me that abundance is not something that we acquire. It is something we learn to feel.

    See you all at the Fruity Nutty Affair on Saturday, February 22.

    ~ Gretchen

  • 07 Jan 2014 9:00 AM | Alysse Gear (Administrator)

    The Spirit of Collaboration

    by Gretchen Mead

    Have you ever made plans for your life, only for them to fall through because of things beyond your control?

    You. Will. Never. Miss. A Packer game. Until you have a couple kiddos and realize that you are going to have to skip your own kid’s birthday party to make it to the playoff match.

    You. Will. Go on vacation. Every February. To Someplace Warm. Except that February is your husband’s busiest time at work and there is no way he can escape.

    You. Will. Become an Urban Homesteader Extraordinaire. But it’s so overwhelming. And you don’t have much land. And your neighbors hate chickens.

    What do these three scenarios have in common? They don’t have a collaborative master plan. We have arrived at a moment in time, when we have been so thoroughly coached to have our own independent destiny that we simply haven’t even conceived of a collaborative master plan that best meets everyone’s needs as a whole. In fact, if we HAD a collaborative plan, it would surely undermine our competitive nature (she writes with a snarky grin).

    In the Milwaukee’s food movement, we have yet to clearly articulate a grand master plan for our community. Individual organizations imagine their visions; homeowners gather around the seed catalogue each February to re-create their front yards; young farmers with angsty need for uprising talk revolution; health clinic employees plot ways to influence the system with better preventive care; ecologists fight for the survival of bees; politicians consider policy change that won’t undermine their tax base; churches offer emergency food to the starving. Meanwhile, time goes by and change is incremental and in silos.

    The good news is folks are catching on and recognizing that change will be made with greater collaboration.

    This is where YOU come in. How can WE develop a MASTER PLAN that unites our efforts for once and for all toward a better food system?

    Tell me ten things that need to happen in order for Milwaukee to have an ecologically sustainable, socially equitable, nutritious food system. Send them to me in an email or post them on our Facebook page.

    While you are at it, send me ten markers of an ecologically sustainable, socially equitable, nutritious food system. In other words, how will we know that we have arrived to the place we want?

    This year, Victory Garden Initiative has a resolution. We are committed to citywide, all-hands-on-deck, everyone-at-the-table kind of year, mission, and vision. We want to be part of the whole. We want to engage in the bigger picture to the best of our ability.

    Already underway are the following efforts:

    In the Spirit of Collaboration: THE BLITZ

    Milwaukee is increasingly known for its advancement of urban agriculture. The BLITZ is the largest citywide collaboration and celebration of urban agriculture in Milwaukee, and we are just getting started. Victory Garden Initiative organizes hundreds of volunteers, resources, and partners to install 500 gardens every May. People from all over the state and even the country have been in contact with us, wondering how we ‘pull it off’. As we head into our 6th annual, the BLITZ is becoming as Milwaukee as the Film Fest, Bradford Beach, and the Fonz.

    New this year: We are so excited to announce that Bartolotta Restaurant Group’s philanthropic arm, Care-A-Lotta, will support the BLITZ with 1000-plus employees, fundraising, outreach, and even our very own spotlight at Northpoint Custard by the lake! This is in addition to our many long-term partners, such as CASE Industrial, Habitat for Humanity, Purple Cow Organics, Green Man Tree & Landscape Services, Washington Park Partners, Baird, Layton Boulevard West Neighbors, and…well, to be honest, the partners just keep rolling in.  

    Do you think your place of employment, church, school, neighborhood, or other affiliation may want to participate in the BLITZ this year? Email Jazz ( and join us for our upcoming BLITZ Q&A Session.

    Opportunity rewards a prepared organization, so next week, we will be training several dozen Green Bay organizations to collaborate for their very own Victory Garden BLITZ!

    In the Spirit of Collaboration: The Milwaukee Food Council

    I have been working with the steering committee of the Milwaukee Food Council (MFC) in some capacity for the past several years and watched its efficacy grow. The MFC has existed for seven years, serving as a forum to bring Milwaukeeans together to create an ecologically sustainable, socially just, economically vibrant, culturally relevant, and healthful food system. These meetings draw over 50 people from all over the city, a wide array of disciplines, and all walks of life, who give a strong show of support for a new way of eating, of living.

    This is the place where the dietician shows up because he wants to figure out how to help his clients grows more food, and he finds some folks who can help. This is where the “guy from the city” gets to hear firsthand the kinds of challenges young farmers are encountering in relationship to land-use issues for urban agriculture. Collaboration is a constant.

    In the Spirit of Collaboration: The Institute for Urban Agriculture and Nutrition

    Haven’t heard of this yet? That’s because it’s in its nascent form, not yet an official entity, but moving toward it everyday. The IUAN is a multi-organization institution bringing together UWM, UW, UW Extension, Growing Power, MCW, MSOE, Marquette, City of Milwaukee Office of Environmental Sustainability, and you guessed it, The Milwaukee Food Council. Imagine what happens when a citywide consortium of people changing the food system bump brains with the top academic institutions in the state of Wisconsin! Do you see it? Academic support to study anything ranging from soil health to food security factors, needed policy changes to anything else that creates a socially just, ecologically sustainable, nutritious food system.

    This year, Victory Garden Initiative brings in a seven new board members.  We will hire our 4th full-time staff person.  Our events, projects, programs, and fundraising efforts are populated and growing.

    With great purpose and a full heart, we reach towards greatness and collaboration in 2014.

  • 11 Dec 2013 2:32 PM | Alysse Gear (Administrator)
    Holy Mother of Kale!

    Dear Friends,

    Holy mother of kale and jumping scarlet runner beans we have had quite a year! We sat down to reflect on 2013, digging deep into our souls for something reverent and thoughtful, but all we could come up with was a long list of accomplishments that left us flying out of our seats with excitement for all that is to come in 2014. So we will release your heart strings and give you something to toast on New Years' Eve instead.

    In 2013, we harnessed the power of a steady stream of volunteers and financial contributors to empower our community to make lasting changes in Milwaukee's food system. Together, we have:

    installed over 500 gardens, 45 of them for Habitat for Humanity homeowners

    watched several of our 15 Food Leaders become entrepreneurs and change-makers in Milwaukee's food system

    planted five neighborhood orchards

    increased our emerging urban farm's arable area to nearly half an acre
    …and installed a 2500-gallon rainwater harvesting system, funded by MMSD
    …and put in more community garden beds, for a total of 35, and still sold out!

    completed our first year of kids' garden programming, through a partnership with MPS Partnership for the Arts & Humanities

    educated 50 adults in our Edible Gardening for Sustainability Series

    developed relationships with nonprofits county-wide to help them install gardens for their clients

    won the Keep Greater Milwaukee Beautiful IDEAL award for Diversity

    been featured as Heroes of the Week by the Shepherd Express

    flourished in our first year as an independent nonprofit organization
    & more!

    In 2014, we'll continue painting our vision of every neighborhood harvesting from its own fruit and nut tree orchards, every child growing with a learning garden on their block, every parent having fresh fruits and vegetables to harvest for their families right in their own front yard, with EVERY person holding the knowledge and power to create a more sustainable, socially just and healthful world through the act of growing their own food.

    We need your help to make this vision real, and we look forward to sharing hard work, good laughs, and GREAT food with you in 2014.

    In gratitude,
    Gretchen, Jazz, and Alysse
  • 31 Oct 2013 8:26 AM | Alysse Gear (Administrator)
    The Permaculture Design Course has been an amazing experience thus far. I've truly enjoyed learning not only about the design principles that are integral to the concepts of Permaculture practice, but to engage with my fellow participants about how utilizing these same principals in work, home and relationships will help create a more abundant and verdant community for us all. The initial statement of "observe and interact" has really encouraged me to slow down and make a more long-term plan for my garden and myself. Each of the design principles and class segments have provided a "yield" for me by increasing my knowledge about so much more than just food production or gardening.

    The value of the class goes far beyond learning what plant guilds are or how to integrate companion planting into my garden beds. I have learned about gathering wild foods, developing ways to not only grow more food but create places of beauty and to really re-think and reduce the amount of waste my life creates. The class is creating connections between us as individuals so we can be resources for each other and for our communities.

    I never imagined that taking this class would cause me to review so many aspects of my internal and outward realities—but it has and it will do so for anyone who wants to join in this amazing and fertile community.

    — Laura
  • 31 Oct 2013 6:00 AM | Alysse Gear (Administrator)

    Our Story & Yours

    by Gretchen Mead

    Dear Friends,

    Have you heard the story of the three Billy Goats Gruff? The Gingerbread Man? Their stories, we say, are timeless. We have been reading them for generations, as if they are the stories of our times—but if we take a deeper look, what is the value they bring to our culture?

    One night I realized I was spending my nighttime hours telling my children stories that didn’t necessarily add much to the development of their little souls.

    And, though I admit I still tell these stories, I began to think of my role as a parent to be much deeper than I had originally known. I began to tell my children the stories of our time. Of Real People. People who are heroes. Those who have overcome adversity, or sacrificed for change. I tell them stories about people I know in my life, who are the inspiration for this time and place.

    Victory Garden Initiative (VGI) is ending its first year as an independent nonprofit organization after a very successful nascent period under the auspices of the Urban Ecology Center. In this short time, the people we have met, those whose lives we have changed and who have then changed lives, are many. And they have stories to tell.

    Take Tony. Tony is a computer-guy-gone-micro-farmer. For $500, Tony signed up for our Food Leader Certification Program and it led him down a path of personal evolution. In his small apartment he began his story of growing microgreens to END world hunger. In Tony’s presence, you will find yourself recognizing that you could do more. And that you want to.

    There is Tammy, currently taking our Permaculture Design Certification course AND the Food Leader Program. Last year, Tammy heard about our Fruity Nutty Campaign that plants five neighborhood orchards in the Milwaukee area. Within a month, Tammy rallied her neighborhood, brought in the nearby school, AND received permission from the Milwaukee County Park system to reforest and diversify Tippecanoe Park with a 40-tree fruit and nut orchard. In April, together with Tammy’s community, we planted that orchard.

    Consider Angela, who lives in a neighborhood with many foreclosed homes and vacant lots. She sees her friends and family members severely suffering from diet-related illness and is concerned about the fate of her grandchildren. She remembers her youth spent down South, growing her own groceries, taking part in a deep-rooted food culture. So Angela ordered a VGI Blitz garden and fit growing food with her grandchildren into her busy schedule—because she knows if they grow it, they will eat it.

    There are stories like this waiting to unfold all over the city of Milwaukee. Stories of people combating our diabetes rate with homegrown veggies. Stories of people removing their grocery list from the fossil-fuel-dependent prevailing food system, picking their produce instead from their backyards. Stories of people recognizing the importance of urban environments’ ecology. Stories of people who believe in—and create—a local food system that feeds our minds, bodies, and souls.

    With your support, we can ensure that every person who knocks on our door seeking an opportunity to create a more socially just, ecologically sustainable, and nutritious food system can learn the skills and receive the resources needed to begin writing their stories.

    I tell the tales of these folks, and dozens more, to my children at night before we go to sleep. These stories of people committed to making small yet significant changes in their communities are the ones that truly need telling.

    This food story is the story of our time. How we write it is completely up to us.

    Please consider supporting this important work that changes the lives of people right here in the Milwaukee community. Your support makes the work we do possible.

    In partnership,

    Gretchen Mead

  • 02 Oct 2013 9:25 AM | Alysse Gear (Administrator)

    The Truth About Oppression

    by Gretchen Mead

    I walk the beach late, not that late, one birthday night ten years ago, admiring the moon’s reflection on the waves, thinking about another year gone by, pondering life.  A deep sense of peace reverberates through me as the waves crash in. The petty worries of the day are put in their proper perspective. To share a life with this lake is profound.

    Then from nowhere, a bright spotlight shines through the darkness.  I look to see where it’s coming from and it blinds me – a shock awakening me from my peaceful state.  My heart rate increases.  Who is watching me?  Why?  They yell something, but the words are lost in the waves.  I think they are about one hundred feet away, but I cant tell for sure because the darkness and the shocking light are confusing my depth perception.  Should I run? Should I hide? Prepare to fight? Make friends? Footsteps are getting closer, yet the spotlight blinds my view of the torch carrier. My heart is pounding.

    “The beach is closed.” I can now hear his words over the waves.  “Closed?” I say, quite puzzled.  I see now that my “near attack” is simply a police officer doing his nightly rounds to enforce the after-hours rules at the lake.  They close the lake? My heart sinks to a deep low in a millisecond and my tendency for sarcasm bursts from my mouth, “Well, I guess I’ll have to go to the bar to find peace on my birthday.”

    I follow the rules and leave the beach like any cooperative citizen would, but with a sharp pain in my heart for something that I lost, that I can not completely articulate nor even know if I should.

    I was visiting Troy Farms one day in Madison, picking up a CSA box with a friend, when I happened into a conversation with a Brazilian woman who explained she was visiting on behalf of an organization called MST.  She explained that they were fighting for land use for the peasant farmers of Brazil. I sat down later at my computer to learn more about MST and became star-struck.  

    In Brazil, as we speak, there are 1.5 million poor peasants who are members of the Landless Workers Movement. As the Brazilian society declined and people lived in deep poverty, the movement, MST, gained strength with their mission to reclaim land that is OWNED by the wealthiest few but UNUSED for the betterment of society. Members are trained in sustainable agriculture techniques and then assigned a piece of land to work in order to meet their own needs through agriculture. Over time, these squatters have built up entire settlements around their squatted lands. To date, MST has created 900,000 jobs, built schools through junior high that have educated 150,000 pupils, and been an international voice of a lost culture.

    Last year in Poland, tens of thousands of people took to the street to rally against MON810, a genetically modified corn variety that produces its own pesticide.  Beekeepers in the US have long suspected GMOs, especially this particular GMO, which is now spread all over the globe, as the main culprits in Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) – a phenomenon in which bee hives suddenly die. In a groundbreaking peak moment, the Polish government banned MON810 – the first victory against GMOs and for food sovereignty like this in the world.  

    In the US, we are seeing increasing devastation to our hives, while evidence shows GMOs cause the devastation and movies depicting both the science and the devastation of CCD have been widely viewed. Beehive owners plea for help. Honey coming from other countries in found to be phony. Some experts are beginning to predict the complete extinction of the honeybee. People march. Books are written.  Politicians are contacted.  But… what?

    I recently attended an award ceremony at which a local activist, Dr. Gay Reinartz, who has traveled to the Congo for decades to protect the bonobo, left us with a very clear message:  All of you in this room have power to make change greater than you ever imagined, and people are waiting for your help. Don’t ever forget this.

    Winona LaDuke, activist and former Green Party vice presidential candidate, had this to say: “One of our people in the Native community said the difference between white people and Indians is that Indian people know they are oppressed but don’t feel powerless. White people don’t feel oppressed, but feel powerless. Deconstruct that disempowerment. Part of the mythology that they’ve been teaching you is that you have no power. Power is not brute force and money; power is in your spirit. Power is in your soul. It is what your ancestors, your old people gave you. Power is in the earth; it is in your relationship to the earth.”

    I posit this quote frequently, wondering if those from other cultures have a perspective on me, that I cannot see because I’m ‘in it.’  Am I confused about my own false belief that I have power, when I am actually more oppressed than the paupers and the penniless, the indigent and the marginalized? If I am in fact oppressed, who is the oppressor? Is it the government? A fascist corporate plutocracy? The 1%? An alien nation? (she writes with a wink )

    Or, more likely, my own perceived need for a certain level of comfort that supersedes my spirit?  

    I wonder how the Brazilians came to understand they needed to respond.  I wonder when the Poles decided that it was worth a fight, and furthermore when the government decided the voice of the people counted.

    Did it start a decade before when they disagreed with the “owning” of the lake?

    I wonder how uncomfortable things must have become.  

    These thoughts put me to sleep sometimes.

    When I wake up in the morning, I call upon my own namesake, Margaret Mead, for guidance, and remember her words, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”  

    I have looked in your faces.  I have felt your passion.  Our spirit lives, Milwaukee.

  • 30 Sep 2013 7:00 PM | Jazz Glastra (Administrator)

    Lessons Learned from Eating Locally

    by Ann Hippensteel

    Ann is a longtime gardener and new Victory Garden Initiative volunteer. Over the last few months, we've shared segments of her local food-fueled lifestyle, and the last segment is up!

    Jump to Segment II - Protein and Other Tradeoffs

    Jump to Segment III - The Lessons

    When I first began to examine the challenge I had accepted to eat for an entire year only local foods, that is, foods raised and processed within 100 miles of my home, I panicked.  “We’re going to starve!” I thought.  What would I use to replace the olive oil and balsamic vinegar that we appreciate on our salads?  What about rice and pasta?  What about olives and raisins and lentils and peanut butter and a multitude of other loved foodstuffs?

    But commit myself I did, and not being one to pass up such an intriguing challenge, I forged ahead.  There were factors in my favor.  The challenge year began July 1st, so gardening and farmers’ market seasons were upon us.   I had developed food preservation skills.  I had agreed to blog about my experience so felt the pressure of the scrutiny of others.  I was not averse to doing research, something I immediately saw would be necessary to identify sources of food in my region.  Most importantly, my 14 year old daughter had made the commitment with me, and I wanted to set a positive, determined example for her.  As an engaged mother, I had provided Sally with locally produced, nutritious, and delicious food since she was a breastfed baby.  It seemed I only needed to ramp that effort up a bit to make it an exclusive endeavor.


    The challenge had been made by a nonprofit organization devoted to assisting other organizations, businesses, governments, and individuals to change to more sustainable practices.  The challenge was to last four complete seasons.  Participants agreed they would increase sourcing their meals from growers and providers within a 100 mile radius of their homes.  Some participants chose to increase their local eating by one meal a week for the entire year.  Some chose to eat exclusively local foods during the months that the farmers’ markets were open.  Some, such as myself, chose to eat as close to 100% local foods as possible for the year.  The parameters of each individual's commitment were self-determined, and needed only to represent a personal challenge and increase the incidence and/or duration of local foods consumption.

    I excluded salt and leavening agents such as yeast and baking powder from our locavore diet.  I also continued to take and provided for my daughter, multivitamins – not technically food, but something to reassure me that we wouldn’t suffer from malnutrition before the challenge was over.  (I needn’t have worried, as it turns out.  Local foods can provide all the necessary nutrients for a healthful diet.)

    A month or two before the challenge began I started researching.  I called local dairies, grain purveyors, and meat producers.   Not only did the ice cream or the flour or the sausage need to be processed locally, but all the ingredients needed to be locally sourced as well.  I often found myself making calls up the supply chain in order to be certain that the food was truly local.  I ran into many disappointing dead ends but was gratified on numerous occasions as well.


    Eating locally supports community.  This concept I understood to mean that local farmers and food producers are supported by the effort, which in turn enhances the local economy.  As individuals begin to purchase their food from Community Supported Agriculture and other farms, they learn more about and become friendly with not only the individuals who grow their produce but with the other subscribers and customers as well.  Saturday morning at the farmers’ market is a social event.

    An aspect of community building that I hadn’t realized at the beginning of the challenge year but was keenly and appreciatively aware of before long, was the personal network of friends who were to support my efforts.  Some of these were other locavores who traded food with me, but some were just enthusiastic about the 100 mile challenge though not in a position to participate themselves, and helped find foodstuffs that would work for us.  These items often included things I wasn’t even looking for: flavor enhancers such as herbs and spices and greenhouse grown items that I wouldn’t have considered possible such as lemons and kumquats.  One couple offered to pickle cucumbers for me if I provided the produce and some vinegar I had managed to produce from local apple cider.  Another man brought me a pound of shelled hickory nuts in time for Christmas baking.  

    These were gifts of both the material and the spiritual kinds.


    In our household, we found that our commitment to eat only local foods presented various tradeoffs.  For instance, though not vegetarian, I valued and had incorporated into the family diet,plant sources of protein such as tofu and complementary grains and legumes.  As locavores, we found that we needed to get more of our protein from animal sources.  I was able to find all types of meat locally, most raised with concern for the land and environment, and butchered locally.  We ate not only beef and chicken, but pork, lamb, and fish as well.  Our Thanksgiving turkey was reserved months in advance of the big day, and was one of the tastiest we had ever eaten.

    Nutritionally we found that we ate less processed foods, no refined sugar or grains.  This was of course a good thing.  We didn’t eat out at all, except for a couple of occasions when the chefs custom cooked for us.  Depending on the restaurant, eating out often means eating less fresh, less whole ingredients, so lacking the possibility was also a nutritional benefit.  And I did not eat the volume of food I was used to because there was not always convenient food available to me.  If I wanted a piece of toast, I sometimes found I hadn’t made bread recently.  And perhaps in addition I hadn’t ground enough wheat to make bread in the first place.   Over the course of the year I lost almost twenty unnecessary pounds.

    I needed to plan ahead and always be aware of the availability of ingredients.  I thought about food much of the day, and felt a kinship with pioneer women and hunter/gatherers.

    On the nutritional downside, I found that with the unavailability of oils, I used a lot more butter.  My diet was also higher in cheese and other dairy products.  I regularly bought cream from a local dairy to use as I tried to make my own salad dressings and sour cream.  With this cream, Sally and I made some delicious ice cream, but it was not the low-fat variety. 

    Economically, we also saw some tradeoffs.    Buying certified organic foods is expensive.  And when we bought some locally grown products through middlemen, we sometimes saw hefty markups.  Buying directly off the field proved to be very reasonable.  One farmer was able to sell me wheat berries off her field for $18 per bushel.  This was twice what her buyer paid for them, but I was very happy to pay this because it figured out to be about $0.36/pound.  

    Our purchased corn meal cost $6.00/lb.  In comparison I think the work we put into growing our own Hopi blue flour corn (planting, cultivating, harvesting, husking, and grinding) was worth the money saved.   Making our own is always cheaper, especially because we don’t figure our labor into the cost analysis! 

    There were personal environmental tradeoffs as well, but it seems in the final analysis, eating a strict local diet is overall very good for the environment.  Processing food (especially canning) and storing 
    food (especially freezing) uses a lot of energy, which showed up on our electricity bill.  But, because I needed to spend more time at home in the kitchen and garden, I drove much less.  Food packaging was 
    much reduced as well.  As a matter of fact, I found there was a dearth of materials available to me from my stash of packaging which I usually saved for reuse – things like bread bags, twist ties, paper grocery sacks, cereal box liners, etc.  These are all things I had come to use on a regular basis where other folks use purchased plastic wrap, wax paper, aluminum foil, plastic garbage bags, etc.  And because of eating locally these materials were in short supply! 


    So, what does this mean?  What did we learn?  What significance does this have for the greater good?
    After the challenge year, challenge participants were able to use the information gained during their research of local food sources to continue their personal intentional eating in a less structured manner.  However, while a community can support a handful of local eaters for a full four seasons, some very thoughtful policy changes would need to be made in order for a whole community or city to eat locally.  Challenge participants identified some areas of difficulty as regards the availability of local foods and wish to report these to the wider community with the hope that some of the gaps in local food distribution might be closed with local economic development and agricultural initiatives.  The gaps and recommendations follow.

    Food source gap:  Local consumable grains are often limited to wheat and corn.  Oats, though grown readily in Wisconsin, are not always able to be processed locally due to the fact that they need special equipment to remove the husk.  Thus, they are unavailable to the local consumer.  Other grains such as rye, barley, sorghum, and buckwheat are also not readily available.

    Recommendations:  Support the establishment of grain mills which would include equipment such as a huller, to process a wider variety of grains for human consumption.  Encourage growers to cultivate a wider variety of grains.

    Food source gap:  Cooking oils not readily available locally.  Fats are limited to those derived from animal sources, such as butter and lard.

    Recommendations:  Support the establishment of more oil pressing plants in.  Encourage growers to plant, in addition to soybeans, rapeseed, sunflower, etc. as oil crops.

    Food source gap:  Local eaters needed to limit the variety of foods that they enjoyed when they had eaten a conventional diet.  Food stuffs that are not grown in this climate at all or that are seasonal, and thus not available year around, are lacking from the locavore's diet.  These include citrus fruit, fresh greens, mushrooms, tomatoes, and many other items.

    Recommendations:  Support an increase in greenhouse agriculture such as is done by some farmers locally and by other farmers in climates similar to or even more harsh than our own. Support specialty food production operations (e.g. mushroom growing, dairy goat husbandry).

    Food source gap:  Although many local eaters enjoy working in their gardens and kitchens, growing, preserving, and preparing food, they are inconvenienced by the need to spend an atypical amount of time at these activities. In order that the wider population is able to eat locally, attention will need to be paid to convenience of acquisition of foods both whole and processed.

    Recommendations:  Establish certified processing kitchens, possibly staffed by experienced food preservers, which are available for use by local growers for canning and drying of their harvests.  (Excellent examples are the Algoma Farm Market Kitchen and the Oneida Nation Cannery.)  Support the establishment of and diversification of local food processing operations including accommodations for artisan cheese making, sausage making, bread baking, pasta production, etc.

    Food source gap:  Locavores find few opportunities to eat out.  Although the awareness of the locavore market is increasing among restaurant owners and major effort is being made by some restaurants to use locally grown products, the problem of distribution and acquisition of food stuffs for use in local menu creation continues to impede growth in this area.

    Recommendations:  Continue and improve the networking efforts already begun between farmers and restaurant/grocery owners to establish reliable farm-to-table trade.  Support development of Community Supported Agriculture operations.  Encourage membership in and use of online networking resources such as

    When we buy local food, we vote with our food dollars. This ensures that family farms in Wisconsin will continue to thrive and that healthful, flavorful, plentiful food will be available for future generations.

    Ann is a longtime gardener and new Victory Garden Initiative volunteer who recently returned to Milwaukee after living in Door County for 16 years. Over the last few months, we published her experiences during an amazing year of eating locally. While all the segments have now been published, Ann's story continues.

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