VGI Blog

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  • 28 Oct 2014 12:38 PM | Anonymous

    VGI Has A New Blog!

    Happy Tuesday, food folks!

    We are so happy to have each and every one of you as part of our VGI community. Together we have been making our Milwaukee food system stronger and more resilient since 2009! Through our Victory Garden BLITZ we’ve installed over 2000 garden beds at residences, businesses, and other underutilized spaces, wherever people want to grow food. At our Concordia Gardens this year, we held our first annual FarmRaiser and had an absolute blast with the amazing music, food, and most importantly, people!

    As our organization grows, and exciting things continue to happen, we want to keep you in the loop! That’s why VGI is launching a NEW BLOGClick here to check it out:

    This space will be used to share our thoughts, ideas, and gardening tips, as well as photos and updates on our organization. We’ll be linking there when we post new things, but please feel free to check in every once in awhile as well. You never know what wonderful things you might find J 

  • 02 Sep 2014 6:10 PM | Alysse Gear (Administrator)

    Starfish and the Hierarchy
    by Gretchen Mead

    Dee Hock is the founding executive and former CEO of Visa, which, you might think, makes him an unusual protagonist in any newsletter that I might write.  Dee took the company from a small franchise of Bank of America, through a series of mergers and growing spurts, until in 1976 it was the Visa that we largely know now.  However, when Dee made all this happen, the company was qualitatively different than it is now.  

    In 1984 he resigned this CEO role to spend ten years in near-isolation on a 200 acre farm in California.  What, you ask, makes a semi-famous, wealthy CEO leave his day job to shroud himself in an agrarian existence? I asked this question too.

    In 1999, when he was entered into the Business Hall of Fame he explained, “Through the years, I have greatly feared and sought to keep at bay the four beasts that inevitably devour their keeper – Ego, Envy, Avarice, and Ambition. In 1984, I severed all connections with business for a life of isolation and anonymity, convinced I was making a great bargain by trading money for time, position for liberty, and ego for contentment – that the beasts were securely caged.”

    This was clearly a time of major epiphany for Dee.  You see, Dee ran the organization, in such a way that it made room for innovators and leaders at every layer of the organization.  Dee said things like:

    “If you don't understand that you work for your mislabeled 'subordinates,' then you know nothing of leadership. You know only tyranny.”


    “The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out.”

    He was one of the first to talk about systems theory in the work place. He coined the term “Chaortic” (The ‘Brangelina’ of the words ‘Chaos’ and ‘Order’).  He even utilized the principles of Biomimicry in the workplace, insisting on building from the bottom up, rather than serving the power hierarchy du jour to his hungry employees.  Dee talked about resilience before resilience was cool.

    And this, my friends, is the kind of influence that created Visa.  Crazy, right?  

    Why is all this related to the food movement? I'm getting there.

    One of the things in my life that I am blessed with is a really smart little sister.  My sister, the-soon-to-be-world-famous Taryn Mead, studies the integration of Biomimicry into businesses.  Something that has surfaced in her research process is that when organizations are not hierarchical it leads to greater measures of Biophilia (an innate love for the natural world, supposed to be felt universally by humankind) in its employees.  

    Wait. What?  

    Let me say it differently:  

    When you are part of an organization that is somewhat leaderless and brings out the human potential in bottom-up approaches, you foster people that recognize their connection to the natural world.  

    “Subordinates” give way to leaders in training!

    When we live in a world where the paradigm is nonhierarchical, we are more connected to nature. That is something.  


    I want to tell you two little stories.  And I want you to make your own interpretations.

    Last week I met with two graduates of our Food Leader Program.  These two graduates have gone on to do amazing work. One largely a computer guy is launching a microgreens business, and one bank IT guy is becoming an urban farmer.  I’m not going to name names, because I want to tell you something a bit personal about them both.  I have watched their hearts grow 10 sizes in two years.  That’s not to say they didn't always have big hearts.  But since deciding to lead their own destinies by engaging in the food movement, the richness and depth of their heart songs is heard when they enter a room.

    A couple weeks ago we launched the farm stand at Concordia Gardens.  Several young people in our Kid and Family Club (a partnership with Holton Youth and Family Center, Fratney School, and others) started selling the produce that they have been growing.  They get to divide the earnings amongst themselves.  They get to make a lot of decisions about the project: pricing, how much to harvest, how to be friendly, how to care for the garden, how to bring in customers.  They OWN that stand.  They work it.  They show up with such enthusiasm and joy and respect for their teacher.  I ain’t neva seen a kid protect a carrot like I have seen those kids.  Wait until they understand how important bees are to their productivity.  Daaaayum.


    Last week, I had the great honor to stand on the same stage and give an opening talk before Joel Salatin, the renegade farmer.  Joel wrote a book called “Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal”. It makes people immediately start talking about what THEY have a right to do that quite likely goes against your rights.” I see now that all of this talk and work about food sovereignty has very little to do with rights.  After five years of watching the food movement grow in all its starfish tentacles, daring for someone to cut it from its mother-body so that it might regroup with entirely new limbs, I see that demanding rights implies needing permission.

    This Chaortic, Leaderless, Biophilic bunch of gardeners isn't working for a hierarchy.

  • 01 Aug 2014 8:55 AM | Alysse Gear (Administrator)

    The Arc of The Pendulum

    by Gretchen Mead

    Recently we were asked to compromise.

    Some of you may remember the Front Yard Garden Controversy from ‘back in the day’ that in part helped launch Victory Garden Initiative. Six years ago, a group of Victory Gardeners organized a BLITZ, our first. People decided to put gardens in their front yards, and even in the parkway—that area between the sidewalk and the street. The Village of Shorewood had a bit of a kneejerk reaction and began developing language to restrict food growing in front yards. The media got involved, and pretty soon Shorewood was on NATIONAL Public Radio. My sister, living in Montana at the time, called me to ask if she just heard me on NPR. She had.

    Well, the controversy is back.

    A month or so ago, it was revived when a new neighbor put in more front yard gardens than the others found aesthetically appealing. The neighbors then collected all their secondary reasons to help beef up their complaint: rodents and property values and some other unsubstantiated thinking, and appealed to the Village Trustees. “Anything but that trashy Green Acres look” one woman stated for the record.

    Given the incredible number of emails I have received and the amount of on-line conversation in favor of the front yard gardens, I feel I can safely say that Shorewood overwhelmingly supports front yard gardens as a whole and this is an isolated group of folks. But, I cannot waste a good opportunity to reiterate the reasons that the work we are doing is so incredibly important that we need to be doing it front and center, right where everyone can see, and perhaps you will understand why we cannot compromise.

    Here are some things we know:

    Climate change is REAL. Our agricultural system is simultaneously a major contributor to this problem and a devastated victim of the shift. It’s nicey nice that we can afford all the food luxuries of the First World right now. But all evidence shows that this is an ever-fleeting condition for the American people—even the middle class.

    Throughout Milwaukee County, people do not have adequate access to fresh, high-quality produce. There are many reasons and many solutions for this. One of these solutions is to help people grow their own. Anywhere possible. Proudly. It is not a solution only for low-income people. It is a SOLUTION.

    Our natural resources are depleting. Consider the curve of development since the Industrial Revolution. More of everything, especially people—people who use many resources to exist. Bless us all, each and every one of us, but we have to be realistic about the quantity of natural resources that we have permanently depleted to exist on this planet. Just to name a couple: All the easy oil supplies are tapped, so now we use more oil to access lesser quality oil. Countries around the world are convening to figure out what to do about the world’s depleting phosphorus. These two major problems are a small part of the overall picture.

    The reasons to grow our own food could span several pages. The information is real and compelling.

    When you ask us to compromise, you are asking us to be complacent in a system that is heading toward an ecological and economic cliff. You are asking us to sit idly by while a large part of our community suffers from a lack of adequate nutrition. You are asking us to behave in that condescending way that only white privilege can make us blind to. You are asking us to disregard the science that we have learned about, in small fits of panic over the past several decades, all of it pointing to the major disruptions on the horizon. You are asking us to participate in an industrial food system that we would like to find a way to reduce our interaction with.

    It is time, friends and neighbors, to move toward a kinder, gentler food system that takes into consideration the people, the land, and the community first, and asks for money last.

    When you ask me to compromise, it makes me understand that front yard gardening may be the single most important act we can do to draw awareness to these issues and draw them into the forefront of every kitchen table in Milwaukee.

    Thank you for asking, but very kindly, the answer is No.

    How to Swing a Pendulum

    No one can explain
    Why the pendulum swings
    Between two invisible barriers
    At any given moment in time

    No one knows
    To any degree of certainty
    How we got here
    And why we can’t see the full way round

    No promises can be made
    About the sanctity of your lawn
    The beauty of the stacked high city
    The domination of the land

    You don’t know this is progress.
    You are sitting in the middle
    Of the heavy, metal bob
    With not even the string in site.

    But we have sat underneath the tree
    We have sought the soul of the soil
    We have submersed our bodies
    in the waters of truth

    I climbed a vine
    To the top of the string
    And saw the holder
    Of the arc.

    Your equilibrium
    Is just a shadow-line
    On the face of my eternity.
    It will not be my axis.

    With my friends
    I will gather 1 billion atoms
    And blow them with a kiss
    Towards the sunny side of your existence

    And when the ball goes round,
    We will be the first
    To hold your feet down
    Until you grow tendrils

  • 07 Jul 2014 9:32 PM | Alysse Gear (Administrator)

    Good morning, food eaters, food growers and food-system-changers!

    My name is Ellie Jackson, and I am thrilled to be the newest addition to the Victory Garden Initiative staff. As of last Tuesday, I am the new Program and Operations Manager, and I’m very excited to build a resilient food system with all of you, in Milwaukee and beyond.

    I join VGI with a firm belief that we each hold the power to build stronger communities through food – growing it, gleaning it, providing quality education around it, helping others to grow it, sharing it through barter and farmers markets, and eating it in meals with our friends and neighbors. As if being an essential building block for life wasn't enough, food is the tie that binds. It allows for a unique cultural exchange. Picnics with a loved one, neighborhood potlucks, summer barbecues, holiday meals–these are the ways we celebrate life!

    Before Milwaukee, I called Stevens Point, Wisconsin, my home (and still my home away from home!) and was lucky enough to be involved in the food scene there. I was involved in one organization in particular, Central Rivers Farmshed, through which I was able to found a Victory Garden with the City of Stevens Point. Starting as a vacant city lot, our Victory Garden became a consensus-based garden, culling neighborhood support and soon becoming a classroom for the parents next door who homeschooled their three boys. Our Victory Garden turned into a Giving Garden, meaning all the produce was given to shelters and food pantries, and has continued to blossom into a relationship with the elementary school across the street as an outdoor food-education classroom. The metamorphosis of the Stevens Point Victory Garden speaks to how amazingly place-based food systems can change to fit the needs of the community that surrounds it and supports it.  

    Working on several farms in Central Wisconsin has allowed me to learn first-hand the reward of looking back on a freshly weeded bed of greensand making some of my closest friends while picking acres of peas off the vine. I can attest to the deliciously satisfied feeling of harvesting a bounty of beets, treasure hunting for potatoes, and seeing fresh-cut floral bouquets at the market. That agricultural connection is one I'm passionate about sharing with Milwaukee as I help shape programs to fit the needs and dreams of the community that surrounds VGI. 

    Growing our own food will help build Milwaukee into a more resilient, sustainable place to live, learn and grow, and I look forward to meeting you during our many programs that forge that path. Whether you're a veteran BLITZ gardener or interested in coming to your first potluck, I welcome any and all comments, suggestions and ideas. Together, we can and will create a healthier, more socially just and sustainable local food system. 

    Looking forward to moving grass and growing food with you,


  • 03 Jun 2014 1:58 PM | Alysse Gear (Administrator)

    Death of the Systemby Gretchen Mead

    You may have heard the final BLITZ number…. 548! Holy moly. Thatsalotta soil. Andalotta lumber. Andalotta people. And a LOT of gardens. 548.

    When I look back at the first BLITZ, it is almost difficult to recognize it as the same event. The organization has had to undergo an incredible amount of change to pull off an event of that scale so effectively.

    A few months before the big undertaking of this year’s BLITZ, I was feeling a little lost. I was once the one who responded to all the emails about gardens. Now I’m not. I was also in charge of Concordia Gardens, before it got so amazing. Now I’m not. I wasalso on the committee that planned the Fruity Nutty Campaign. Now I’m not. Our staff has grown to include four full-time and one part-time staff and a whole slew of interns, and they execute the things that once fell under my stead.

    Over the years, this change has not come easy. For days and sometimes weeks, while moving things around and handing them off, I have found myself feeling as if I have not accomplished a single task.

     It’s unnerving. And ungrounded. It’s existential.

    Every good existential crisis is, however, a redefining of oneself. Here is what came out of mine:

    I. Manage. CHANGE. I manage change. That’s what I do! I weather challenges, solve problems, create systems with people and resources to make it all work for our Mission to Build Communities that Grow Their Own Food. I take all the change that is bubbling around me and make it flowy and copasetic.

    As soon as I recognized this, things began to fall into place again. Everyone here at VGI is better able to move forward in unison toward a shared mission.

    I think about change in relationship to our food system every day, all the time. Daily, someone sends me a new article about the jarring and unknown changes underfoot, from droughts in California, to horse meat at Aldi, to gluten intolerance every-freakin-where, to the impending death of the oceans due to, among other things, overfishing. The changes of the food system have become so overwhelming that it is out of the reach for our average person to understand the kind of change that needs to occur and how to make it happen.

    As a society, we have insisted upon leaving it in the hands of the market, with the classic ‘market will take care of it’ mentality. But the market does not set a vision and a system for the future. It simply reacts to factors known and unknown.

    We all seem to agree that climate change is happening, that resources are depleting, that the transport of food all over the globe is a short-term solution toward getting our caloric needs met, that the population is growing and we need to plan for the future, that our use of pesticides is making a mess of it all. Add to that the recent UN publication subtitled “Wake Up Before It Is Too Late,” which outlines local, sustainable agriculture as THE way to address the ecological devastation we are facing.

    We all appear to know that we need a change, but who is facilitating this change? Who is going to move this food system through climate chaos and resource depletion? Who has the plan? Who is the s/hero who shall not be bought by short-term interests?

    Gaia bless you, our current leaders. I’m sure you are doing the best you can, but I want to hear from someone who knows their stuff as it relates to Food Systems and Agriculture. Give us a weekly update of what is happening with the food system to make it socially just, ecologically sustainable and resilient during times of climate chaos and resource depletion. I want to know how this relates to our local plan. I want to know what I can do, what my community members can do, what our teachers can do, what my local politicians can do, and what our farmers can do. I want an action plan that is directed and reiterated once a year based on new information. I want this plan to be discussed on NPR every single week until we have weathered the storm and our food system has found balance.

    Give this s/hero a podium and a big fat checkbook. Give them some power to make decisions. Give them status as the person who is going to get it done.

    This change, I know, will not come easy. But it would be an awful lot easier if someone is in a real position to create this vision, this strategy, and than MANAGE the change.

     Anatole Frances says, “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy, for what we leave behind is a part of ourselves. We must die to one life before we can enter another.”

    What must die within us all to support a plan for change? What type of death within our political system and our economic system must occur to rebirth the new food system? What part of ourselves must we let go?

    Tell me what must die and I’ll host the funeral.


  • 29 Apr 2014 10:30 AM | Alysse Gear (Administrator)
    Farewell, Milwaukee
    by Jazz Glastra

    In October 2011, I moved to Milwaukee to pursue an internship with Victory Garden Initiative. I was ecstatic to have found an amazing opportunity in my chosen field and I soon met dozens of incredible local leaders from around the city. Something was missing, though. I felt alone, unmoored, and unsure of my place here. In April of 2012, something changed that turned everything around for me: the weather. People began to go outside! They began to socialize! All of a sudden, after 6 months of loneliness and a long Milwaukee winter, I discovered that I had put down roots in a vibrant, supportive, exciting community. Two years later, I feel like one of the luckiest people in this city. I have the best job in Milwaukee (yes, that internship turned into a full-time gig), and I swim in a big pond with lots of unique, world-changing fish.

    And yet, I’m writing you today to say goodbye. After 3 incredible seasons with Victory Garden Initiative, I’m moving on to pursue graduate studies. This year’s Victory Garden Blitz, May 10th-24th, will be my last project with VGI, and I can’t think of a more fitting way to cap off my experience here. “Bittersweet” is the word I choose to describe this transition, and there is so much I will miss about Milwaukee. Before I veer off the cliff of nostalgia, though, I want to share something I’ve learned here: It’s all about community.

    Any individual can grow food, but it takes a community effort to really move the needle toward a more sustainable food system. In my time at Victory Garden Initiative, I’ve overseen the installation of 800+ gardens (and counting!), the planting of 10 neighborhood orchards, dozens of gardening classes, and so much more. I have a secret though: I didn’t really “do” any of it. You did. We work in community because we’re trying to accomplish something here, and we simply can’t do it without you. As I look back over my time at VGI, I can think of countless examples of this. Here are just a few.

    Three years ago, I wanted to do everything myself. I was what you might call “Do-It-Yourselfish.” It turns out that no one needs a hero who does everything herself. I soon learned that people are just waiting to be asked for help. Recently, one of VGI’s most devoted volunteers actually chided me because I didn’t ask him for help. I told him I didn’t want to overload him with requests, but he immediately swept aside my concerns. “It’s just a couple of hours,” he said. “I consider it using my time wisely.” When you ask someone for help, the bond between you strengthens. By calling on your community, you build community along the way.

    In my work at Victory Garden Initiative, I’ve learned that I’m most effective when I make it easy for others to get involved. We are on a mission to build communities that grow their own food. This simply cannot be done by our staff of five at Victory Garden Initiative. My strategy? Ask as many people as I can to join in. It’s a lot like being a traffic cop: point people in the right direction, then get the heck out of their way!

    A great example of this is our Fruity Nutty Five planting day. Each winter, we hold a contest for five Milwaukee neighborhoods to win an orchard of up to 30 fruit and nut trees each. Last Saturday, I had the privilege of watching 40+ devoted volunteers plant nearly 150 new trees, berries, and vines in our 5 winning neighborhoods. They worked so efficiently that I actually had to beg them to save me a tree to plant myself. At the end of the day, we gathered in a circle and reflected on a job well done. There’s nothing like the chills I get from seeing a few dozen volunteers smiling broadly because they’ve just accomplished something incredible: five new neighborhood orchards in one day.

    What is a community, anyway?

    I’ve repeatedly referred to “our community” and “the community” in this letter. What is a community anyway? Community can be tough to define, but I know it when I see it. At the end of the 2012 Blitz, we’d had a long week. We were behind on installations, we’d weathered mechanical issues and communication failures, and we really needed our last day to go perfectly. Then, at 6am, I woke up to rolling thunder and torrential rain. After a quick strategy session, we decided to just cross our fingers and send an email saying the Blitz was still on. What else could we do?

    By 9am, over 100 volunteers showed up in rainbow of slickers, boots, and ponchos ready to build gardens. That was the moment that I realized there was a community, or maybe even a movement behind us. They turned out to help their community grow more food, and they cared enough to do it even in the rain. I was astounded and humbled. By the end of the day, we had constructed nearly 300 gardens.

    It can be hard for me to stay motivated when I am constantly reading news that makes me fear for the future. Global warming continues unchecked, and predictions for the future of our planet are increasingly dire. I even hear rumors that our financial system is teetering on the brink. Some days, I feel like I’m pulling an elephant uphill with all my might and it refuses to budge. Other days, I know I’m not the only one pulling, and I can see our momentum building. We’re not just building gardens, here. We are building a more resilient local food system that doesn’t depend on the whims of the market and doesn’t pollute our environment. Better yet, we’re building a resilient community that knows how to get things done--even in the driving rain. It’s learning how to work together that makes all the difference.

    We’re only days away from the 6th Annual Victory Garden Blitz, May 10th – 24th this year. The Blitz is our biggest community event of the year, and our goal is to build 500 gardens this spring. We’re still about 80 gardens away from that goal! You can order a garden by May 3rd for your yard, community garden, or business. Each year, we build half of our gardens for low income recipients. With donations from the community, we never have to say no to someone who wants to grow their own food. The Blitz is the one time each year when I can count on just about everyone I know turning up to volunteer. Last year, we had over 200 volunteers help Milwaukee grow its own food! This spring, we need at least 250 of you to help us install 500 gardens in just 15 days. The Victory Garden Blitz is always a blast, and you’ll be building community the whole time. Will you sign up to volunteer?

    Before I sign off, no farewell letter would be complete without some well-deserved thank yous. I have met so many wonderful people here. To all of the volunteers I’ve had the pleasure to work with, I can’t thank you enough. Your participation in this shared vision has kept me moving, especially on days when I really don’t feel like it. There’s nothing like a bunch of eager volunteers to turn my attitude around! I have learned so much from our volunteers. In particular, several of our board members have invested countless hours in me and the work of this organization. I have been so lucky to work with you all. To my coworkers, thanks for carrying on the good work. I can’t wait to see what amazing projects you will begin in years to come! Finally, and most importantly, thank you to my boss and friend, Gretchen Mead. Gretchen plucked me from awkward intern-hood and had the patience to let me figure things out as I went along as one of VGI’s first employees. Gretchen has always supported me as an individual and encouraged me to develop my skills. We’ve shared long hours, hard laughs, and a lot of amazing Victory Garden victories--big, small, and in between. Thank you is not enough to say.

    If you’ve been reading our newsletter for awhile now, but never gotten involved—this is the time to step forward. Consider it your parting gift to me. Your neighbors need you. Become a part of this community and this movement.


    In the fall, Jazz will pursue her Master’s Degree in Environment and Natural Resources at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. She looks forward to keeping close tabs on Milwaukee from afar and watching the progress of the food movement here.  
  • 01 Apr 2014 5:06 PM | Jazz Glastra

    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

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