Malcolm McDowell Woods

News you need to know

By - Aug 1st, 2009 12:01 am

Milwaukee gets dirty:
Victory Garden Initiative faces harsh growing conditions

compost3You have probably heard of Urban Gardens and may have even read in past issues of the Exchange about rooftop gardens, but the twists and turns of going “back to the land” in the city has taken some tricky turns lately.

The Victory Garden Initiative started to get noticed this spring when Gretchen Mead helped encourage the owners of Future Green to plant a rooftop garden at their Bay View business. The idea spread as many began to embrace the idea, including Erik Lindberg, owner of Community Building and Restoration, LLC, whose rooftop garden is across the street from the Capitol Drive Outpost Co-op.

Victory gardens began in WWI and were revived in WWII to support the war effort. But today Mead contends that: “We are fighting for food security from an industrial agriculture system that is destroying our health and the health of our ecosystems. We are fighting for the freedom from oil interests, for resilient communities that support one another, for strong local economies that resist corporate greed, for a connection to (the) cycle of life, and good, tasty food … from garden to plate.”

With such rousing rhetoric and such a noble cause, what could go awry?
A blitz of activity during Memorial Day weekend resulted in the emergence of 50 or more new vegetable gardens in front yards, and on patios and sundecks all over the metropolitan area, but especially in Shorewood where Mead calls home. At first, the Village of Shorewood offered a proclamation of support, praising the endeavors as a positive contribution to village life. The group of enthusiastic gardeners was thrilled to have the support of the village Trustees.
The elation was short-lived when soon after, letters of complaint from some Shorewood residents caused the Trustees to backtrack. It seems that not everyone was so enthusiastic, and when someone planted vegetables in the median of a public thoroughfare, hackles began to rise. Mead was then informed that front yard vegetable gardens would be restricted. Some letter-writers expressed concerns about property values going down; others wrote to say they didn’t find vegetable gardens visually appealing.

The conflict of aesthetics, lifestyles and cultural values are as old as man (or woman), and the reasoning for each side focuses on our basic fears. On the side of the gardeners, there’s the fear of being at the mercy of oil companies, fear of processed food and food additives, fear of not having nutritious food for their families. There may also be the fear of not being able to do what you wish with your own property.

On the side of the detractors, there is fear not only of reduced property values, but fear that the prestige and lifestyle they’ve earned will be undermined — that the aesthetics of their neighborhood will no longer be to their liking. There may also be a concern over lack of government; that gardeners will be free to operate without boundaries.

Then there are the fears of the Trustees; their job is to make the community run smoothly. Community leaders don’t like conflict; conflict is messy and can give the impression of poor township management. With a stack of complaints and a spate of letters supporting the front yard gardening, the Trustees needed to find a solution to pacify everyone.

On July 13, the Subcommittee on Streets and Buildings met at the Shorewood Town Hall to resolve the conflict and to establish a policy. It was decided at that meeting not to put any new ordinances on the books, but to enforce regulations already in existence. As long as a garden is not hazardous to the community, is not overgrown with noxious weeds, and is on one’s own property (the use of medians for vegetable growing is still unclear), the homeowner can plant what and where he or she chooses in his or her own yard.

The supporters of local sustainable food maintain that growing your own food in your own yard helps to make the community stronger. Neighbors share veggies with each other and build compost bins together. They spend time in the garden together while their children play outdoors under supervision rather than inside playing video games. Gardeners maintain also that their children learn first hand where food comes from and understand the value of their own efforts in helping with the work involved. As for front-yard gardening? Proponents say the backyard can be freed up for play where it may be shadier than the front yard. In response to concerns about aesthetics, they counter that many edibles are ornamental and many ornamentals are edible (nasturtiums and pansies as well as certain colorful cabbages and kale, for example).

Looking beyond their own plot of earth, Victory Garden supporters note that some gardeners just like their hands in the dirt, and grow far more vegetables than they can use themselves. These veggies may find their way to food pantries and meal programs to help support residents in need.

The debate may continue. In the meantime, Mead will continue to offer classes on her Victory Garden Initiative every other Tuesday evening at the Shorewood Recreation Department, with plans for expansion for next growing season.

So far, it’s a victory for the Victory Garden!

– Cheri Yarborough

Tour will open the gates on local urban gardens

In the past decade, gardens on rooftops and vacant lots have been popping up all over the city. Volunteers with green thumbs have been putting sweat equity into the land, creating gorgeous flowerbeds, organic food, and an enriched sense of community. If you ever wanted to walk through the gate into one of the city’s gardens, or to learn about growing food, plants or butterfly gardens, now’s your chance. Milwaukee Urban Gardens’ annual tour will be held Sunday, September 13.

If you sign up, you’ll be walked through residential and community gardens, and hear about city renewal through urban gardening from the people who are doing it.

Founded in October 2000, the urban gardens group protects and creates neighborhood gardens. MUG has transformed nine vacant lots into vibrant gardens and has helped more than a dozen organizations start their own patches of green.

In the words of Wendy Mesich, community gardener: “Urban gardening is way to empower neighborhoods and individuals in the creation of a community hub while eating healthier (food), and regaining a connection to our food source.”

The tour will start at the All People’s Community Garden, 2500 N. 2nd St., Milwaukee at 1 p.m. From there, participants will choose between the guided bus tour or the bike circuit led by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin. Both tours will visit six gardens from the list, and end at 5 p.m.:

Greenfolks Garden
Garden Park

Northwest side:
Spencer Garden
Thurston Woods Garden
Hocking Heritage Garden

All People’s Community Garden
Off the Grid Garden
Cluster Two Play & Grow Lot

Bay View:
Village Roots Garden
Space is limited and tickets are $12 each. Call (414) 431-1585 or go to

~ Liz Setterfield

Outpost to again host an Eat Local Challenge

The term locavore is so new that spell-check doesn’t recognize it. But the concept of eating locally grown food is nothing new to Outpost owners and customers, and this September, the co-op is celebrating Wisconsin growers and farmers with the Eat Local Challenge.

From Sept. 1 through 15, shoppers are encouraged to buy at least 10% of their groceries from a local source.

What is local?

Outpost has defined “local” as products from Wisconsin. Some locavores set a farm-to-fork mileage restriction, 50 or 100 miles from home, for example.

Why eat local?

The benefits of a local diet are not only numerous, but they are widespread, meaning that other people benefit from a shopper’s local purchasing choices, too. If you go local:

1. You enjoy fresher food, sometimes picked within 24 hours, and allowed to ripen properly.

2. You get to taste seasonal varieties.

3. Your food is more nutritious. Local foods don’t lose nutrients during shipping, and they don’t need to be waxed, irradiated, gassed or processed.

4. Knowledge is power. If you’re worried about food safety (E. coli, salmonella and pesticides), you will gain peace of mind if you can develop a relationship with your farmer, and really know how your food is grown.

5. Buying local keeps money in your own community, bolstering your region’s economy – and helping it to be self-sustaining.

6. Shopping at your local co-op or farmers market is more socially engaging than a big-box supermarket. This small difference can enrich your life.

7. Save the planet! Buying local food lessens your impact on the environment. The average meal travels 1,500 miles from farm to fork. Just think about the oil and gas involved in that; not to mention the packaging involved.

8. Greenacres. Supporting your region’s farmers keeps them afloat, and on the land. That’s one less small farm giving way to McMansions.

9. If you have children, you can use this challenge as a valuable teaching tool.
So what exactly is Outpost doing?

At the height of harvest season, Outpost is encouraging people to buy more local foods, try new foods, and maybe even attempt to preserve fruits or veggies for later. Co-op customer service desks will have Eat Local Challenge packets available after Aug. 23, containing a scorecard and a Farm Fresh Atlas which lists farms, roadside stands, farmers’ markets and CSA’s (Community-Supported Agriculture). Products inside Outpost are marked with a local barn sticker. Using Outpost’s scorecard, consumers can track purchases and calculate how much money they kept in the local economy. For details, go to or see the Co-op Advantage insert in this Exchange.

Click here to subscribe to the Exchange.

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