Advancing the Fresh Food Movement
How composting by the Victory Garden Initiative serves north side urban farms.
Alexander Hagler, 25, pulls his truck up to a local grocery store on North Avenue. He loads multiple barrels of unusable food into the truck, and heads toward a plot of land on Concordia Avenue in the Harambee neighborhood. The food will be used for composting — the process of creating soil through organic food waste.
“It always shocks me how fresh some of the food is that we are given,” said Hagler, garden coordinator for Victory Garden Initiative, a local urban farm movement. “Sometimes it just comes down to not having enough room in the store.”
As he repeats the process at a coffee shop and a microbrewery, Hagler is always mindful that food waste “could create jobs and fresh food, which our inner cities really need.”
“It’s a resource that we take for granted, and one that should be used way more than it currently is,” he said. “It just makes sense, you know? Take something that is considered garbage, and use it to create something that can be useful to people.”
Composting begins once Hagler transports the barrels to gets to the garden on Concordia Avenue. First, he dumps the contents on top of a pile, spreading it as much as possible. He then uses a shovel to lay woodchips and old compost atop the new layer of waste.
“It’s that simple,” Hagler said after adding the final shovelful of woodchips to the pile. “It’s very satisfying seeing what we can create by using a resource that is taken for granted.”
“I was born biracial in a very racially segregated city, and I have felt [the effect] of these tensions my whole life,” Hagler explained. “I really hope we can all come together eventually to focus on the real issues at hand, one of them being the availability of quality food.”
Hagler grew up on the North Side and earned a bachelor’s degree in urban studies from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He learned to harvest food from other Victory Garden employees, including Ian Powell, the initiative’s only professional farmer.
“It’s great to be able to share some of my farming expertise with young guys like Alex,” said Powell, also a writer and radio show host at Riverwest Radio. “Especially simple processes like composting. It’s so easy to do and we should really be doing this all over the inner city.”
Hagler, who has been involved with environmental sustainability programs since attending Bradley Technology and Trade High School, agreed.
“The reason why I’m so interested in the food movement is because everybody eats,” he said. “Whether you’re black, white or purple, you have to eat to survive. So I think the [fresh] food movement has the best chance to bring people together from all walks of life.”
Hagler’s efforts do not go unnoticed. Gretchen Mead, executive director of Victory Garden Initiative, could not say enough about his dedication and passion for the fresh food movement.
“Alex has been a steady hand in moving our urban farm forward,” Mead said. “Having grown up in Milwaukee’s inner city, he has both a deep understanding of the issues here, and an understanding of how growing your own food in these neighborhoods can help to effect real change from the ground up.”
Hagler said he and his colleagues at the initiative are looking for more ways to improve where they live and work.
“As much as we all love this city,” he said, “there is a lot that needs to be changed, and I believe that environmental innovation is a good way to get the ball rolling.”