Many of us take for granted what we have available to us when choosing the food we eat. We often try to make healthy choices at the grocery store, telling ourselves to buy more produce and less packaged foods. But what if those fresh vegetables aren’t available? For many people in Milwaukee, grocery stores are hard to come by.
The 2015-2016 Milwaukee Community Health Assessment shows people in lower income neighborhoods are nine times more likely to have less access to healthy food choices than those in higher socioeconomic areas. The report defines a “food desert” as a “neighborhood where a high proportion of residents have low access (more than one mile in an urban setting) to a supermarket or large grocery store.” Food deserts are very prevalent in our city. Access is even harder when residents have to rely on public transportation. Their options are corner stores with rotting produce (if there is any produce at all) or a long bus trip to a higher income neighborhood with more grocery stores.
Montana Morris, the community programs manager and event coordinator at the Victory Garden Initiative (VGI), sees the answers to these problems in urban farming and food education. For 10 years, the organization has been providing healthy food access to the community through events like their Garden BLITZ, their pay-what-you-can farm stand every Tuesday and their upcoming fifth annual Farmraiser harvest festival on Saturday, Sept. 28, from 4-7:30 p.m.
The organization started the Farmraiser to advocate the basic human right for everyone to grow their own food. Since their first year, VGI installed raised beds in yards around the city through their Garden BLITZ event, an annual 15-day event with 300 volunteers installing 500 raised beds.
VGI has become deeply rooted in the Harambe neighborhood. On any given day, you may walk into the garden space hidden between bungalow houses to find local kids doing summersaults amongst the crops. It feels like a refuge away from the busy city. Growing our own food is “helping us personally get in touch with the changes of nature, learning how to work with nature and getting something rewarding out of it,” says Morris.
Morris regularly works with kids that have never seen food pulled from the ground. Not knowing what a carrot was, one youth told Morris it looks like a Cheeto. Such a profound moment allowed Morris to realize how disconnected people are from their food and how easy it is to overlook what is available to us. “I realized that education was the most important part [of the solution],” she says. Through education on healthy food, VGI puts power in the hands of the people to become self-reliant food sources.
Learn more at victorygardeninitiative.org.
Read the article on the Shepherd Express.