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Victory Garden – Kilbourn Reservoir

by Jim Loew Several years ago, a seed was planted in Riverwest – the seed of an idea for a community garden as part of the revitalization of the Reservoir at Kilbourn Park. This spring that seed began to sprout.   There are many people determined to see that this  seedling has all it needs to survive – people like Kris  Peterka and Andrea Kurth of the Riverwest Health  Initiative; Janice Christensen of the YMCA Community  Development Center; Tom Schneider, Executive  Director of COA Youth and Family Centers; members  of the Kilbourn Park planning group and many, many  others.    “I’ve referred to it as a Victory Garden,” Christensen  explained, “although I expect that the name and all the  other details will be finalized by a planning group that  we hope will form after the first organizational meeting”  which is set for Saturday, March 28.    Why a Victory Garden? It’s a concept that’s decades old.  Victory Gardens were advocated by Eleanor Roosevelt  during World War II when commercially canned foods  were rationed. It’s estimated that there were 20,000,000  gardens at the peak of the project, and they produced  40% of all vegetables consumed in the US.    On a triangular parcel of land in Kilbourn Park – across  North Avenue from the Reservoir, bounded on the west  by a row of houses that front Booth Street and on the  south by the sidewalk that marks where Garfield Avenue  used to be – the first phase of Riverwest’s own Victory  Garden is set to begin on April 18, which also marks  the thirty-first annual Riverwest Earth Day Clean Up.    The intention of the Victory Garden is to help people  have victory over hunger, which, unfortunately, is  all too real in Riverwest and nearby neighborhoods.  According to a neighborhood survey  conducted by the Riverwest Health  Initiative, 21 percent reported they skipped  meals because they couldn’t afford food. By  offering a place to grow their own fruits and  vegetables, these gardens can make a real  difference in the health and well-being  of our community.    The part of the land  planned to be used  for the Victory  Garden is  approximately 300 feet long  by 80 feet wide. Planners  estimate that there would be  enough room for about 135  eight-feet long by four-feet  wide raised-bed gardens with fourfoot  paths running between them for  maneuverability. A bed of that size can  supply enough produce for one to two  adults.    The Water Works Department of the  City of Milwaukee owns the land  where the garden is planned. Once the  decision was made to decommission  the reservoir on North Avenue around  2002, a community-wide planning  process took place on how best to use  the land. The community park you see  now that opened in the fall of 2008 is  the result of those meetings. .    In the fall of 2008, Water Works  Executive Director Carrie Lewis began  talks with Tom Schneider, Executive  Director of COA about the notion of the  triangular parcel of land becoming some  sort of community garden. Schneider  was open to the idea, so he brought  Janice Christensen into the project due  to her work as a community organizer  for the YMCA and as a member of Social  Solutions for Milwaukee, a coalition of  professionals in the areas of organizing,  community gardens, local food issues,  urban agriculture, nutrition and  community health. Kris Peterka also  came on board, bringing the resources  of the Riverwest Health Initiative to the  project as well.    As of February 2009, an agreement  was reached with Water Works and  the Milwaukee Department of Public  Works for a year-to-year contract for  the Victory Garden project.    At this point, the planning group is  soliciting consideration and support  for the gardens. Local schools, youth  groups, and food pantries have already  expressed interest in participating, but  the main desire is for people in the  community to comprise most of the  Victory Gardens.    To get involved or learn more,  contact Andrea Kurth or Kris Peterka  at 414.263.8383, Ext. 136, or Jan  Christensen at 414.430.4795.