Photo courtesy of the Victory Garden Initiative.Photo courtesy of the Victory Garden Initiative

Two uncertainties in today’s world have a disproportionate effect on our food supply.

One is climate change. As catastrophic events like droughts, flooding, and infestations of pests and blight become more common, yesterday’s mono-crop farm practices become ever more vulnerable and unstable. The second is transit. The cheap fuel prices of recent years mask our inevitable reckoning with dwindling reserves of fossil fuels—and our industrial food system, which relies heavily on transportation will inevitably collapse with our fuel supplies.

For both of these problems, urban agriculture is clearly part of the solution. For one thing, smaller, more diverse gardens and farms are better able to withstand the impacts of climate change, especially when it comes to pests and blight. And growing food in the abundant urban green spaces—right next door to the people who need to eat it—simply makes sense in terms of transportation and supply-chain logistics.

Around the globe, we already obtain a whopping 15 to 20 percent of our food from urban agriculture, according to the World Watch Institute. And that portion is likely to grow.

One organization devoted to seeing that it does is the Victory Garden Initiative in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Founded in 2008 by current executive director Gretchen Mead, the organization’s primary aim is to put organic raised beds in as many lawns as possible, while pairing beginning growers with experienced mentors to assure that the beds keep producing year after year. Since its founding, the initiative has built 2,500 gardens and planted 18 fruit and nut orchards.

Photo courtesy of the Victory Garden Initiative.Photo courtesy of the Victory Garden Initiative.

The organization takes its name from the victory garden movement during world wars one and two, when people were encouraged to raise their own food to conserve resources for the war effort. Today, the Milwaukee organization maintains, the fight is for “food security and the health of our ecosystems.”

The program is simple: Those who want a garden purchase one for $160, which includes the cost of the materials and soil for the raised bed. (In most places, Milwaukee’s soil is too contaminated to grow food without remediation.) A crew of some 500 volunteers work to build and fill the beds, and a team of experienced gardeners volunteer to help new gardeners through their first season.

And while the primary goal is to improve urban biodiversity while providing healthy, local foods, another result of the program stems from this crew of volunteers. “This event did more than train us on how to build garden boxes,” explains one participant. “It also helped us to build our sense of community by building a network of urban farmers that are growing their own food and working together to become a healthier and more self-sufficient, food-independent community.”

Photo courtesy of the Victory Garden Initiative.Photo courtesy of the Victory Garden Initiative

The Victory Garden Initiative has built on its core program with a variety of related projects. These include a Food Leader Certificate Program designed to cultivate a new generation of leadership in sustainable food systems; Concordia Gardens, a 1.5-acre community garden, urban orchard and production farm; as well as other educational and hands-on growing projects.

What unites the various programs is the twin missions of building a healthier food system and a healthier community. “We just don’t need all that grass,” says Mead, “We need biodiversity. We need access to better food. We need a reason to go into our front yard and meet our neighbors.”

Organic Valley is committed to supporting its local communities and is happy to sponsor Victory Garden Initiative for its impact on the lives of community members.