20 Oct Alice’s Garden
It was the summer of 2017 and I was just coming off a major reporting project. I’d spent the better part of a year working on series of stories about the private land owners, farmers and ranchers and their relationship with the natural world. Modern agriculture is such a big deal, because things like soil health and water quality directly impact the nutrition, physical health and wellbeing of people all over the world. But farms no matter how big or small also have a profound effect on the overall safety and security of nearby rivers and lakes.
Across North America watersheds that span hundred, even thousand of miles connect our forests upstream to densely populated cities where urban people depend upon the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables, sustainably raised meat and dairy products and of course safe drinking water. So agriculture was pretty heavy in my thoughts when I reached out to my friend Amy Kober. She’s the director of communications at the nonprofit American Rivers and I was really just checking in to see what kind of initiatives they might be working on in relation to watersheds and farming.
“Well, it just so happens ,”she said “we’re about to release a new film we produced on the Milwaukee River.” Amy sent me a link to a film called Alice’s Garden. There I could stream it online in advance and I was pretty blown away in the first two minutes of watching it. Milwaukee is about an hour and half from my front door and I had never heard of Alice’s Garden. Located in the heart of downtown this green patch of land is surrounded the urban core. With systems in place to retain rainwater and restore the capacity of the soil to support growing things, Alice’s Garden helps people who live in the neighborhood to experience nature in meaningful ways through the cultivation of fresh vegetables. But what really struck me most was the environmental justice angle of this very cool short film.
“If we’re going to be honest, the river of Milwaukee and Lake Michigan are places that have been refashioned more for white people with means than for the community I serve on a daily basis,” said Venice Williams, an African-American woman who is the executive director of Alice’s Garden. “I personally love going downtown and I love the riverwalk, but when I look up, there are very few people who look like me. So I think the rivers in this city, if we’re going to be honest, have been some of those places of segregation and divide.”
It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wanted to learn more about this remarkable place in one of the most urbanized cities in North America. So I made the drive cross-state to have a conversation with Venice Williams at Fondy Farmers Market in heart of the African-American community in Downtown Milwaukee. There just a few blocks away where she and members of her community grow their own vegetables she told me all about Alice’s Garden.
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