A harvest of riches: Meet some of Milwaukee’s finest urban farmers

Sure, Milwaukee is a city made of concrete.

But if you take a closer look, you will also find a lively urban farming community. Milwaukee’s urban farmers grow vegetables, raise goats and chickens, and sometimes run businesses.

Some have just started this year, others have been farming their entire lives. Everyone has advice for beginners: start small. Talk to someone who has grown up before. And embrace failure.

“It gives me peace”

Eugene Bivens

Eugene Bivens (Photo by Sam Woods)

Eugene Bivens has been gardening for 10 years and has been at Alice’s Garden Urban Farm, 2136 N. 21st St .. He started out because he had high blood pressure and wanted an inexpensive way to get fresh vegetables for six years. He no longer has high blood pressure, but continues to work in the garden and give away surplus products to other tenants in his apartment building.

“I’ll do this for a lifetime,” said Bivens. “That gives me peace.”

“Help revive the ancestral food”

Shaina Snyder

Shaina Snyder (Photo by Sam Woods)

Shaina Snyder, who is Diné and Southern Ute and is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, found out about the Native Wellness Garden when she got vaccinated at the Gerald L. Ignace Indian Health Center. This year she planted the Three Sisters: corn, beans and pumpkin. Her advice to new gardeners is to just start because there is a wealth of knowledge from other gardeners as well as from the plants themselves.

If you’re indigenous, join the Indigenous Seed Keepers Network and get seeds sent to you, Snyder said. “Then you can contribute to the rematriation of the seeds and help to revive the food of the ancestors.”

“This garden is my veranda”

Shantel Hendricks

Shantel Hendricks (Photo by Sam Woods)

This is Shantel Hendricks’ sophomore year in the garden, both in her home and in the United Methodist Church and Services community garden in the Washington Park neighborhood, which she administers. Gardening has introduced her to new foods she loves, like arugula, and Hendricks said it was like a porch with free food.

“People used to sit on their porch to talk to their neighbors, bring food, start a conversation,” said Hendricks. “This garden is my porch. It’s a meeting place with food. “

“You really only need enthusiasm”

Clear moral

Claribel Morales (Photo by Sam Woods)

Claribel Morales started gardening in the summer of 2018. She lived on a block when the space that would later become the Bumblebee Haven Community Garden was neglected. She worked with parishioners to transform it into the garden it is today.

This is the advice she gives new gardeners:

“All you really need is enthusiasm. Ultimately, it’s just trial and error. “

Everything we eat regularly is here ‘

Crystal Ayad

Crystal Ayad (Photo by Sam Woods)

Crystal Ayad and her husband Andar Muhammad have been working in the garden for several years, but in June 2020 they added four chickens to their “Mini Urban Farm” in the Wahl Park district. For Ayad and Muhammad, gardening and rearing chickens are both a convenient way to avoid going to the supermarket and to foster a deeper connection with the land and its historical roots.

“I know how everything grew here. I know I didn’t use pesticides, I know I didn’t spend gas money to come to the store for a few things. Everything we eat regularly is here, ”said Ayad.

“Help people and the environment”

Jill Madigan

Jill Madigan (Photo by Sam Woods)

Jill Madigan has been gardening since she was five. She sees it as a way to donate to the community and as a place where people can consume their crops and the soil can be enriched for future generations.

“I love knowing that I’m doing something that is good for people and the environment,” she said.

“I have to get in touch with people”

Deb Ushakov

Deb Ushakov (Photo by Sam Woods)

Deb Ushakow, who is a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, asked for a garden plot in the Native Wellness Garden after her retirement. She said she went to the Oneida Reserve during harvest time to learn more about what she can grow. This year she grew vegetables that ranged from potatoes to green beans to cucumbers. For new gardeners, she suggests connecting with more experienced gardeners.

“Find someone who has gardened before to learn from them. I learned quite a bit when I went up [to the Oneida reservation] because I could get in touch with people. “

“It helps to show that I’m a good neighbor”

Rae Johnson

Rae Johnson (Photo by Sam Woods)

Rae Johnson recently bought her home through ACTS Housing in Borchert Field. The first thing they did was call the Victory Garden Initiative to install a garden bed in their garden. This fall, Johnson harvested grains, including tomatoes and Swiss chard. What they enjoyed most about gardening was the opportunity to connect with their neighbors.

“It’s a place to talk to people,” said Johnson. “It shows that I am a good neighbor and that I take care of my property, but it is also a conversation starter for building interpersonal connections.”

Gardening can be for everyone

Jovan goldsmith

Jovan Goldsmith (Photo by Sam Woods)

Jovan Goldsmith is gardening for the first time this year and started out because he wanted to better understand plants and eat fresh foods that he grew. Goldsmith described gardening as “liberating,” based on the knowledge that he could take care of himself, his friends, and his family on a small scale. He said that novice gardeners should take courses at the Victory Garden Initiative to learn more, but also that the process of growing your own food teaches you more about yourself than you might expect.

“Gardening can be something for everyone,” he says. “You get a lot out of it, except for the food.”

“Here to laugh”

Amalie Hansen and Sophia Torrijos

Sophia Torrijos and Amalie Hansen (Photo by Sam Woods)

Sophia Torrijos (left) and Amalie Hansen have been volunteer gardeners in Bumblebee Haven at 1459 W. Historic Mitchell St. for three years. This year the two harvested carrots, beets, zucchini, butter lettuce and more. While they love to walk their garden from seed to harvest, both stressed that it is the gardening community they found in Bumblebee Haven that keeps them coming back time and time again.

“I’m just here to laugh,” said Torrijos.

‘Just start with a pot or two and a few seeds’

Maria Hoeschen

Mary Hoeschen (Photo by Sam Woods)

Mary Hoeschen has worked in the garden all her life, but this year she tried growing kale, oregano and cucamelons for the first time. Between her two backyard garden beds and a few extra pots, she also grew a number of other plants, including Swiss chard, tomatoes, basil, parsley, and tomatillos. For new gardeners, Hoeschen recommends starting small if you’re concerned about whether you have the time or talent to keep up with a garden.

“It doesn’t have to be big, just start with a pot or two and a few seeds.”

“Find out more about where your food comes from”

James Johnson

James Johnson (Photo by Sam Woods)

James Johnson started raising goats in Milwaukee this year, but he has dealt with goats for most of his life. Johnson grew up in Jamaica and raised goats on his farm until he moved to Milwaukee. Johnson said this year there has been a flurry of memories from his childhood reconnecting with animal husbandry, and he hopes young black children growing up in Milwaukee will have similar opportunities to connect with the country.

“I hope part of the wasteland in the city that just sits there. . . They should help people get started in farming, ”Johnson said.

“It doesn’t have to be goats. Start with chickens, sheep or just vegetables and find out more about where your food comes from. “

“Enjoy what you do”

Angela “That Salsa Lady” Moragne

Angela “That Salsa Lady” Moragne (Photo by Sam Woods)

Angela Moragne started her gourmet salsa company That Salsa Lady over a decade ago, but she’s been farming since she started working on an urban garden for a housing estate years earlier. There she connected with the generation farmer who looked after her for a few years before she felt comfortable going on her own. She now owns a successful salsa company made from ingredients she grows in her half-acre garden known as That Hood Ranch.

For new gardeners, Moragne advised being patient and accepting mistakes as learning opportunities.

“Most of all, enjoy what you are doing. Not only celebrate the harvests, but also appreciate the “failures”. It will happen, so overcome the ‘UGH’, learn from mishaps and use each one as a learning block. Then share your experience with others, ”said Moragne.

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