Bringing Community Garden Leaders Together: Groundwork presents Milwaukee Urban Gardens Strong Roots Awards

Groundwork Milwaukee recognized four innovative gardens in its first annual Milwaukee Urban Gardens Strong Roots Awards held Dec. 3, 2015. The event offered an opportunity to highlight leaders on the forefront of transforming Milwaukee’s vacant lots into vibrant community spaces. Groundwork currently supports 85 community gardens through its Milwaukee Urban Gardens Program (MUG) by leasing vacant lots from the city, creating access to water and supporting residents in the construction and maintenance of gardens.
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Nick Demarsh

Groundwork Milwaukee recognized four innovative gardens in its first annual Milwaukee Urban Gardens Strong Roots Awards held Dec. 3, 2015. The event offered an opportunity to highlight leaders on the forefront of transforming Milwaukee’s vacant lots into vibrant community spaces. Groundwork currently supports 85 community gardens through its Milwaukee Urban Gardens Program (MUG) by leasing vacant lots from the city, creating access to water and supporting residents in the construction and maintenance of gardens.

For the first year of it Strong Roots Awards program, Groundwork identified four key areas that they wanted to highlight. The award categories included:

Venice Williams, right, received the Garden Of Honor award from Milwaukee Urban Gardens Program Manager Antoine Carter left, at the Groundwork Strong Roots Awards, December 3, 2015.

1.) Best Harvest – exceptional garden maintenance and food production as well as effective use of produce. Winner was All People’s Garden on 2nd and Clarke Streets.

2.) Best Community Involvement – Gardens that effectively involved many, diverse groups of people in their garden. Winner was Washington Park Partners

3.) Best Approach to Storm Water Management – Gardens that effectively addressed the storm management on their garden. Winner was Cream City Farms, 2055-2063 N. 30th St.

4.) Most Creative Use of Space – Recognizing Gardens that incorporated art in a creative and engaging way. Winner was Peace Park & Garden on 5th and Locust Streets.

Each garden winner will receive $300 to support infrastructure improvements at their garden, courtesy of the City of Milwaukee’s HOME GR/OWN Program.

Groundwork also wanted to recognize one exceptional garden leader. This year’s Garden of Honor Award went to Venice Williams, Director of Alice’s Garden and The Body and Soul Healing Center. Upon receiving her award, Venice offered a compelling vision of the role of urban agriculture in supporting to improve communities. Stating that “we do not garden expecting awards, but knowing that we are called to grow people and community as we grow collard greens and tomatoes, parsley and chives.”

The Strong Roots Award was held at Heart Love Place, 3229 N MLK Drive. Heart Love’s Culinary School provided a delicious meal. The event was chosen in large part because Heart Love’s culinary school falls in line with Groundwork’s overarching goal education and job creation.

During the event, Groundwork also recognized its Young Farmers and Green Team youth participants who grow produce at several of the MUG gardens and play an important role in the construction of dozens of new gardens every year.

Groundwork’s jobs provide a pathway of opportunity. As early as age 10 youth can become a part of Groundwork’s Young Farmers Program. Upon completion of the Young Farmers Program at 14, they can become a part of the Green Team Program. The Green Team Program culminates with a service trip to Yellowstone National Park every summer for Green Team’s most dedicated participants.

Wisconsin-based farmers cooperative Organic Valley was the main sponsor for the Strong Roots Awards. Their sponsorship was critical in making the event such a success.

Planning for the 2016 Milwaukee Urban Gardens Strong Roots is already underway. Groundwork will add additional categories including an award for Best Cluster, which will recognize collaborative cooperation among nearby community gardens. Groundwork will unveil the 2016 award categories at its annual Groundhog Day Event scheduled for February 6, 2016, 10am to 1pm at the Body and Soul Healing Center, 3617 N. 48th Street.

The mission of Groundwork Milwaukee is to bring about the sustained regeneration, improvement and management of the physical environment by developing community-based partnerships that empower people, businesses and organizations to promote environmental, economic and social well-being.