Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:20 am
Milwaukee nonprofit organization Victory Garden Initiative plans to take over operations of a Milwaukee County-owned fruit tree orchard in Oak Creek that was formerly operated by now-closed Growing Power as part of a county program aimed at combating food deserts in Milwaukee area neighborhoods.
The county Parks Department is entering into a lease agreement with Victory Garden Initiative for the organization to operate a fruit tree orchard on 8.6 acres along the Oak Creek Parkway as part of the county’s SEED (Sowing, Empowering, and Eliminating Deserts) initiative. The SEED initiative launched in 2015 as an effort to establish urban orchards to address food insecurity in Milwaukee.
When it first launched, the county entered into a lease with Growing Power, a Milwaukee-based urban agriculture nonprofit organization, to plant and harvest fruit tree orchards on the county park land. At that time, the Oak Creek site was touted as the largest urban organic fruit orchard in the country.
Now, Victory Garden Initiative plans to fill in the gap, following the Growing Power board’s decision in late November to dissolve the organization.
“The loss of Growing Power in the urban agriculture and nonprofit world in Milwaukee is a big one,” said Gretchen Mead, executive director of Victory Garden Initiative. “So we in the nonprofit world are all figuring out how to support some of these (programs) and how to be more involved and move the effort forward in our own way.”
Victory Garden Initiative operates an urban farm in the Harambee neighborhood and runs several other initiatives, including building urban gardens, planting urban fruit and nut orchards, and teaching community classes.
Mead said the organization plans to bring in expertise to assess the Oak Creek orchard property and the condition of its trees before making more plans with the site.
“I’m hoping the assessment process begins this spring and as we go on through the season, if things are in good shape, then we can begin to determine what a relationship with the county would look like moving forward,” Mead said.
One presenting issue, she said, is a lack of water access at the site.
“I’m hopeful we can find a more efficient and streamlined way to have water on site so the orchard can be taken care of properly,” she said.
Another priority will be engaging local residents in the effort.
“I’m looking for a path forward that creates the kind of efficiency and management that makes the project viable,” she said. “We’ll also be looking at how we can improve the engagement down there and see what the neighbors think of the project and how they want to be involved.”