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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Alice’s Urban Garden

Off the Cuff with Venice Williams

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Alice’s Garden is a community garden and urban farm, located at Johnsons Park (N. 21st Street at Garfield and Fond du Lac Avenue). Lutheran lay minister and executive director of the garden, Venice Williams (pronounced Venus) is a “cultural and spiritual midwife, which just means I pull the most weeds,” she said. Williams sat down with Off the Cuff to discuss urban farming and chamomile-lavender popsicles.

 

What is Urban Agriculture?

The key word is “culture.” Who you are and what you bring to the land—what you expect to receive from it, and what you give.

 

Did you grow up in Milwaukee?

Nope, Homestead, Penn. Which is funny, because now I’m a homesteader. I came to Milwaukee in 1988, to work as youth minister for Cross Lutheran Church.

 

Any relation to tennis’ Venus Williams?

I get that a lot, and no. Though Serena has my birthday.

 

What are Alice’s Garden’s roots?

The land was once a vibrant African American community created during the Great Migration. Imminent domain, for a planned highway, destroyed it. The highway wasn’t built. The county eventually created Johnsons Park with the land. The garden was added in 1972, by Milwaukee Cooperative Extension.

 

Today?

We have 2.2 acres, and it has absolutely taken off. One hundred and thirteen families and organizations pay $25 annually for a plot. Make that 115. We added two for Juneteenth.

 

After this winter, will there even be crops?

Ha! We have many green houses, and look forward to collared greens, mustard greens, peanuts, sweet potatoes and tomatoes. Our specialty is herbs—mullein, calendula, yarrow and lemon verbena. We grow 10 different mints, eight sages, eight basils and five thymes. I use lovage in all my soups and stews. For Juneteenth we had chocolate-peppermint iced tea and hot lemon balm-lavender tea—from the garden. I really like making chamomile-lavender popsicles. Paprika pepper, though, is our number-one specialty.

 

To get involved?

Call: 414-687-0122.

Write: venicewb@msn.com.

Visit: alicesgardenmilwaukee.com.

Or come by. There is programming almost every evening. We have more than a dozen yoga, day camp, reading circles, and farming, cooking and life skills courses. All programs are free. But anytime the gate is open, come walk the labyrinth, sit on the benches and enjoy the beauty of a simple garden.

 

For the future?

Expansion, for one. We just opened a new herbal farm on 27th and Brown streets. On a larger scale, vacant lots are coming to life, feeding one another, in so many ways—bringing people out of isolation and back into conversation, nourishing community engagement. In that sense, really, we have just begun.