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Friendly residents and a growing healthy food movement are just a couple things Virginia Small appreciates about MKE.

We asked writer and Milwaukee Magazine contributor Virginia Small to share with us the reasons she loves Milwaukee. Here are her picks:

Beans & Barley

Beans & Barley (1901 E. North Ave.) has delicious, affordable fare all day long. It’s a comfortable gathering place, and you can also eat at the bar. I love how it has evolved over the years – from when it started as a tiny natural-foods grocery on Murray (where I was one of the first employees). As it’s expanded it’s kept the same mission of serving the community by providing good food.

Free summer concerts and festivals

It’s great that Milwaukee has many free summer concerts throughout the city (and county), as well as Poetry in the Park (at Juneau Park) and Shakespeare in the Park that’s now hosted at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. They are all great ways to enjoy culture, share a picnic with friends, or frequent a food truck in many locations. And some concerts inspire people to get up and dance! I also enjoy Milwaukee’s countless festivals, big and small. Bastille Days and Locust Street top that list for free festivals, with the North Avenue street fair a close runner up.  

Friendly people

I appreciate Milwaukeeans’ down-to-earth friendliness. I’m from this area and missed that when I lived in other parts of the country. It’s a casual friendliness, in public settings where people are often willing to engage, say on the street or while waiting in line. I also often feel it in retail settings. I’ve heard visitors mention it. Ironically, when I lived on the East Coast, one co-worker told me he was uncomfortable during a work trip to Milwaukee because everyone was so friendly. He kept thinking people were being nice to try to somehow con him. I tried to explain that it was just the way Milwaukeeans are.  

Healthy food

I love Milwaukee’s ever-growing healthy food movement. The city’s urban agriculture movement is one of its most significant success stories, including the Victory Garden Initiative, Alice’s Garden, UW Extension’s SEED Program and many other lesser-known projects. It also supports many great farm-to-table restaurants. Collectively, it’s a very powerful movement and keeps growing. I was a volunteer back in the 1970s at the Outpost Natural Foods Co-op on Locust Street and still regularly shop there. I also frequent farmer’s markets, especially in Riverwest or the Fondy Market. 

Lake Park

Lake Park is special to me for many reasons. I first fell in love with Lake Park’s beauty as a teenager and still find it an enchanting place.  I enjoying walking or bicycling there and seeing so many people enjoying the park. I also have gotten to know the landscape at the ground level as part of Lake Park Friends’ Wednesday Work Crew (doing weeding, mulching and invasive-species removal). I also love learning about its history – that the “genius of place” Frederick Law Olmsted designed it and that stewardship for over 120 years has helped it to remain strongly intact. It’s a two-level park – like Manhattan’s Central Park – except Milwaukee’s lower-level ravines were already there, and the design retained them.


Virginia Small is a contributor to our July 2017 issue, writing “No Picnic” with Tom Tolan.

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