A crew from the Milwaukee Brewers – and even a player from an opposing team – gathered to work in the dirt over the weekend, but this time they weren’t on a baseball diamond. Instead, the group came together on Saturday to plant fruit trees at the Victory Garden Urban Farm in the Harambee neighborhood in Milwaukee’s Central City.
“This support will expand our grove and nourish the air in Harambee for years to come,” Victory Garden Initiative Executive Director Michelle Dobbs said. “We’ll be able to take care of the trees while they are growing up and share the harvest with the neighborhood.”
The trees also will be used to teach classes on plant care, composting, food preservation and vermiculture, Dobbs explained.
Initially, it was expected that Brewers relief pitchers Brent Suter and Devin Williams would be only players to take part in the tree-planting program. But Suter and Williams had unexpected company when they arrived at the garden late Saturday morning. Joining them were All-Star closer Josh Hader, infielder Keston Huira, coach Quintin Berry, Players for the Planet co-founder Chris Dickerson and Washington Nationals player Nelson Cruz Jr. The Nationals were in Milwaukee for a weekend series against the Brewers.
The added support touched Suter.
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“It means a lot,” he said. “Not just the guys from our team but having Nelson Cruz here, too. He’s a huge environmental advocate. He’s just a great guy. I’m so glad he and my teammates showed up. It shows the community that we care.”
Suter and Williams are ambassadors for Players for the Planet, an organization of professional athletes who aim to make positive environmental change. They also are affiliated with One Tree Planted, an organization dedicated to restoring forests, creating habitats for biodiversity and making a positive social impact through planting trees around the world.
The organizations supported the Victory Garden tree-planting effort, both financially and with their expertise in reforestation, at the urban farm, located in the 200 block of East Concordia Avenue.
“We are grateful to contribute to the Harambee community through an effort to increase fresh air, make a positive impact on our environment and support Victory Garden’s curriculum,” Suter said. “Our efforts are a small step in continuing to minimize our carbon footprint through reforestation, while improving the quality of air in our communities.”
Suter donates $50 for every Brewers win toward the planting of trees in urban farms. Any excess funds raised go toward a reforestation project in western Wisconsin, he said.
“Chris and I, we dreamed of having something like this, where we would have some kind of financial campaign to give towards urban gardens and plant some trees,” Suter said in an interview following the Victory Garden tree planting. “Sure enough, we got One Tree Planted and Players for the Planet on board. Victory Garden is the perfect place. We want to get as many trees planted in urban gardens as possible with our funds. This is a dream come true. I’ve been looking forward to an event like this for years.”
Trees and gardens offer a variety of much-needed benefits for urban neighborhoods, Suter said.
“Trees provide healthy food, shade, soil, air and water,” Suter said. “There are all kinds of benefits from having urban gardens around, too. I think the biggest thing is connecting people with nature. This lot we’re on has been turned into a forest, a haven of nature. This is what I’m talking about when I see the future of what cities can look like. Buildings interspersed with urban gardens. It’s ideal.”
The Victory Garden Initiative launched in 2009 when a group of community members recognized the negative environmental, social, economic and health implications of dominant global food systems.
The solution, the group decided, was building communities that grow their own food. The Victory Garden Initiative has installed more than 3,500 gardens, launched a 1.5-acre urban farm, planted 26 orchards in low-income neighborhoods, taught adults and children how to grow food and trained dozens of community “food leaders.”
Through momentum gained with its main annual event, the Great Milwaukee Victory Garden BLITZ, the group’s work has been expanded to include training in Green Bay and Berea, Kentucky.
“Victory Garden is an initiative to bring people back to gardening,” Victory Garden food outreach coordinator Grian Hollies-Maxwell said. “Everything we do is sort of holistic. We don’t till the land. We grow our own compost. We have a community garden. We have a food forest. Everything here is free and for the neighborhood.”
The organization maintains an office in an old farmhouse across the street.
“We feed the neighborhood. We teach gardening. We have classes,” Hollies-Maxwell said. “We just finished a blitz initiative where we built 400 garden beds across 12 different zip codes in Milwaukee. It’s to encourage gardening and encourage people to eat farm to table. We understand that there are food insecurities that people have so we are here to be their support system by teaching them how to garden.”
Every Friday, the organization has a “farm table” on site where neighborhood residents can pick up already-harvested fruits and vegetables. But the garden is open every other day, except for Sunday, so residents can pick their own food, Hollies-Maxwell explained.
“It’s a whole food forest. We are on an acre and a half. We grow everything,” she said. “We grow all different herbs and vegetables, and the trees grow fruit. We also try to cook what we have. A lot of people don’t know how to use vegetables. We try to demonstrate that.”
Hollies-Maxwell appreciated the lineup of tree planters who contributed to the garden’s mission over the weekend.
“I’m loving that they are actually planting. They’re really good at it, too. They’ve done a great job,” she said as she surveyed the planting and gave instructions. “We’re glad that they came out to help us further food justice. That’s what we’re here for.”