How The Garden Evolved....
The Highway That Was Never Built
In 1948, in a referendum, Milwaukee voters approved a "system of express highways", followed by later referendums that approved additional freeway plans. Work on the freeway system began in 1952, and the city's Expressway Commission added the Park East freeway to its plans in 1958.
Property acquisition began in 1965, when there were already 24 miles of freeways open in Milwaukee County. Thousands of houses and businesses were demolished in preparation for the highway. Neighborhood and environmental activists mounted a strong campaign against the freeway. Elected officials soon joined with activists. In 1972, Mayor Henry Maier killed the rest of the project by vetoing funds for relocating utilities in the corridor. Maier emphasized the cost to the city, saying:
"America is the only nation in the world to let her cities ride to bankruptcy on a freeway.... My city has discovered that the freeway is not free."
A large segment of a strong, vibrant African American community was dismantled, almost all of whom had arrived during The Great Migration. The land remained empty where homes, families, and community once existed, destroyed for a highway that was never built.
A Community Garden
Sometime during the late 1970's (no exact date has been found), Milwaukee County gave the go-ahead for a community garden on Garfield Avenue, between 20th and 21st Streets, under the leadership of Milwaukee County Cooperative Extension. The original garden was almost twice as large as the garden that now exists. When Milwaukee Public Schools wanted to enlarge the play area and parking lot for Brown Street Academy, a deal was struck. In exchange for the land, the school system paid for an irrigation system, including 14 spigots. They also upgraded the existing perimeter fence to a chain-link fence. Several years later, a youth garden quandrant was added to the garden. The garden was eventually named Alice's Garden after Milwaukee County Cooperative Extension Director.
SeedFolks Youth Ministry
In 2004, at the invitation of Milwaukee Cooperative Extensions department of 4-H and Youth Development, SeedFolks Youth Ministry, under the leadership of Venice R. Williams, was invited into the garden to expand their existing, city-wide, youth and family programming and to further develop the urban agricultural programming at Alice's Garden. SeedFolks brought to the garden programs such as the Garden Mosaics Earn & Learn Program, SeedFolks Reading Circles, Reclaiming and Nourishing Family Traditions, and Brown Boys Bonding Thru Books. SeedFolks Youth Ministry no longer exists, but many of its programs are are still alive and well at Alice's Garden. The presence of SeedFolks in the garden helped transform the garden into what it is today.
Center for Resilient Cities
Under a capital campaign led by the Center for Resilient Cities, the garden property underwent redesign and reconstruction in 2009-2010, creating more rental garden plots, and carving out programmatic garden areas. Physical improvements included soil remediation, drainage enhancements, tool storage, a covered gathering space, bench seating, picnic tables, outdoor cooking facilities and a system of hardened pathways. Enhancements were made possible through funding support from private and public entities.
Alice's Garden Today!
The garden has become a dream come true for the neighborhood residents and the many people and organizations whose hands and visions have made the garden the jewel that it is today. The programs, projects, plantings, and events at Alice's Garden are under the leadership, guidance, and funding of The Table: a first century style community in the twenty first century. Venice Williams is the visionary and leader for The Table.