Bay View’s community gardens growing stronger

May 1, 2017

By Katherine Keller

Village Roots, Bay View’s first community garden, is a secret gem. Tucked away at the east terminus of Otjen Street behind the Beulah Brinton Community Center, the diminutive jewel was established in 2001. PHOTO Katherine Keller

It’s spring in Bay View!

Suddenly, a proliferation of bicyclists and runners on streets, sidewalks, and bike paths. Parks and playgrounds resound with the exuberant cries of children. Butterflies and bees dart among a profusion of greens — peridot, emerald, chartreuse, citrine, celadon, lime. Mornings and evenings are exulted with birdsong. Tables and chairs again appear on the sidewalks next to bars and cafés. Tulips and daffodils and narcissus and forsythia and hyacinth and scilla and dandelions glow in gardens and lawns. Windows and doors are thrown open to the sweet-scented breeze.

In the neighborhood’s three community gardens, early bird gardeners are transforming forlorn plots as they turn over soil and sow seeds and plant seedlings.

How the Gardens Grew

There are 148 raised beds offered to the public, provided by Village Roots Garden (1115 E. Otjen St.), Hide House Community Garden (2590 S. Greeley St), and Cupertino Community Garden (1898 E. Ontario St). The plots are rented for a nominal fee to those who have no yard, who want more space than their yards possess, or whose yards are too shady to support a vegetable garden.

Village Roots, Bay View’s first community garden, is a secret gem. Tucked away at the east terminus of Otjen Street behind the Beulah Brinton Community Center, the diminutive jewel was established in 2001 by the Bay View Garden and Yard Society (BVGAYS), Milwaukee Urban Gardens (MUG), and South Community Organization (not to be confused with the Southside Organizing Committee).

Stephanie Harling, who currently serves as the garden’s volunteer manager, said that BVGAYS acquired the empty lot, which she thinks had been the site of a demolished home. Society members donated it to MUG in 2002 as a land trust. They cleared it, designed the garden, built a pergola, 12 raised beds, and launched the community garden. Vitus Konter created the garden plan, which can be viewed at goo.gl/3G02tw.

There are eight square and four triangular plots in the Village Roots garden. The east and west borders of the lot are adorned with a butterfly garden, bird garden, annual flower beds, and other botanical embellishments.

Harling said she thinks that most of the Village Roots plots have been rented this season but that those who wish to inquire should contact her via the Village Roots Garden Facebook page.

Last year a hose system was installed throughout the Hide House Community Garden so that for the first time, gardeners did not need to transport water from a hydrant situted about a third of a block north of their thirsty plots. PHOTO Katherine Keller

The Hide House Community Garden began with a meeting of 24 people in January 2010. One of those at the original meeting was Jason Haas (now Milwaukee County District 14 Supervisor), who wrote about the gathering in a blog post the following month.

He said the project was spearheaded by Melissa Tashjian, who wanted a community garden in Bay View that would become “a rallying point for Bay View” and “available to neighborhood residents, churches, and other community groups to grow food for themselves and others.”

Victory Garden Initiative, a Shorewood-based organization led by Gretchen Mead, was granted a no-cost three-year lease for an empty lot, part of the Hide House complex owned by General Capital Group. The lot is bound by Greeley Street on the west, Burrell Street on the east, and Deer Place on the south.

Victory Garden Initiative and the Bay View Neighborhood Association collaborated to support Tashjian and her group. BVNA donated $1,000. The Home Depot Foundation provided a $5,000 grant and later that spring, provided a group of their employees who volunteered to install 36 fence posts that line the perimeter of the garden. The garden materialized on May 1 when about 50 volunteers gathered and built 110 raised bed frames and filled them with new soil.

At a later date, the garden was renamed Hide House Community Garden. It is affiliated with Groundwork Milwaukee and MUG. It has been managed by a series of volunteers since 2010.

Last year a hose system was installed throughout the garden so that for the first time, gardeners did not need to transport water from a hydrant situated about a third of a block north of their thirsty plots. A garden shed with a roof and trough system to collect rainwater is being planned and is to be installed this year.

At press time, all of the 8 x 4 foot plots were rented but a dozen 4 x 4 foot plots were still available. Information about the garden and plot availability can be found at its Facebook page, Hide House Community Garden.

A snazzy new sign was installed on the southwest corner of the garden. Ryan Schone commissioned the sign and the concrete and stone flowerbed at its base. PHOTO Katherine Keller

Bay View’s newest community garden sprang up last year. Cupertino Community Garden is located on the south end of the bluff section of Cupertino Park on the corner of Ontario Street and Shore Drive.

Bay View Terrace resident Joe Walsh, who once operated a small farm near St. Nazianz, Wis., led the effort to create a community garden in Cupertino Park, which is at the foot of his building. He said he noticed the south section of the park was flooded with hours of sunlight and that there was a fire hydrant on the corner of the section where he envisioned a garden. Many of Milwaukee’s community gardens receive water from the city hydrants. They pay an annual fee of $150 for the privilege of accessing the water.

After gauging the interest of his neighbors, Walsh contacted Groundwork Milwaukee for advice about starting a garden. Because the park is owned by Milwaukee County, Ryan Schone of the University of Wisconsin Extension was recruited. The group held a community meeting to introduce the garden proposal and to gather feedback. About 40 people attended and while there was some concern expressed about using public parkland for a garden, the majority supported the idea.

SEED, a Milwaukee County program that funds community gardens, paid for most of the cost of the raised beds and soil. Additional support was provided by Groundwork Milwaukee and by the fees gardeners paid to rent the 25 plots. All of the plots, each 4 x 8 feet, were rented last year, and there was a waiting list of 15. At the end of the 2016 season, five more plots were constructed. Walsh said that all plots were again rented this year. Demand for the gardens is high and therefore each Cupertino Community Garden member is limited to one plot.

A snazzy new sign was installed on the southwest corner of the garden. Ryan Schone commissioned it and also the concrete and stone flowerbed at its base. For information about Cupertino Community Garden, call Joe Walsh, 414-899-3302.

Disclosure: Katherine Keller is a member and the volunteer manager of the Hide House Community Garden.

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