Fieldhands and Foodways

Final Report for YENC10-034

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2010: $2,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Manager:
Venice Williams
Center for Resilient Cities
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Project Information


Before receiving this grant, Venice Williams had a 15-year history of working with youth related to sustainable agriculture. She has directed the Garden Mosaics Earn and Learn Project, employing 10 to 20 teens each summer, engaging them in asset-based community development through urban agriculture and community gardening. The primary curriculum was Garden Mosaics, found at

Families will learn how to cultivate vegetables at Alice’s Garden and create menus reflecting cultural food traditions. They will learn about the Great Migration and historic agricultural practices of African Americans via the Great Migration’s booklet. Finally, they will create narratives about their ancestors’ migrations to Milwaukee and the cultural traditions accompanying them. Throughout this process, family participants will:
• Learn about the rich cultural history of the Alice’s Garden/Johnsons Park site;
• Develop an appreciation of the legacy of African Americans in the United States/Africans throughout the Diaspora;
• Gain a better understanding of the Great Migration and the rich agricultural traditions families brought to Milwaukee;
• Be encouraged to incorporate the urban farming and food traditions into their family life.
Student participants will study African American history, geography, culture and farming practices. They will visit the Kenosha Civil War Museum and develop projects about the Great Migration and Milwaukee’s African American community. They will have the opportunity to display projects at urban agriculture fairs conducted in local schools. Summer program students will interview African and African American gardeners at Alice’s Garden and create collaborative, public art installations about generational gardening/farming techniques. Throughout this process, student participants will:
• Receive hands-on academic enrichment in social studies, history and geography;
• Be encouraged to appreciate the influential role Africans and African Americans play in the agricultural and culinary traditions of North America;
• Learn the interwoven history of African and Indian slaves and the traditions of Black Indians;
• Gain a better understanding and appreciation of the Great Migration and the rich traditions those families brought to Milwaukee; and
• Develop a new/renewed respect for African Americans.

The Fieldhands and Foodways Project functions within a methodology that embraces the Principles of Human Development adopted by Alice’s Garden. These principles helped guide our process.

The fourteen principles include teachings such as:
#2 Development comes from within. The process of human and community development unfolds from within each person, relationship, family, organization, community or nation.
#5 No Vision, No Development. A vision of who we can become, and what a sustainable world would be like, works as a powerful magnet, drawing us to our potential.
#6 Authentic Development is Culturally Based. Healing and development must be rooted in the wisdom, knowledge and living processes of the culture of the people.
#9 No Participation, No Development. Participation is the active engagement of minds, hearts and energy of the people in the process of their own healing and development.
#14 Sustainability. To sustain something means to enable it to continue for a long time. Authentic development does not use up or undermine what it needs to keep going.

Implementing urban agriculture from a historical, ethnic and cultural context offers participants a deeper self-understanding and invites them into a relationship with food and land that expands well beyond the growing and consuming of that food. Our interactive and hands-on approach to education engages students in a manner that absorbs their interest and accelerates learning.

1. Community families were recruited to participate in the program through neighborhood organizations, two local schools and Alice’s Garden rental garden families. It was important to engage families and students who could make it to Alice’s Garden without transportation constraints. These families grew food, together, in the Fieldhands and Foodways project area of the garden, and participated in educational sessions. It was important to use outreach to families as a way to reach more young people and to simultaneously reach parents.
2. Service Learning Students were enrolled from two local universities. Engaging undergraduate Geography, History and African Studies students brought more resources, energy, and hands-on leadership to the project. They interviewed Elders and gardeners/farmers to gather their food and land personal stories and history.
3. Community elders who came to Milwaukee as part of The Great Migration were recruited for interviews and a historical perspective. Their involvement gave the project a “living history” component, and their stories were/are a valuable piece of the project. They shared their stories with families and students engaged in the project.
4. African immigrants living in Milwaukee were recruited for the project. They brought a global perspective and were also used as culinary instructors. They taught families and students about their country by making traditional foods from their homelands.
5. Kimberly Simmons, the great, great, great granddaughter of Caroline Quarlls (the fugitive slave from St. Louis who found safe passage on the Alice’s Garden land in August of 1842) was recruited for the project. Her involvement made the connection to slavery and the Underground Railroad brought that era physically into the present. We brought her to Milwaukee, for one week, from her hometown of Detroit, speak throughout the community.
6. Alice’s Garden rental gardeners were recruited to teach families the farming/gardening techniques they learned from their parents and grandparents. This helped participants understand the value of teaching the next generation cultural and familial farming traditions.

• Venice R. Williams: lead educator
• Fatuma Emmad: lead educator
• James Williams: Alice’s Garden farmer, originating from Mississippi, Great Migration elder
• LaWarrell Cain: Alice’s Garden farmer, originating from Arkansas, Great Migration elder
• Patrick Jackson: Alice’s Garden farmer, Louisiana origins, second generation, Great Migration son
• Demetrius Brown, Sr.: Milwaukee Cooperative Extension, 4-H and Youth Development Agent
• Shalanna Wright, Alice’s Garden chef-in-residence
• African immigrants living in Milwaukee.
• Kimberly Simmons, Great, Great, Great Granddaughter of Caroline Quarlls, a fugitive slave who found refuge and safety on the farm of Samuel Brown, on the land that is now Alice’s Garden
• Service Learning Students from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and Marquette University.

When immigrants reach a new land, their old ways die hard. This has been the case with most immigrant groups to the New World. The language, customs, values, religious beliefs, and artistic forms they bring across the Atlantic are reshaped by the new realities of America and, in turn, add to its fabric.

The enslavement of Africans has most often been taught as a historical event grounded in the availability of free and/ or savage labor, ignoring the intentionality of why certain tribes were deliberately stolen and brought to specific regions of the Americas. Urban agriculture is expanding in most American cities, but African Americans, most often are not significantly represented in the urban Agriculture movement.
• Student participants (grades 3 through 8) increased their knowledge of the agrarian and culinary contributions Africans brought to the Americas, and have continued to maintain. A pre-test and a post-test were given to student participants. Their culinary and farming knowledge increased 65% to 80%. Student participants included:
45 3rd graders
18 4th graders
36 5th graders
28 6th graders
27 7th graders
27 8th graders

• Family Participants learned how to grow vegetables and understand their value in creating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. 12 of the 15 families who participated in the project are now part of the ongoing Reclaiming and Nourishing Family Traditions program at Alice’s Garden.
• Students and families gained a better understanding of the importance of traditional food and cultural celebrations. 13 of the 15 families who participated in the project now celebrate the African American holiday, Kwanzaa.
• Participants learned that African American families have been engaged in sustainable agriculture for generations and that it is nothing new. In the second year, participants had to create and maintain 16 foot x16 foot garden plots using the cover cropping, soil amending, companion planting and organic pest control methods they learned from Elder farmers/gardeners in the community.

Families and students in the urban context want to learn, and need to learn about their own cultural traditions related to food and farming. We had to cut off the addition of new program participants. The interest from local schools was more than our staff and volunteers could effectively handle.

We saw a pride and respect develop within he students regarding their cultural heritage, food traditions, and how important it is to be able to grow your own food. Pride and respect are often hard to measure. They must be experienced, first-hand.

One of the most important things we did in this project was bridge a gap between African Americans and African immigrants. Bringing these populations together through an understanding of food opened the door to appreciating the history of both groups related to land, food, and family.

We now have a waiting list for other families and schools that want to be a part of the project and want to garden at Alice’s Garden. It is often hard to keep up with the interest. We are understaffed.

The Alice’s Garden website, the Growing Food and Justice listserve, local Victory Garden Initiative email listserve, the Alice’s Garden Facebook page, Alice’s Garden listserve, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, school newsletters, neighborhood flyers, Alice’s Garden newsletter, and Neighborhood Association meetings were used to inform the community of the project and its events.

A presentation from 2012 Farmers Forum at the National Small Farm Trade Show and Conference in Columbus, Missouri can be viewed online through NCR-SARE's YouTube channel. Use the following link to view it:

The project will continue and expand. We are now working with a film class from a local university to create a Fieldhands and Foodways short documentary.

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  • Fatuma Emmad

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Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.