Neighbors, families and friends gathered recently outside the Walnut Way Center for Harvest Day, an annual street festival celebrating the abundance of the growing season and the vitality of a historic Milwaukee neighborhood. Numerous food vendors helped showcase the community’s entrepreneurial spirit.
Fatah Noor, manager of Sogal Cafe, 1835 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, was at Harvest Day selling authentic Somali and East African dishes. “People love trying new things,” said Noor, who helped open Sogal Cafe three years ago with owner Aziz Ahmed. Noor commented that the Walnut Way event was a great opportunity to introduce her native cuisine to the neighborhood residents.
Noor was dishing up sambusas, a triangular pastry filled with seasoned beef and spices, along with a few traditional Somali stews. Attendees Imani Barnes, LaPrece Loreal and LaCherie Weathers enjoyed tasting the sambusas and agreed they were a delicious snack.
At a table next to Noor’s was Young Kim, executive director of the Fondy Food Center, who was busy cooking up batches of Chinese green beans for festivalgoers to taste. Maanaan Sabir, health programmer at Walnut Way, watched Kim as he prepared fresh ingredients from the Fondy Farmers Market during the cooking demonstration.
“We make green beans the same way at home,” said Sabir as he tasted one of Kim’s beans coated with the flavors of ginger, garlic, red chili peppers and soy sauce. “But now, we’re going to start adding some of these different, Asian ingredients.”
Hungry Harvest Day attendees also were drawn to the “That Salsa Lady” tent where Angela Moragne was busy encouraging people to scoop up a free sample of fresh and healthy salsa. Moragne and her daughter, Stevey Pitts — who is known as “That Salsa Lady”—have been vendors at Harvest Day since their family-owned enterprise first started in 2011.
“This is one of our favorite events,” said Moragne, who is affectionately known as the “Chip Chick” for her prowess at making highly addictive tortilla chips great for dipping in the company’s salsas. During summer months the salsas are made with up to 90 percent locally grown produce.
Alexandria Barnett, owner of the soon-to-open Wild Greens Cooperative at 9002 W. Silver Spring Drive, was also showcasing fresh local produce in her homemade chili. For Barnett, Harvest Day is an important opportunity to introduce her cooking and concept to the community.
“We specialize in delicious vegan, vegetarian and raw dishes,” said Barnett, who will be opening the Wild Greens storefront later this month.
Next to Barnett’s stand were interns from the Gardens 2 Market program selling fresh vegetables grown in the Walnut Way gardens. Intern Cameron Nash, a high school student from Lindsay Heights, has spent the last three months learning how to grow, harvest and sell Walnut Way’s fresh produce. “It’s hard work, but definitely worth the effort,” said Nash.
Sharon Adams, program director at Walnut Way, said she was delighted to see how much Harvest Day has grown since it began in 2000. “Each year there has been stability and growth in both talent and participation,” said Adams.
A few days after Harvest Day, Walnut Way had more to celebrate as the Zilber Family Foundation announced that the nonprofit organization has been awarded a $500,000 grant to help complete the first phase of the Innovations and Wellness Commons, which will restore a vintage building at 1615 W. North Ave. into a community resource center with access to educational programs, wellness practices and job opportunities.