The people who came out into the hot sun to build a community garden were as diverse as the crops they planted. Pan-African Community Association volunteers, sisters from a 105-year-old African-American sorority, members of a Reconstructionist Jewish congregation, UW Extension representatives and young PACA campers from Eritrea came together to turn a weed-filled plot into a garden of marigolds, herbs, peppers, tomatoes, beans, onions and more.
Community members affiliated with Pan-African Community Association (PACA), Milwaukee’s Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority chapter, Congregation Shir Hadash, and UW Cooperative Extension got their hands equally dirty, working together to build raised planters and sow seeds for a garden on PACA’s campus near 64th and Capitol. The garden will be an integral part of PACA’s youth summer program this year.
PACA provides services to refugees and African immigrants, connecting families to resources for jobs, housing, transportation, medical care, education and other needs. “We work with families from the moment they arrive,” said Michael Grochowski, PACA’s education program director.
“Milwaukee is a pretty strong refugee state because of proximity to Chicago,” said Grochowski. The majority of refugees resettling with PACA’s help are Eritrean or Burmese. The organization’s summer program, Camp PACA, runs weekdays from late June through mid-August. The camp serves about 30 young people between the ages of 4 and 20, who, Grochowski said, “see it as a second home.”
This summer—Camp PACA’s second—an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer, arranged through UW Cooperative Extension, will work with the campers, teaching nutrition lessons once per week and gardening with the young people twice per week in the afternoons.
UW Cooperative Extension also helped design the garden, with Horticulture Agent Sharon Morrisey laying out the best placement for crops and a few flowers.
Volunteers from Congregation Shir Hadash acquired the wood—Wisconsin-grown oak—for the planters from Milwaukee’s Bliffert Lumber. Jim Hagen, a civil engineer and Shir Hadash member, drilled holes in the boards and delivered them to the site in advance so the planters could be easily assembled on gardening day.
Hagen said this is the congregation’s fifth annual springtime service project. After previous service projects assisting Community Outing Association (COA), the Jewish Community Center and All People’s Church, the members were ready to take on this project.
“The neatest part about this is you get everybody working together. All parts of Milwaukee,” said Hagen.
Members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority began their commitment to the garden by providing soil from Purple Cow Organics. Over the next three years, they plan to contribute as needed to keep the garden growing.
“We’ll be maintaining, bringing in resources as we’re able, and we’d like to see it expand,” said Khyana Pumphrey, president of Milwaukee’s chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha.
“I’ve always thought of Milwaukee as a community-oriented community, if that makes sense,” said Pumphrey. “People here don’t mind coming out to help each other.”
According to Pumphrey, seeing members of Alpha Kappa Alpha working alongside PACA volunteers and members of Congregation Shir Hadash demonstrates how positive projects “transcend race and class.”
“Every time I think about it, I feel overjoyed,” said Jeannie Berry-Matos, who is the nutrition education program administrator for Milwaukee County UW Extension. “This is what life is really about. This is how we bring purpose to life, to sustain and build communities.”