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Jobs Central to New Orchard in Milwaukee's Harambee Neighborhood

S Bence

As an orchard comes to life on 1st and Locust Street in Milwaukee, community and city partners focus on jobs for adults.
Victory Garden Initiative awarded All People's Church thirty fruit and nut trees to get an orchard going on five vacant city lots.

With time, it will feature twice as many trees and a rainwater system to slow storm water and water the hazelnuts and apples. The City of Milwaukee's HOME GR/OWN Initiative and Strong Neighborhoods Plan is supporting this phase of the orchard.

All People’s Church is a story about growth.

Bridget Jones played a role in bringing the orchard to life.
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Bridget Jones at All People's orchard during its formative phase.

Bridget Jones found herself in the middle of its urban garden, last August. She's donating a year of service through the Lutheran Volunteer Corps.

Its her job to shepherd middle and high school students who work in All People's garden.

Last spring, Jones got a crash course at a well-established city farm 20 blocks away, Alice's Garden.

“I don’t really have a green thumb; I tend to kill plants, so I was very surprised to find myself in charge of a garden this year,” Jones says.

“I started as a common worker, just working. I moved back from Kansas, I had lived there for four years," 15-year-old Micah Clark says. "I decided to get into the community when I came back, instead of being on the streets." Clark is now a garden teen leader.

Though growing tomatoes doesn't bring Clark "absolute happiness," he says he takes pleasure in "getting the job done."

Steve Jerbi says All People's garden program stretches back two decades, long before he became pastor there.

“One of the striking things about All People’s is that half the congregation is under the age of 25," Jerbi says. "And how do you engage that many young people and young adults and for us almost all of their stories begin in the garden."

He approaches his job environmentally; in fact, in seminary, Jerbi studied environmental theology.

“Hearing the garden legacy at All People’s was a great way to connect something that was really important to the church and something that connected my passions," he says. "And we found a way to say let’s take this to a new level; let’s really expand what we’re doing, not just as a little summer garden program, but as a core food justice expression of who we are in the city."

When harvest time comes, the youth crew gets first pick.

“And then they often will cook what they grow right there on a work day and then eat it that evening," Jerbi says." And whatever they don’t use, either goes on Sunday morning or our Wednesday food pantry to give away to those in need."

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All People's greenhouse

All People’s cultivated grants and partnerships to construct a greenhouse and reduce storm water run-off, "the patio around the greenhouse is basically a sink with stone going down four to six feet so that when it rains we don’t lose the water off into the street,” Jerbi says.

The sloped orchard coming to life off Locust Street will feature a large underground cistern.

“It’ll be capturing storm water off the slope, off the grass, off the sidewalk, off the street even; get filtered through limestone and then there will be a water pump in there, a rain garden next to it,” Jerbi says.

As tightly as he holds his environmental convictions, Jerbi says the projects fall flat if they’re not cultivating jobs in a blighted area. He’s about to hire an orchard supervisor

“And that person will oversee two employees that will be hired through a transitional jobs program with Project Return,” Jerbi says.

Project Return finds employment for men returning from prison. The City's HOME GR/OWN initiative is funding the positions.

Jerbi insists even seasonal jobs send a message of hope.

“The orchard, the greenhouse, the expanded garden, all of that is with a vision to say, there are opportunities for adults here as well,” Jerbi says.

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Team leader Jasmine Segarra (second from right) is a second generation garden worker. Her mom worked at All People's when she was a teen.

Sabryna Louise Davis loves her job in the garden. She’s another of All People’s teen leaders.

“It’s life-changing! I’ve never had the chance in my life to actually be the boss and it gives you the mentality; it’s pretty awesome,” Davis says.

Throughout the summer, up to 50 students show up here every day to work. Coordinator Bridget Jones reports that no plants have died under her watch.

Jones' job is nearly done here. Over the year, she has grown into other roles here too. She wrote her first grant – it brought All People’s church the inaugural 30 fruit trees through the Victory Garden Initiative that will christen Monday. Jones folded her pitch into a rap video. 

This has been a year of firsts for Jones. As you might guess, Jones had never before rapped or for that matter, lived or worked in an challenged urban neighborhood. She says she tapped into inner resources she didn’t know she possessed.

“One of my high school workers told me ‘Miss Bridget you are like the best mixture of cool and strict.’ It’s probably the coolest thing that I had heard,” Jones says.

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Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.
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