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Hundreds of Volunteers to Build Garden Plots Around Milwaukee

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A BLITZ team at work last year.

With the motto “move grass – grow food,” the Blitz is a 15-day, volunteer-driven event.  Organizers expect to create more than 400 raised beds this month.

The Victory Garden Initiative, or VGI, created the program seven years ago, during which approximately 2,200 "above ground" gardens have been constructed across the Milwaukee area.

A year ago, Hilary Hornbeck was on the Blitz list. Her small backyard in Shorewood swarmed with volunteers. Some carried plywood, others drilled and assembled a 4 x 8 raised garden bed. Later a crew delivered organic soil to fill it.

Hornbeck wasn't sure she could successfully grow vegetables. "I don’t know, I don’t have a very green thumb myself, this may be a learning curve but she and I are going to learn together,” she said.

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Celebrating the plants that will grow in her garden.

Hornbeck was talking about her three-year-old daughter, who wore her special blue dancing gown for the occasion.

“This one is a fan of cucumbers, so we have some cucumber that we started from seeds, and some tomatoes and we’ll probably go get a couple larger plants so we get a head start,” the mom said.

The Blitz team included new volunteer Brea Stevenson.

“There’s just a couple of us but I was at the bar last night and somebody mentioned it, and I said sure I can get up at 8 o’clock so I’m feeling a little rough but very happy being outside doing something like this. So we’ve been in Bay View, back on the northwest side and now here, so it’s been a busy four hours,” Stevenson said.

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Barely a fraction of the 2014 BLITZ volunteers take a lunch break.

Back at Blitz headquarters, Dave Degen looked for a little lunch after he spent the morning hauling soil. He was part of a volunteer crew from Case Construction in Racine.

“I did lumber last week and did 20 beds and this week brought my truck and trailer and dragged it around Milwaukee for a while, but we got the job done – we had a good team,” Degen said.

Martha Mainland didn't feel any urge to raise vegetables, but she answered her church’s call for Blitz volunteers.

Mainland drove a friend’s bright yellow truck – brimming with rich soil. “Yeah, we were here at 3:30 and because I have a truck; it’s a valuable thing, so I’ll stay the whole day,” Mainland said.

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Separate crews return to newly created raised bed to fill with soil.

Back for their second year, Shorewood High School classmates Haley LipoZovic and Tricia Nelsen said it’s an experience they’ll never forget.

“Last year, we went to all different areas and some were nicer and some weren’t. So it was cool to see and talk with all the people from all over and see them making an effort with the victory gardens,” Lipo Zovic said.

Tricia Nelsen added, “I think it’s cool how many different kinds of people want one, and have one all over Milwaukee, I think that’s awesome."

Starting tomorrow, organizers are expecting another bumper crop of volunteers.

As for last year’s Shorewood novice - how did Hilary Hornbeck’s garden fare?

She admits, her harvest was small. “ Yes, we had a few snacks, but essentially, the rabbits, we fed our pet rabbits,” Hornbeck says.

Those pet rabbits are what Hornbeck’s daughter calls the bunnies that rule the neighborhood.

Yet mother and daughter are preparing for another go of it. They started some plants inside their house.

But Hornbeck isn’t sure about everything they’ll plant in their raised bed year. “But cucumbers for sure, that’s her request and I think this year we’ll look up what not to plant to attract rabbits; I think there’s something avid gardeners know about a mix of plants, that we might pay closer attention to,” she says.

And outside, they plunked pink tomato hoops, her daughter’s favorite color, in the raised bed’s soil; and a dainty sprinkling can awaits its call to service.

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A satisfied BLITZ crew - 2014.
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WUWM story about first BLITZ in 2009.

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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