Community Spotlight: La Crosse Victory Gardens

Photo retrieved from the La Crosse Area Victory Gardens.

Photo retrieved from the La Crosse Area Victory Gardens.

Blake McCoy, Photojournalist

The La Crosse community is home to several community gardens which are funded by the city of La Crosse and run by local volunteers. These plots of shared space are called Victory Gardens, an idea inspired by a tradition that began during World War II.  

“When there were a lot of people going overseas to fight the war, there was a bunch of food insecurity. All of these Victory Gardens popped up as a way to bring the community together and give out food,” said University of Wisconsin- La Crosse senior Savannah Zuzick.  

“That’s the idea that’s happening here. [The gardens] were created last year. Right when the pandemic happened; that’s when you start gardening,” said Zuzick. “It’s even more prevalent now with the pandemic, there are food insecurity issues all over La Crosse.”   

Zuzick is a political science major and an environmental studies minor at UWL, and she is currently working with community members and helping with outreach for the area Victory Gardens. 

 “It’s been really fun because I really want to get into gardening. This is through my capstone for environmental studies. It’s called service-learning. We had to find a community group or someone who is involved in environmental sustainability in the La Crosse area,” said Zuzick. “I’ve been having a lot of fun.” 

“I think it’s really nice right now because it’s a way for people to get outside and get involved in the community again,” she said. “It’s a way for people to volunteer. Harvest is open whenever. So you can come and pick whenever you want, which is really cool.”  

Although harvest is open to anyone at all times, Zuzick said there are still many opportunities to work with others in the community. There are scheduled times for people interested in volunteering to plant together and take care of the gardens as a group. These times vary depending on the community garden you choose to attend.  

“[We’re] looking for any volunteers to do as much as they can or as little as they want. It’s very open to everyone who wants to do it. It’s a very inclusive thing,” said Zuzick. She also said that college students are encouraged to come out and enjoy the community gardens. “Right now, we’re looking for college students to come in, especially if some are here during the summer or in the fall because it’s going to be going on until as late as we can.”  

Planting began May first and Zuzcik said that volunteers will be needed through the last harvest in September. “We don’t want anything to go to waste, so people will be here until it’s all gone,” said Zuzick. 

 The gardens are placed in areas with high levels of food insecurity and where large areas of land were available for use. The garden that Zuzick is involved with is at City Hall in La Crosse, located near downtown and a few blocks from UWL. “This year we’re planting garlic, zucchini, kale, bush beans, cherry tomatoes, potatoes, and broccoli, and more,” said Zuzick. “We’re looking at plants that can be in a garden bed all summer long.”  

She said that folks interested in volunteering at the gardens should follow COVID-19 safety guidelines, should wear facemasks and should practice physical distancing. “With the age range of people working here; people are coming from all throughout the community, we really just want everybody to be safe.”  

“[The gardens are] a very good way to start a basic knowledge of planting. If you want to learn a little bit about gardening, this is the best way to do it,” said Zuzick. “It’s a really relaxed environment. You can come one week and not the next, and it doesn’t really matter. You can drop in.”  

“I really want to advocate that you can just come and pick anything that you want whenever you need food. Volunteering to help out with planting would be awesome if you’re coming to pick stuff, but you don’t have to do that. You can just come in whenever,” said Zuzick. “We really want to reach out to students and say ‘Hey, this is here,’ especially if students are struggling money-wise. They can get fresh vegetables. They’re grown locally and they’re fresh.”  

 To become a Victory Garden volunteer or to check out a garden near you, go to the information page or email any of the site directors. 

Photo retrieved from Savannah Zuzick.
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