About the Kilbourn Park Community Garden

The Garden is located on a triangular parcel of land in Kilbourn Park – across North Avenue from the Reservoir. It was started in April, 2009, and has grown to more than 140 garden beds, each tended to by an individual, family or organization in the neighborhood. Most of the raised garden beds are four by eight feet. A bed of that size can supply enough produce for one to two adults.


A Brief History

The garden was started with the intention of helping people overcome hunger, which, unfortunately, is all too real in Riverwest and nearby neighborhoods. According to a neighborhood survey conducted by the Riverwest Health Initiative in 2006, 21% reported they skipped meals because they couldn’t afford food. By offering a place to grow their own fruits and vegetables, these gardens make a real difference to the health and well-being of the community. The Water Works Department of the City of Milwaukee owns the land where the garden is located. Once the decision was made to decommission the reservoir on North Avenue around 2002, a community-wide planning process took place on how best to use the land. The community park you see now opened in the fall of 2008. It is the result of those meetings.

In the fall of 2008, Water Works Executive Director Carrie Lewis began talks with Tom Schneider, Executive Director of COA Youth and Family Centers, about the notion of the triangular parcel of land becoming some sort of community garden. Schneider was open to the idea, so he brought Janice Christensen into the project, due to her work as a community organizer for the YMCA and her experience working with community gardens, local food issues, urban agriculture, nutrition and community health. Major contributions to the early design of the gardens were made by David Schemberber, MD, and Peggy Karpfinger. Kris Peterka provided organizational help, bringing the resources of the Riverwest Health Initiative to the project as well.


A Coalition of Support for the Garden

As of February 2009, an agreement was reached with Water Works and the Milwaukee Department of Public Works for a year-to-year contract for the Garden. After that time, the agreement was renegotiated to a five-year lease. The lease is currently held by Milwaukee Grows, a program of Groundwork Milwaukee, the non-profit group that serves as the Garden’s fiscal agent. Milwaukee Grows also holds leases for more than 80 community gardens in the city. The Kilbourn Park site is their largest garden.