We all eat. But the foods we eat, and have access to, varies widely. In this episode, we meet some people who have been gardening in Green Bay’s vibrant community garden program for years. They tell us why these gardens matter, what they grow, and how planting seeds impacts their lives in real ways. We also talk with some of the women who got the garden program started, figured out what makes a garden thrive, and are keeping it going despite ongoing challenges.

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“We learned that 41% of the people who were food insecure said, ‘Oh yeah, having a garden would really help me.’” – Karen Early. 

In 1994 Karen went to the city of Green Bay with the results of surveys done at area food pantries. They gave her a vacant lot and said she could start a community garden. That first year, they had six families. Three years later, there were 176 families working across four gardens. In the 2021 summer season, there will be 250 families working on 12 different garden plots! This is most people in the program’s history.

In 2019, Wisconsin Humanities awarded Brown County Extension’s Community Garden Program a Mini Grant for a project called “Exploring Cultural Roots.” 

“The reason why I like gardening is it’s really peaceful. Nobody talks to you. Nobody bothers you. The plants don’t talk back to you. So it’s peaceful.” – Sarah

Pictured here, Human Powered producer Jade Iseri-Ramos interviewed Sarah at one of the oldest gardens in the program, which is owned by a plastics factory.

The Community Gardens were developed in 1996 as part of an overall initiative to increase food security in Brown County. Learn more about Brown County Extension Community Gardens program and the Friends group, the fundraising arm that helps to support the garden program.

 Read Margaret Franchino Love Wisconsin feature story.

“I was a very, very whiny gardener at first. For many years my mom would drag me and my two sisters to the garden. I would complain that it was hot and buggy and take really long water breaks in the car. I give lots of credit to my mom for not giving up and still making us go each week. But as time went on I started to really respect the people who were doing the work and could see the benefit of it, and I eventually joined the Madison Area Food Pantry Gardens board. When I first volunteered with my family I didn’t completely understand where the food was going. I think I understood at some level, but you know, a child’s perspective. As I got older, I understood more of how our food system works and where the food we grew was going. Looking at the work I do now, I must have liked volunteering with my family because here I am.”

There are more than 280,000 immigrants in Wisconsin today from over 100 countries. 

Many of the people who garden at the Brown County Community gardens are immigrants and refugees. About forty percent are Hmong and fifteen percent are Spanish speaking.

Wisconsin Humanities compiled a brief history of Wisconsin immigration, with a timeline and resources, as part of a project called “Immigrant Journeys from South of the Border: ¡Mi travesía hasta Wisconsin!”  

Wisconsin Historical Society Press published Mexicans in Wisconsin, by Sergio M. González, and Hmong in Wisconsin by Mai Zong Vue.

Margaret smiling bio pic


Margaret Franchino was the Community Garden Coordinator for the Brown County Community Gardens Program from 2014 until June of 2021. During her time with the program, Margaret worked with hundreds of families to empower them to grow affordable, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food. Margaret’s interest in gardening and food security stemmed from volunteering with the Madison Area Food Pantry Gardens while growing up. She has recently returned to the Madison area as the Development and Marketing Coordinator for Literacy Network.

Karen with tools bio pic


Karen Early is the FoodWise Coordinator at UW-Madison Division of Extension Brown County. As a registered nutritionist and food advocate throughout her career, Karen has been passionate about sustainable eating, local food systems, and their benefits to the health of all individuals and the environment. Her work with U-W Madison Extension FoodWIse addresses food security, local food systems, food access equity, and nutrition education. She addresses local initiatives for improving food security in low- income populations through community partnerships and collaborations.

Cheryl bio for web


Cheryl Williams helped stabilize the gardens as an important food source for local immigrant and low income families in 2013. She worked with the Hmong community and the greater Green Bay Community Foundation in 2019 to establish the Friends of the Community Gardens 501c3 & endowment fund to improve the sustainability, growth, and future opportunities of the Brown County Community Gardens. She believes we ‘Grow Better Together’ & is also known as the Garden Diva.

Nhoua bio pic-2


Nhoua Duffek loves to share her passion for Hmong food and cooking. She teaches cooking classes and was part of a program called ‘Exploring Cultural Roots’ organized by Extension Brown County’s Community Garden and funded in part with a grant from Wisconsin Humanities. The garden open house gave community members the opportunity to interact and learn from the gardening traditions and foods of Brown County’s non-European cultures. Nhoua served as an interpreter for this episode.

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Episode Credits

Host: Jimmy Gutierriez
Senior Producer: Craig Eley
Producers: Jessica Becker, Jen Rubin, and Jade Iseri-Ramos
Executive Producers: Brijetta Hall Waller and Dena Wortzel
Photographers: Aris Owens, Craig Eley, Jessica Becker and Gary Porter