MILWAUKEE — In a year when violent crime is constantly in the headlines, a new community garden near 13th and Reservoir hopes to help encourage young people to put their hands into the soil, instead of on a trigger.
"There's an old African proverb that says, 'when you can hear the cries and laughter of the children in the village, you know that the community is healthy,'" said Andre Lee Ellis, Founder and Executive Director of the community garden and of the "CAGE" program. CAGE stands for Community Agricultural Growing Experiences.
For Ellis, the garden offers more than a place to grow fresh food in a Milwaukee food desert. It is a space to feed community-grown solutions amid the city's ongoing violence. At this garden, Andre plans to mirror the work that he has done over the past decade at his "We Got This" Community garden near 9th and Ring. He focuses on connecting neighbors, teaching conflict resolution and providing mentors to young men.
"(The neighborhood near 9th and Ring) was in the top five of the most violent or high crime areas within the city," said Ellis. "Within a 3 to 4 year program, we were able to take it off the list."
One of the young men Andre worked with is Trevis Hardman, who is a co-founder of We Got This.
"We create an environment that allows people to really be their self and to really be open and to eat good, and to really just encourage people to be their better selves. And it works. It works," said Harden.
Now as Ellis and Harden launch this second garden, Milwaukee Alderman Russell Stamper II is watching closely.
"Usually men are the product of their environment. With this initiative we'll be able to provide an environment full of positive brothers and men to talk to the young brothers and make sure to put them on the right track," said Alderman Stamper, who represents Milwaukee's 15th Aldermanic district.
The new garden is in his district and the facts show that neighborhoods he serves need solutions fast.
According to MPD data, there have been 14 homicides in Alderman Stamper's district year-to-date. That number is up 40 percent year-to-date from 2021 and accounts for roughly 20% of Milwaukee's 69 homicides already recorded so far this year.
The alderman says he's now focused on supporting resources like the CAGE program to address the problem.
"Employment, mentorship and organizing neighborhoods is the key to reducing crime in the city of Milwaukee," said Stamper. "What you see here is me providing a resource, a plot of land, a plot of real estate to go towards building up our community and providing mentors to our young people."
Milwaukee men planting a solution to the record violence in Milwaukee.
Hear more from Alderman Stamper about the crime in his district here: