American chestnuts, peaches and a sweet cherry, oh my!
Last Saturday, Feb. 20, was Victory Garden Initiative’s aptly-named Fruity Nutty Affair. This is Alysse’s big evening she pours her heart into every year, and it was my first time being able to go! The Affair is all about raising the money needed to plant five urban orchards in Milwaukee communities. VGI’s goal with the Fruity Nutty Five Contest: To protect the environment, improve public health, and strengthen their community, all through growing fruits and nuts in the city—where food is needed most. In the past, neighborhoods have won and planted apples, pears and paw-paws in their front and back yards. Churches, schools and community centers have also been awarded orchards, connecting their missions with food and where it comes from—the outdoors! One of the coolest ones to me: the grocery store that planted their trees along the sidewalk, welcoming all passersby to pick some fruit on their way in.
A few friends and I drove up from Chicago with my cowgirl boots in tow (I was so happy the theme was “farmer chic”—I will take advantage of any excuse to wear my boots). Alysse adorned our little group with the sweetest, delicate flower crowns that complemented the VGI staff—we felt honored to be tagged as friends of VGI! Walking into the gorgeous Villa Filomena, we were met with a succulent, energetic peach—our friend from MKE Teacher Space, Melissa Pallin! Peaches dangled from her hair and dress, and I really don’t think anyone could’ve better played this sweet, summery fruit. Throughout the party, we encountered many other “Fruity Nutty” characters personifying the perennials the night was about. Another favorite: the American Chestnut, who spent the whole night literally cheering for the nearly extinct nut’s return. Give me an A!
Then, the food. It. Was. To. Die. For. Eleven local-food-loving restaurants from all over Milwaukee brought small plate-sized dishes, which was ideal so we could try every single one—South African curry from Irie Zulu, Purple Door’s lemon cardamom ice cream, quinoa and veggie salads from Beans and Barley, chicken tinga quesadillas from Simple Cafe and gorgonzola ravioli from Glorioso’s, to name a few. It’s so hard to choose a favorite… but I did go back for seconds on the ice cream, so that’s saying something! Alysse and I later realized that of the eleven restaurants, seven are owned by women—a surprise bonus.
And there were the AWESOME silent and live auctions. I’ve never been to an auction where I’ve actually wanted almost everything on the table. Luckily for my wallet, a lot of them were best suited for Milwaukee residents, though I did bid on (and sadly lost) a catamaran ride on the Milwaukee river. Maybe next year! Other auction items included hot yoga classes at Milwaukee Power Yoga, specially crafted jewelry, dining experiences, outdoor adventures, and gardening packages—not to mention two baskets of Big White Yeti candles. Alysse won a raw foods cooking class from Down to Earth Chef!
The Fruity Nutty Affair was a delicious, informative, fun, flawless evening filled with laughter and joy. I was so glad to have finally been able to be a part of it. VGI says fruit and nut trees provide nutritious food, serve as a source of oxygen, protect against soil erosion and keep neighborhoods cool in the summer. Also, there is often a need for two fruit and nut trees to be planted near each other to achieve cross-pollination—meaning fruit trees, like people, need one another to thrive. Because of the powerful work of VGI, I got to watch seven communities win an orchard that will change the health and vitality of their neighborhoods, and I’m so proud of Alysse for playing such a huge and important part in making that happen. She inspires me every day to remember that there’s always something more you can do to make life just a little bit sweeter for other people. She’s like my fruit tree!
[Photos by Kate Rundell.]
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