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Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Venice Williams of Alice's Garden

NOW: Natalie’s Everyday Heroes: Venice Williams of Alice’s Garden

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Alice’s Garden is an urban oasis on Milwaukee’s north side. It’s a place where people can grow their own food, but the garden’s executive director has also spent years growing community here, too.

Even in October, there’s still plenty growing in Alice’s Garden, including herbs and the last of the fall flowers.

“You can't hurt it,” Venice Williams tells a group of gardeners, learning about the herbs they’re cutting.

These gardeners have gathered to learn how to make smudge bundles—bundles of herbs such as sage and lavender, that can be dried and burned to cleanse a space. 

Venice Williams

“She's a nurturer,” said Carolyn Bracey. She remembers the first time she visited Alice’s Garden, and how Williams welcomed her.

“Venice met me at the door with a hug,” Bracey said with a big laugh. “And she said, come on in!”

Williams wants everyone to feel welcome.

“What we grow most here at Alice's Garden are relationships,” she explained.

Williams carefully shows the budding gardeners how to select the right herbs from her herbal labyrinth.

“This hyssop is already a little dried at the top,” she said, running her hand over the stalk. “I kind of like that.”

The labyrinth is one of the things that brings Williams joy.

“My passion and cultivation focuses on 60 different herbs that are transformed into teas, into healing creams,” Williams said.

Williams also cultivates the relationships she makes here.

“If the outside of this fence could be like the inside of this fence, the entire city would be an even more incredible place than it already is,” she said.

And Williams doesn’t just grow plants, she helps people grow, too.

“It's like, OK, come on, I'll embrace you, but I'll set you free so you can do what you do,” Bracey said of their friendship.

“The wisdom is in the plant, and they bring healing to this community,” William said. “Not just through the products that are made, but through the coming, and the sitting and the being.”

The garden, on North 21st St., is more than two acres and has 102 rental plots for people to grow their own vegetables. But there are also programs offered here, from yoga to movie nights.

“What she's brought is community family,” Bracey said. “This is one big family here in the garden.”

“The magic is understanding in all of your work, you're never an island,” said Williams. The more people you pull in, the brighter and better and the larger impact a project has.”

And that’s something Williams works to keep flourishing in Alice’s Garden. She said her work here isn’t done yet. She plans to add greenhouses and an urban bee farm next year. There’s also a farmer’s training program in the works. It will help young people struggling with mental health and incarceration.

“We've only just begun! We're only just getting started,” she said. “I'm hoping to have 30 more years of serving the city of Milwaukee! And I'll let you do the math. I'll be close to 90 when I retire.”

Williams just received the Frank P. Zeidler Award for Public Service from the city for all of her hard work in Alice’s Garden. For more information on the garden, just visit https://www.alicesgardenmke.com/.

If you’d like to nominate someone for “Natalie’s Everyday Heroes,” just send Natalie an email at NShepherd@cbs58.com. We’d love to hear about someone doing good work in your community.

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