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Human Powered: The power of planting seeds (Header image)

Episode 4: The Power of Planting Seeds (with Margeret Franchino)

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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Karen Early interviewed by Craig Eley


"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."  A public event gave community members the opportunity to interact and learn from the gardening traditions and foods of Brown County’s non-European cultures.

Jade interviewing Sarah for Human Powered podcast


"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 Ly

Pictured here, Human Powered producer Jade Iseri-Ramos interviewed Sarah Ly 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.



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

We have 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!" The traveling exhibit is on tour now. Learn more here!

Wisconsin farms have relied heavily on seasonal migrant workers since the early 1920s. Between 1942 and 1947, the "Bracero" program brought additional workers to the Great Lakes region on agricultural labor contracts. This labor agreement between the U.S. and Mexico was developed to help solve American labor shortages during World War II. Immigration continues today and as of 2017, people from Mexico make up 31.6% of immigrants to Wisconsin. Here's a story of a migrant farmer from Mexico who works on a dairy farm in Buffalo County.

Wisconsin Historical Society Press also offers a series of books, including Mexicans in Wisconsin, by Sergio M. González, and Hmong in Wisconsin by Mai Zong Vue.

Bitter Melon


What is bitter melon?

Here's a farmers market guide to Asian vegetables and UW-Extension also offers a Hmong cookbook for purchase.

The first Hmong people came to Wisconsin seeking asylum as political refugees. The Hmong had helped the U.S. fight in Laos during the Secret War of the 1960s and 1970s, a parallel conflict to the Vietnam War. When the U.S. withdrew from the region, the Hmong allies fled, spending years in Thai refugee camps before being relocated to the United States and other countries. Churches and social service agencies worked to help make homes for refugees in Wisconsin, which now has the third-largest Hmong population in the country. Many came from rural communities and began farming in Wisconsin. Our partners at Wisconsin Life shared this story of the Vang family, who started a farm in Jefferson County.

Chia Vang directs the Hmong Diaspora Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. We got to know her as a history professor and Wisconsin Humanities board member. Growing up she spent her summers working in the fields and selling vegetables at farmers' markets with her parents and five siblings. Read more, along with some recipes, here.

More stories of farming and Wisconsin history can be found at The Lands We Share.



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.”


Hmong Spring Roll Recipe from blogger Cindy Her

Fresh Summer Spring Rolls are packed with vegetables, herbs, rice noodles (and meat of your choice), and rolled in rice paper. This recipe includes a dipping sauce and comes from a Hmong food blog by Cindy Her. She says she shares recipes from her parents and grandparents to stay connected to her Hmong culture and heritage.

Find the Hmong Spring Roll recipe here!

Margaret Franchino


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 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 Williams for Human Powered


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 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: Shawna Shawna Schwalenberg from LotusFly Photography, Craig Eley, and Jessica Becker

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