Every week in 2015, OnMilwaukee.com and local design company Too Much Metal join forces to introduce the latest member of the Milwaukee All-Stars – a team of unfamiliar winners living in the city who consistently and diligently make it shine. Each week, a new member will join the team – based on your recommendations – and at the end of the year all will come together in a Rally of the Raddest Milwaukeeans. We're not sure what that means quite yet, so for now, meet …
Jennifer Casey is the director of communications and development at Fondy Farmers Market. She’s passionate about slow food and community – specifically her chosen home of Milwaukee.
"Food has the power to unite," she says.
Casey brings energy and dedication to everything she does, making her a true Milwaukee All Star.
OnMilwaukee.com / Too Much Metal: How long have you been doing your thing?
Jennifer Casey: I’ve been doing some sort of food-related work for over 15 years – be it cooking professionally, working as a registered dietitian, teaching cooking classes, planting community gardens, promoting heritage foodways or now working with Fondy Food Center.
I’ve been with Fondy for just under a year, but I’d been a shopper and a fan for many years. My slow food volunteer work in the region began shortly after moving to Milwaukee in 2006.
OMC / TMM: What time of year / season is your favorite in Milwaukee and why?
JC: Fall. Definitely fall, for many reasons: In early fall the late summer produce is harvested alongside autumn crops tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, apples, winter squash, beets, greens, etc.; Fall walks along the Milwaukee River with the crunch of leaves underfoot; Crisp air/sweater weather. But, no, wait! Summer. Definitely summer: Free music in the parks. Festivals. Farmers Markets. Beaches. But then I could make a case for spring flowers and garden planting time or winter recreation and holing up in one of our many local coffee shops with a good book.
I guess I like each season for its own personality. I lived for a few years in southern California, and what I missed most was the seasons. Milwaukee can boast the best (and the worst) of all four.
OMC / TMM: What’s your favorite or least favorite smell in Milwaukee?
JC: I’ve got to go with fall again – the smell of falling leaves mixed with bonfires, diehard grillers grilling, artisanal hard cider.
OMC / TMM: What’s your hope for Milwaukee?
JC: I’ll just speak to my hopes related to the field in which I work. My hope is that Milwaukee can realize its potential and become known as a destination with rich cultural and regional foodways. We have a tapestry of cultural food traditions that should be celebrated: Native American, European American, African American, Latin American, Asian American. Each have many unique and delicious historical foodways. And our regional food traditions don’t begin and end at beer, brats and cheese curds – from unique foods like the endangered Milwaukee apple and Beaver Dam Pepper (both on Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, an international catalogue dedicated to preserving endangered foods worth saving) to fresh water fish, wild game, award winning cheese, foraged mushrooms. We have a lot to celebrate.
This isn’t just about reputation – celebrating and supporting diverse food and agricultural pursuits has the ability to strengthen the local economy, minimize health disparities and heal cultural divides.
Food has the power to unite. Sharing in the cultural foodways of someone who has a distinctly different background than you can lead to greater understanding. It is no secret Milwaukee has deep racial and special inequities. My dream would be to see Milwaukee as a mecca for sharing, celebrating and preserving diverse foods and foodways on a path to social equality.
OMC / TMM: When did you fall in love with Milwaukee?
JC: After I started spending time here. I grew up in a suburb of Chicago, but had lived on both coasts, in some of our biggest cities and a very small one as well. When I decided to move back to the Midwest to be near family, I started visiting a friend who had moved up here from my hometown and it was then that I started to recognize Milwaukee’s charm.
Not only could you hunt for wild asparagus within the city limits, you could also hear world class music live (and often free in our award winning park system), enjoy delicious farm to table cuisine, shop at amazing farmers markets, view great art and theater and meet the nicest people. And, while the public transit left some room to be desired, if you had a car you could always find some place to park. Milwaukee doesn’t get enough credit from the rest of country, but maybe it’s better we keep it to ourselves.
OMC / TMM: What neighborhood do you live in ?
JC: I live in Riverwest, home to cool bookstores, art galleries, river trails, cooperative bars and groceries, great restaurants, 24-hour bike races and really fine folks.
OMC / TMM: Why do you do what you do?
JC: I firmly believe that food can be a positive force for change in this world. The amazing food and ag work we see happening here in Milwaukee is happening all over the world. When you go to Slow Food’s Terra Madre event in Italy and you see 250,000 people from all over the world doing work in their communities, just like you do in your own community, you see how the collective impact is making a real difference.
OMC / TMM: One guilty pleasure?
JC: A craft cocktail made by my brother, Ryan Casey. OK, I don’t feel that guilty about it.
OMC / TMM: Name a Milwaukeean you would like to high five?
JC: There are many. But I’d like to give a shout out to Ann Brummit, co-director of the Milwaukee Water Commons. Ann is part of an effort that realizes the importance of protecting our fresh waters and engaging the community’s voice in shaping our "water future" as Milwaukee positions itself to become a "water city." As time goes on, this is only going to become more and more urgent. The MKE Water Commons is a unique, innovative and essential effort for this part of the world. The greatest fresh water reserve on the planet! Check them out.
Do you know a Milwaukee All-Star? OnMilwaukee.com and Too Much Metal are looking for true-hearted folks living in the city of Milwaukee who love what they do – and do it with zest and style. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com with recommendations.