When my father was alive he had a special category of people he referred to as “the salt of the Earth.” These are rare folks, but you know them when you meet them – immediately trustworthy, and comfortable. These are the people who bring you home in yourself and your world. Last March I had the good fortune to meet one of those people in my life, Venice Williams. I was following her as a presenter at the Midwest Vegan Festival, and she immediately enchanted me with her knowledge of herbs, but also her ability to be present with people – all sorts of people.
Later that summer I joined the Herbal Apprenticeship program she leads at Alice’s Garden, and began a journey with her in that space that has strongly impacted me in many ways. Alice’s Garden is a community garden next to Brown Street School off Fond du Lac Avenue on Milwaukee’s North Side. It’s a richly diverse space in many ways: the people who grow and gather there are all colors of the rainbow, which is a pleasant change in a highly segregated city like Milwaukee. But the garden is more than that, it is a spiritual place. The garden sits on what was once a stop on the Underground Railroad, and long before that was home to the Sauk tribe of Native Americans. The garden is a reclamation of space for the people, and spirits that have lived on that land, and you feel that when you are there. Recently I was walking the herbal labyrinth that is in the garden. Time slowed down, and the sounds of the neighborhood disappeared. The only real sense I had was of gentle solitude and communal place. It wasn’t a dramatic or shattering epiphany, more of a subtle quiet. Venice, as well as a host of others, shepherd that community, and hold that space for everyone who enters there.
When I began to formulate the idea of Mouth & Muscle, one of the things I really wanted to do was focus on bringing products that are indigenous to Milwaukee to everyone in the area. The idea that we can foster strength in ourselves by supporting and strengthening our community with our financial sustenance is central to what I want to do with this business. I have curated producers from Milwaukee who are part of the weave of fabric that makes our city as unique and flavorful as it is. And I can think of no better representation of that than Alice’s Garden, and Venice Williams.
She will be sharing a variety of herbal teas and body salves with us here. She creates all of these things, and a vast majority of the herbs in those products were grown in Alice’s Garden. They are magical creations… and I’ll support why I say that with a final story…
Over the summer I was preparing to compete in my first powerlifting competition. I was overly ambitious and lacking every ounce of patience. Two weeks before the competition I dislocated my rib twice practicing deadlifts. My coach (Dan), and my chiropractor where both done with me, they taped me up and admonished my obstinense. To make matters worse, I fell asleep on an ice pack that exploded and burned my back. It was excruciating.
I was in the garden one evening and showed my back to Venice. She immediately put a calendula rue salve on it and sent me home with some. I diligently put that on day and night. Four days later the burn was healed enough for me to be back lifting. I’m a professional chef… I burn myself a lot, and I’m pretty familiar with how to heal those burns. What I know is that the size and degree of the burn I had was pretty bad. To have it 80% healed in four days was not something I expected, and it’s not something I fully understand, but it happened.
We spend a lot of energy and money slathering our bodies with chemical laden rubs and tinctures. I want to offer you all some alternatives to that… and so we are very, very proud to have Alice’s Garden teas and salves for sale here. I hope you enjoy them and feel their power as much as I do!