By Tim McCollow
Milwaukee has gained a national reputation as a progressive hotbed of the Good Food Revolution. I use the term Good Food Revolution and not urban agriculture (UA) because simply referring to just UA diminishes the breadth of the work being done here in strengthening our local food supply chain. Milwaukee gained this reputation through the years-old, hard work of local groups such as Growing Power, VGI, Fondy Food Center, MUG, UWExtension, Walnut Way, Sweetwater, Groundwork, Milwaukee Food Council, CRC, Alice’s Garden, MMSD, UWM, Braise, farmer’s markets, UEC and too many others to mention. The Mayor recognizes and thanks you all for your ground-breaking (pun intended) work.
If the Good Food revolution is to endure both locally and nationally, the time is right to take it to the next level here in Milwaukee.
In thinking on how local food policy should be shaped, these local activities are the foundation of Milwaukee’s future food policy changes. This work is the cornerstone behind the City’s HOME GR/OWN initiative. HOME GR/OWN is the encompassing name we have given to the City’s commitment to tackling hunger and healthy food access – empowering businesses, non-profits and residents to help the City strengthen the local/healthy food supply chain. Emblematic of the Mayor’s commitment to community food systems, think back to the early planning period for the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge – modern cities are rife with challenges faced by a modern city and its residents – yet Mayor Barrett specifically requested a proposal based on public health and the foreclosure crisis. An alarming percentage of Milwaukeeans are in poor health (see sidebar). From this concept rose HOME GR/OWN. Despite missing out on Bloomberg Philanthropies’ funding, HOME GR/OWN moves forward on fundraising and implementation next steps.
If the Good Food revolution is to endure both locally and nationally, the time is right to take it to the next level here in Milwaukee. My dad used to say “There is a time and a place for everything” – as to further development of community food systems – the time is now and Milwaukee is the place! Because of Mayor Tom Barrett’s recognition of this, I have been asked to become the City’s first full-time Local Food System Program Manager effective mid-year to help “connect the dots” and push HOME GR/OWN forward.
How do I define the next level? Greater urban growing, more year-round growing, better local food distribution and processing, better access to healthy produce citywide, significant food residual recycling (to create compost for more urban farmers), vacant lot place-making – each of these initiatives helps to commercialize (in every good sense of the word) urban agriculture, local food production & distribution in Milwaukee – sustaining and expanding the Good Food Movement via income generation, wealth building, job creation and profits. Our goal is a community food system, defined by Cornell University as “A community food system is one in which “food production, processing, distribution and consumption are integrated to enhance the environmental, economic, social and nutritional health of a particular place.”
The HOME GR/OWN Vision
Imagine a street with a few foreclosed homes and vacant lots – a corner store sits at block’s end. Litter, property vandalism and dumping persist. Neighbors don’t feel like neighbors (or know each other) because of the emptiness of the block. Front yards are fenced, so kids play in the street. Crime is higher and property values are lower than on denser blocks. Folks are in below-average health.
Neighborhood community organizers begin working with this block’s residents to discover how HOME GR/OWN can stabilize and enhance this block through food-based initiatives. Over time, two vacant lots are now small urban farms, purchased by a community group. Produce from the gardens is sold at a weekly farm stand. A third vacant lot is now a pocket park, sponsored by a local business. Flowers, plants and trees now fill these lots.
Neighbors congregate in the park, at the farm stand and near the gardens. A vacant, foreclosed home has become a healthy food distribution and retail center; a vacant lot across the street is now a plant nursery. A third home and vacant lot was sold to a family for $1 – a home improvement loan is helping them restore it; food grown on the vacant lot helps lower their bills to pay back the loan. Imagine the cumulative effect of this occurring on a single city block! That is the vision of Mayor Barrett’s HOME GR/OWN initiative.
Other benefits to that repurposed HOME GR/OWN neighborhood: reduced City expenses, urban blight reduction, greater sense of community, increased exercise by residents, reduced crime, greater access to healthy foods, increased property values, increased City tax revenues over time, more amenities, fewer tear-downs, even reduced risk of flooding. One idea, multiple benefits – that is the beauty of HOME GR/OWN.
So whether you are a local grower, a wanna-be grower, restaurateur, food or community development non-profit, local business, food retailer or just a foodie interested in helping create a healthier, more sustainable Milwaukee, first, help support Edible Milwaukee any way you can. Secondly, please join our HOME GR/OWN initiative as we move forward in 2013! Watch for future announcements on the Mayoral or Sustainability websites, on Facebook or follow us on Twitter at @MayorofMKE and #homegrownmke.
Lastly, I would like to congratulate Jen and Will for the inaugural edition of Edible Milwaukee. I remember opening up the first Edible I ever laid eyes on, an Edible New York, on a New York subway platform and being awed, then jealous that Milwaukee didn’t have such a wonderful magazine. Edible Milwaukee, welcome to Milwaukee’s “Good Food Revolution”, to borrow from Will Allen, Growing Power founder!
From 2012 Milwaukee Health Report
- 65% of food outlets available to low-income Milwaukee residents offered poor access to healthy foods.
- 70% of low-income Milwaukeeans eat less than 5 servings of fruits/vegetables daily.
- 36% of low-income Milwaukeeans are clinically obese; 14% have diabetes.
- 25% of all Milwaukee residents over age 65 have diabetes.
Tim McCollow is a lifelong Milwaukee resident. He attended UW-Madison focusing on both zoology and energy analysis. After a 23-year career with We Energies primarily managing the buying, transport and hedging of natural gas, Tim spent three years as a futures daytrader. A lifelong, avid gardener, during this time, Tim began working on a project similar to what has become Milwaukee’s Sweetwater Organics. In 2010, Tim joined the City of Milwaukee’s Office of Environmental Sustainability as Grant Monitor, where he has been able to work on numerous community food system issues, including HOME GR/OWN.