I was scrolling through Facebook while waiting for class to start the other day, when I came across this article from NPR, which posted by a local radio station in my hometown. The article discussed plans to build the biggest urban organic food orchard in the U.S. in Milwaukee County, WI.
Prior to reading the full article, I was intrigued by the project. Upon reading, I learned that the orchard is part of a new initiative in Milwaukee, WI called SEED. The SEED initiative, or the Sowing, Empowering, and Eliminating Food Deserts Initiative, is designed to educate city residents about healthier food options, as well as provide easy access to healthy produce for those who many not be fortunate enough to have access otherwise. Furthermore, low income families and students of Milwaukee County schools will have first access to the 3,000 fruit trees, 16,250 strawberry plants and 4,000 asparagus plants grown on the orchard. Once the produce is ready for consumption, it will be distributed by the city’s Hunger Task Force. As the Milwaukee County Supervisor states in the NPR article:
“Milwaukee County schools and low-income residents will be the first to have access to the organic produce. The produce will go to those in need..Fruit that we pick from these trees will be spread throughout the county for those that are less fortunate…It will also go to those that don’t have the ability to have a garden of their own or have the yards to do it.”
I believe that initiatives and projects such as SEED are extremely important and should be prioritized when when drafting city and/or education budgets. Projects like SEED expose people both young and old to other foods they may not typically eat- or in some cases- even know exist. Urban areas are naturally more populous than suburban or rural areas, and therefore typically have higher numbers of people with low incomes. Lots of times these people do not have easy access to healthy, natural food options such as apples, strawberries, and asparagus. Programs like SEED make access to these foods easier, which is an important first step in moving away from our current, inefficient food system the prioritized quantity over efficiency, and is oriented around meat and dairy. Exposing people to different, more sustainable foods, while educating them on the health and environmental benefits of a produce rich diet, is extremely important both for their own health, and the health of the environment. For these reasons, I feel that more initiatives likes the SEED initiative should be established in cities around the U.S.; the numerous benefits of urban orchards in low-income areas more than justifies the costs. The SEED initiative came with a $100,000 dollar price tag, and as another Milwaukee County Supervisor by the name of Marina Dimitrijevic states:
“The benefits of the locally grown food is worth the $100,000 county investment.”
Most people know Wisconsin as the “dairy state,” however, over the past few decades, it seems as though the food industry in Wisconsin has become increasingly interested in general sustainability, and other forms of more sustainable agriculture like the urban orchard discussed above. I’m not sure if this is really happening, but overall, in Wisconsin we’ve been seeing less and less advertisements for the dairy industry, and more for locally grown, seasonal produce such as honeycrisp apples in the fall, and Sweet Corn in the summer. This apparent shift, in my opinion, has been more or less lead by the influential and progressive University of Wisconsin Madison, which is located in the State’s Capital.
Another impressive organization that helps students and residence access healthy produce is Students for Sustainable Agriculture. Students for Sustainable Agriculture was established in 1979 by students and faculty at UW Madison, with the help of agricultural scientist Franklin Hiram King. Franklin Hiram King, or FH King, has been referred to as both “the father of sustainable agriculture” and “the father of soil physics,” and thus has much influence over both fields. The student organization, Students for Sustainable Agriculture, is an organization based out of the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) at UW Madison. The organization’s mission is to,“Promote agricultural education and hands-on experience with intensive vegetable production.”
A friend of mine at UW Madison speaks highly of this student organization, praising the the weekly events it holds. A widely popular event the Students for Sustainable Agriculture holds, is a weekly sale- similar to a farmers market- that the student members hold on the campus. At this event, UW students and members of the community can purchase a decent sized paper bag for about 10 dollars, and fill it up will whatever produce they wish. Additionally, it is important to note that the produce sold is grown by the student members and volunteers on plots of land near the campus.
Students for Sustainable Agriculture at UW Madison do far more than simply grow and sell produce, and I encourage you to check out the other projects the organization is involved with on their website. Furthermore, I find organizations such as this one pretty exceptional; I think more institutions should follow in the footsteps of UW Madison and establish organizations similar to Students for Sustainable Agriculture.