*Note below are the submissions from each participant*
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COOKs are Health Department approved commercial kitchens available for the production of foods to be served to those experiencing a deficit of healthy, nutritious options. These kitchens would be installed in vacant, abandoned and foreclosed commercial buildings in neighborhoods that have the greatest levels of food insecurity. This model is most commonly seen in rural areas, with commercial facilities available to farmers interested in producing items for sale at farmer’s markets.
The primary focus of those who use COOKs would be the production of healthy, nutritious foods for distribution by mobile operations, including food trucks, and for sales at “pop-up” neighborhood markets. This goal would be accomplished by partnering with leaders in urban agriculture to provide locally grown, nutritious foods to be packaged fresh or cooked in healthy ways. Delivery by food trucks provides the ability to reach the greatest number of people over a large area within t he community, while “pop-up” markets encourage foot traffic in underutilized commercial areas. COOKs would also provide a storage and staging area, ensuring that the materials necessary to sustain the operations over the course of time are available.
COOKs secondary focus would be serving as a business incubator for those looking to start catering and mobile food delivery businesses.
Many small business owners interested in catering are discouraged by the costs associated with installing or obtaining permission to operate in a commercial kitchen. Mobile food delivery businesses are required to have a “home base” with commercial facilities. These costs force many to forego their business or take it undercover. The operators of these businesses would use COOKs as a place to permit and license food production and processing and would be charged only for the time they use. The rental fees would help offset the costs of operating and maintaining the facility and would contribute to the goal of the facility becoming revenue neutral over time. Further, by providing access to commercial facilities, these operators would be able to grow their business and encourage local job creation. In short, COOKs utilize abandoned properties, serve a population that does not have reliable access to healthy, local foods all while helping emerging business operators realize their dream.
Converting vacant lots and foreclosed properties into a productive agricultural system will require a multi-scale approach based on careful planning and creativity.
The first step is to choose the right properties. Using geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing imagery (e.g. Google Maps), this can be done in a precise, quantifiable manner. Some guidelines for decision-making should be maximizing contiguous planting space, ensuring necessary utility infrastructure, and minimizing distance to communities of need.
The next step is to decide which crops to grow and how to grow them. Concentrating on popular, healthy, easily prepared vegetables is a good start for promoting healthy eating habits in underserved communities. Adding crops for which local restaurants pay a premium due to transportation costs is another good avenue. All growing should be done in raised bed gardens, preferably using compost-amended soil brought from off-site. This would avoid soil contamination issues and act as a repository for compost programs, commercial or voluntary, that could evolve alongside this project.
Next, existing structures must be stripped of reusable materials. An average house will provide many of the necessary components needed for additional agricultural construction. Non-structural wood can be turned into raised bed frames; windows can be converted into solar greenhouses for early-season seedlings; waterlines can be used for irrigation systems; and so on. These stripped-down homes will also act as rainwater collection systems. Intact roof and gutter systems can be rerouted to modified basements that will act as cisterns. This will both reduce wastewater runoff and provide a water source before tapping city resources. Finally, these stripped-down structures can be used to process, package, and sell produce. With rudimentary water and electrical inputs still intact, all the necessary resources to take food from the field to the customer will be available on-site.
This project brims with employment and partnership opportunities. Community volunteers could aid full-time workers during every step of the production process. As mentioned above, local restaurants and compost companies could both serve and be served by this project. Local utilities could offer discounted services in exchange for publicity. School field trips could educate kids on healthy eating habits and how agriculture works. Graduate and undergraduate students would love to study every facet of this novel approach to urban agriculture.
In the end, converting foreclosed properties into a thriving agricultural system could be one of the few silver linings to emerge from the Great Recession.
Hunger Task Force would establish a Work Program built upon the successful elements of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) program of the Great Depression. This Work Program would increase access to healthy foods for the poor; create true full-time employment for people in the central city; and rebuild our community through public works projects in neighborhoods affected by the foreclosure crisis.
In the 1930s the US faced a 25% unemployment rate; hunger and homelessness were at historic highs. The WPA delivered relief to the unemployed by putting people back to work making public improvements. Participants built schools, bridges, roads and public parks. The WPA effectively transformed communities blighted by poverty by directing relief payments to workers who improved community life.
Hunger Task Force has been Milwaukee’s central food hub since 1974. We operate a free and local food bank network that supplies Milwaukee’s food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters absolutely free of charge. Healthy and nutritious foods are distributed to qualified nonprofits that uphold standards of dignity and deliver food to the neediest citizens consistently and responsibly.
Hunger Task Force has a 200 acre vegetable farm in Franklin, Wisconsin that offers a true opportunity to unemployed men and women from Milwaukee who need work opportunity. Working at our farm, people will earn a sustaining wage while developing work skills and gaining knowledge of food production. While planting and harvesting foods for distribution to families in need, Work Program participants will learn to grow, prepare and eat fresh food. They will teach others what they have learned by bringing food and knowledge home.
Hunger Task Force will strategically recruit Work Program participants from neighborhoods with the highest incidence of foreclosure and blight. Replicating Works Progress Administration successes, Work Program participants will work in crews to provide infrastructure improvements to their neighborhood streets, parks and vacant lots during non-peak farming months. Streets and parks will be clean while vacant lots will be converted to yards and gardens.
Hunger Task Force will create “ladder up” opportunities for employment with local employers committed to hiring a competent, attended workforce. The Milwaukee Area Technical College will provide free basic education services to qualifying Farm Workers. Other project partners include Milwaukee County Parks, UW College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Harley Davidson
During the Victory Garden Movement of WWII, citizens using their own effort, knowledge and urban land grew 40% of our city’s produce. Communities rallied together to grow, preserve and share fresh fruits and vegetables. Government supported, Victory Gardens provided a means for every person to meet their own needs in times of hardship. We are again in time of hardship. Inaccessibility of high quality, nutrient-dense foods, economic insecurity, natural resource depletion, and deep apathy related to the out-sourcing of community wealth, leaves the people of Milwaukee subject to multi-generational nutritional starvation and the inability to keep and maintain our beautiful, historic neighborhoods.
These issues can be solved with the implementation of the Post-Industrial Urban Homestead Act (PUHA!). The PUHA! Act will provide land and homes to eager unemployed and/or foreclosing folks. The homes and land will be located in neighborhoods that have: increased foreclosures, excess unused land, and low access to fresh produce. Each homesteader (the PUHA!) will be granted resources for food production infrastructure, such as soil development, rainwater harvesting, and basic tools. PUHA!’s will receive a small annual stipend to ensure their basic needs are met.
PUHA!'s will be chosen based on their ability to successfully G.E.T. Growing: 1) Grow fresh produce 2) Engage (lead) community members in growing their own food on their own land 3) Teach the community how to grow food. PUHA!'s will be centrally networked for support and education (includes bee-keeping, egg production, composting, project management, leadership support.) Each PUHA! will be granted the land and the home, after five years of successful food growing, and developing their community's ability to grow their own food. Each PUHA! will focus his/her work in small and micro-local neighborhoods, a six to eight block radius - there will be a PUHA! FOOD HUB in every neighborhood.
The City of Milwaukee’s Office of Sustainability will collaborate with local NGO partners already working in the PUHA!'s neighborhood, with missions matching Mayor Barrett's proposal request, (food security, sustainable food production, nutrition, and community organizing), such as Victory Garden Initiative and Walnut Way, to over see the success and training of the PUHA! University partnerships with each collaborating organization will connect a steady flow interns to each PUHA, to ensure education of our youth and adequate labor needed at each PUHA! Homestead and Food Hub.
Say "PUHA!" and change Milwaukee, and our great country.
Since 1993 Growing Power has engaged the Milwaukee community in developing systems-wide food security programs and projects. What began as a one-man volunteer-run operation has blossomed into a nationally recognized non-profit organization supporting over 100 staffs and food system projects and partnerships in over 15 states, including major cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and NYC. Growing Power’s proven track record in food systems development makes it a natural partner for the City of Milwaukee’s proposal to Mayor Bloomberg. Growing Power therefore respectfully proposes its Growing Capacity for the Green Economy (GCGE) initiative as a model the City of Milwaukee may put forth to improve local food security and leverage the circumstances (blighted properties) resulting from the foreclosure crisis.
The GCGE initiative provides Milwaukee’s low-income and unemployed populations with
1) Employability skills in the field of community food systems development;
2) Increased access to healthy, affordable and locally grown food;
3) Beautified neighborhoods impacted hardest by the foreclosure crisis;
4) 150+ full-time urban farming jobs and 150+ hoop-houses, with a focus on Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Areas;
5) Research and development of new methods and sustainable technologies in the agricultural field; and,
6) The promotion and creation of community food security in Milwaukee.
To execute the initiative, Growing Power collaborates with the City of Milwaukee, the MAWIB, local organizations, churches, schools and many more. Since early 2011, Growing Power has hired over 50 previously unemployed individuals and constructed 64 food production hoop-houses throughout MetroMilwaukee.
With goals of drastically improving local food security, Growing Power proposes expanding on the GCGE initiative with its newest innovative project: the five-story Vertical Farm. This new building will serve as an International Center of Learning supporting technical training and the sharing of agricultural best practices. It will house retail areas, educational classrooms, conference rooms, a commercial kitchen, and five stories of sustainable food and renewable energy production systems. The Vertical Farm coupled with the GCGE will help our city increase the consumption of locally grown food from its current 1% to a minimum of 10%. Furthermore, over 100 acres of blighted Milwaukee properties will be rejuvenated with year-round sustainable food production and local economic activity.
Growing Power’s model will ensure a more secure food system for thousands of Milwaukee families, beautify dozens of communities, instill pride among area residents and ensure that Milwaukee secures the title of the Urban Agricultural Capitol of the World.
Mayor Tom Barrett has been extensively working toward making Milwaukee a world water hub, and trying to rebrand the ‘rust belt’ as the ‘fresh coast’ of this nation. Water plays such a critical role for this Great Lakes city, that aquaponic farming could easily expand a freshwater based economy. Aquaponic systems blend two established forms of food production, hydroponics and aquaculture. Growing fish and plants in a symbiotic relationship is the fundamental principle of aquaponic systems. People with backgrounds in: agriculture, biology, chemistry, culinary arts, education, horticulture, hydrology, renewable energy, sustainability, and urban development have shown interest in this interdisciplinary field.
Creating an Aquaponics Innovation Center (AIC) in Milwaukee’s vacant Northridge Mall building could supply economic growth, organic food, and community development. After Northridge Mall closed its doors in 2003, surrounding businesses began to suffer and eventually went out of business or relocated. This shows that big box stores are no longer thriving in this area of Milwaukee, and it is time for a fresh approach geared toward the needs of the community.
The AIC could utilize Northridge’s 800,000 square feet and 46 acres to raise fish and produce food for the community. Existing skylights in the center corridor provide sunlight to support plant growth. Original trees are alive in the lobby areas nine years after closing. No longer used for retail space, vacant storefronts would now house fish tanks filled with yellow perch and tilapia. The existing parking lot could be converted into hoop houses to increase crop yields. Energy required to run the operation can be provided by the installation of anaerobic digesters and solar panels. Helios Solar Works located in the Menomonee Valley may be contracted for the project.
Food deserts are a socioeconomic issue that could be remedied by producing local sustainable food. A market place, housed inside a former anchor store, could sell fish and vegetables from AIC and other local farmers. Unemployment levels are high in this area of Milwaukee and should be the source labor for the AIC. Local universities such as University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee School of Engineering, and Milwaukee Area Technical College would be provided research space. The Urban Ecology Center would also be welcome because of their excellent educational programs for children.
The city of Milwaukee is poised to be a national leader in teaching urban centers how to locally grow organic food using aquaponic systems in their vacant buildings.
If I had a million dollars to strengthen the Urban Ag program in Milwaukee, I would focus both on supply chain centralization AND diversification, creating a sophisticated, yet simple social system that would empower neighborhoods to self-manage their food supply, while funneling overflow into a central system to mitigate waste and feed the commercial and public systems.
Neighborhood Abandoned Lots and Foreclosures:
If I had a million dollars, abandoned lots would become sources for food cultivation for neighborhoods and the foreclosed homes have the opportunity to become community-owned cooperatives, storage/cold storage facilities, processing and distribution centers and other mixed-use spaces that can sell overflow to commercial business and also send extra yield to a central city facility that would grant tax incentives per pound.
Abandoned lots can become perennial food forests with fruit and nut trees, annual vegetables, livestock, and compost centers mixed with aquaponics greenhouses and some can become farmer’s markets. I would spend money for water collection systems on these lots such as large underground cisterns and invest in designing a work and training program to maintain these ‘urban farms’ with residents that live within close proximity to these areas eligible for a food/work exchange such as unemployed workers, physical therapy patients, half way houses, Medicare and Welfare recipients and students.
Foreclosed homes have the opportunity to become community-owned cooperatives as the main point of food distribution, building on the support and strength of the immediate residents while the residential investments allow the bank to reconstitute their investment. Extra yield from these community lots are sold to local restaurants, commercial businesses, sold at farmers markets or funneled to a central city processing and distribution center for use at public institutions such as schools or food pantries.
I would spend money retrofitting each of these cooperatives with renewable energy and water catchment systems to decrease long-term overhead. As residents invest in their neighborhood cooperative, the influx of cash naturally allows them to become invested in the success and output of their urban farms and local livelihood.
Public Food Forests:
Public spaces such as parks and medians are capable of becoming food forests, where ornamental plants and trees are replaced with productive plants and trees that require little or no annual maintenance except the collection and processing of their output such as fruits and nuts. I would allow public harvesting and also invest in a Gleaning Program to harvest and ship to a central processing and distribution center.
Centralized Processing and Distribution:
Decommissioned schools such as centrally located Wisconsin Avenue School would be ideal for a processing and distribution center with its large square footage and commercial kitchen. Product could be cultivated from public spaces and neighborhood cooperatives and be used for public institutions.
We need to change not from the top down, not even from the bottom up, but from the inside out. A coalition of community groups can partner to address food security and foreclosed properties.
We will make presentations to existing associations in each neighborhood, then call community meetings to assess the neighborhood culture – gifts, skills and passions of individuals, and local resources: businesses, non-profits, organizations and associations. We will simultaneously begin to expand existing local food systems.
Local Food Production
We will expand local food production as appropriate to neighborhood culture, incorporating: (1) private gardens; (2) community gardens in vacant lots and public parks; (3) commercial food production by Urban Agriculture Interns; (4) Urban Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) projects by Young Farmers; and (5) Urban Homesteading.
As appropriate to the neighborhood, foreclosed properties can house interns as they build and maintain community gardens available to neighbors or worked by the interns. Young Farmers Programs will use vacant lots and other garden sites to produce food for CSA clients.
Other foreclosed properties will become Urban Homesteads. Policy will be created to offer Urban Farmers a house and adjoining vacant lot to raise food. They will restore the house for a residence or food processing facility. After meeting certain requirements, the Homesteader will own the property.
A Farmers’ Cooperative will serve as a Central Food Hub to purchase food from urban farmers at a price set by the Cooperative’s members (farmers and patrons). The Co-op will prepare food for delivery to stores, food co-ops, restaurants and farmers markets.
Neighborhood Food Hubs will be smaller. Cooperative kitchens and storage facilities will allow neighbors to process food, with storage available so they don’t have to store food in their homes. Churches, community centers, or peoples’ homes will be drop-offs for CSA deliveries.
Residual reclamation – capturing food wastes for soil building – is vital to local food production. Composting and vermiculture will be done at appropriate sites.
Art and Celebrations
The arts build community. They re-link neighbors with each other and the earth. They introduce and reinforce the concepts of a new paradigm – the change that comes from the inside out.
Public art – murals, music, theatre projects like Playback Theatre and the All People’s Parade, spoken word poetry, philosophy slams, food celebrations and other community events will reinforce the changing spirit of our Re-Imagined Milwaukee.
There are 150,000 people in the city of Milwaukee without access to fresh food. This provides a wonderful challenge and opportunity for Wisconsin farmers and food producers. Utilizing our urban land resources, by way of well distributed available lots, can create a strong and vibrant retail market for Wisconsin food products. Fundamentally you need a place to sell whatever you produce.
Market Boxx, is a new kind of neighborhood grocery store
The MBC Store project assists neighborhoods in building new, fresh food stores on vacant city lots. We have a unique building concept that saves energy and decreases cost giving small neighborhoods the opportunity to have their own fresh food store.
The stores are modular and delivered to a neighborhood complete, fully furnished, equipped and ready to open. These new stores will be inviting environments to shop for fruits, vegetables, meat, and a variety of other convenience needs.
How the Market Boxx project works:
Partnering with Wisconsin businesses, and public/private institutions to fund and build neighborhood fresh food stores.
MBC stores collaborate with community and non-profit organizations to identify vacant lots that are in neighborhoods that lack access to fresh foods.
The MBC store is then sold, leased, or donated to a community organization operating in that neighborhood.
We then train our community/owner partner and their employees to operate their new store.
Where does food in Market Boxx stores come from?
MBC stores will carry Wisconsin products or products produced by a Wisconsin based company.In fact 75% of everything sold in an MBC store is from Wisconsin. We determined that if every Wisconsin household spent at least $10 per week on locally grown food, they would invest more than $137 million monthly back into local farms and businesses.
Opening just 40 stores would:
• Create 450 new jobs in the city of Milwaukee
• Generate $75 million in annual revenue-for local community organizations, farmers and food producers
• Bring fresh food in walking distance of 80% of the City Of Milwaukee.
The MBC stores project has completed a three year research and planning stage, and has a complete business- strategy, blueprints, and is currently housed in a 16,000 sq ft. manufacturing facility in Milwaukee, with a 12 store pilot project already underway.
Two of the most significant consequences resulting from Milwaukee’s foreclosure crisis and food deserts are 1) the decimation of community neighborhood structures and 2) the absence of a culinary education in Milwaukee's hardest-hit neighborhoods. The hundreds of vacant spaces have the power to isolate residents while the dependency on inexpensive, accessible corner store nutrition options provide residents little exposure to fresh fruit and vegetable preparation. In order to address these two deficiencies, the City of Milwaukee should consider incorporating Community Cafés into their Mayor’s Challenge proposal. Our vision is several Community Cafés located across the City to provide the education and exposure necessary for residents to utilize the produce that will be grown in community gardens. At the same time, the Community Cafés will create a gathering space for residents to mend the social fabric that has been damaged by the foreclosure crisis.
The cafés would utilize city-owned houses that are adjacent to vacant, city-owned lots, operating as a hub for food education for all ages and a centralized community gathering space. The vacant properties would be renovated to create a small restaurant with ample gathering space to host resident meetings, free cooking demonstrations, and other community-oriented events. The restaurant would be staffed by a full-time salaried chef, but primarily operate off of volunteers (modeling a co-op). Volunteers would be taught a culinary and food service skill set, making them more marketable candidates in the paid food industry and creating neighborhood culinary liaisons.
The adjacent vacant lots would be home to a large community garden to be prepared in the restaurant. The café’s menus would be simple and affordable, emphasizing nutrition and, most important of all, be reproducible at home. The café would offer recipe cards for all of the items on the menu so that residents can create healthy meals at home with produce that is currently in season at farmers markets or grown in community gardens. Furthermore, each café will offer free weekly cooking demonstrations so that residents can visualize the cooking process and ask questions to a culinary professional.
Community Cafés will fill the educational void that exists in our community even when fresh food abounds. They will empower residents to cook for themselves and one another and increase connectivity between residents.