Story by Julie Rossman
Take a look around, and it’s easy to see the local food movement is gaining momentum in southeastern Wisconsin. Whether you’re an avid gardener, a casual gardener or a health-conscious consumer, there are plenty of ways to get involved.
“More and more people want to know where their food comes from,” says Kate Jerome, Gateway Technical College horticulture instructor.
“Fresher food tastes better,” she adds.
Not to mention, it’s safer. Jerome cited a recent outbreak of E-Coli that was a result of long shipping times.
“Farmers markets are exploding,” Jerome said.
There’s an abundance of local resources for gardeners who would like to learn more about growing for profit, and for non-gardeners who want to get involved in the local food movement, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities, including: The Gateway Technical College Horticulture Department, University of Wisconsin-Extension, a non-profit organization called SEED and a new food cooperative called Wild Root Market, which is in the planning stages.
Gateway Technical College
For the serious gardener, or someone who has some type of farming experience, Gateway Technical College offers an Urban Gardening Certificate consisting of four classes, including; Fruit and Vegetable Science, Entrepreneurship, Business of Urban Farming and Intensive Urban Farming and Market Gardening.
The Fruit and Vegetable Science course is open to anyone and is offered in the spring. The class provides in-depth knowledge of organic growing methods, composting, pest and disease control and self-sustaining gardening methods.
To be able to make money on a garden, Jerome says you’ll need a minimum of 1/4 acre and some very intensive planting. “I’ve seen people make $50,000 on 1/4 acre. It can be done,” she said.
The University of Wisconsin-Extension is also a great resource for gardeners, providing non-formal education for farmers and gardeners of all types. Rose Skora works as Community Agriculture Educator for Racine and Kenosha County UW-Extension. She says there are general gardening programs, the Master Gardener program, and an extensive library of publications on most any farming or gardening topic.
When people call her office looking for assistance in getting started with market gardening, she’ll consult with them and point them in the right direction. She and other UW-Extension Educators work closely with the Small Business Development Center and will often refer folks to them. “Whatever the need is, we can assist or direct them,” Skora said.
Outside of her work at UW-Extension, Skora and her three children live on a farm called “Adoption Acres,” where they raise and sell eggs, chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese, both from home and at a local farmers market.
For those who are considering a farmers market business, Skora says you should have specific goals. For example, some people attend markets simply to get rid of excess produce. If the goal is to make money, however, there’s an entirely different approach, and a business plan is important.
Skora also serves on the Board of Directors for an organization called SEED (Sustainable Edible Economic Development), a non-profit group which can help connect folks with business development classes, with buyers for their produce and more.
SEED was established nearly two years ago with the goal of building up neighborhoods through urban gardening, according to Robert Beezat, president of the SEED board of directors. “We wanted to provide a safer environment in neighborhoods, where people knew each other,” Beezat said.
That effort eventually grew into something more. “We started to see local gardening as an opportunity for economic development and job creation,” Beezat said.
SEED’s main goals are to partner with existing farmers to build local markets for their crops, to establish distribution strategies to get the product from farmer to consumer, to determine products with a potential local market niche, to find and grow new farmers and to identify parcels of land that are available and viable.
The organization holds occasional networking meetings, where producers meet and talk with potential buyers. Beezat say’s there’s lots of interest in local food from schools, restaurants, hospitals — even grocery stores. “The supply is a lot lower than the demand,” Beezat said.
Why the increased demand for local food? Beezat sites health issues that sometimes come with eating processed food, as well as the energy costs involved in shipping food across the country.
According to Beezat, the biggest challenge in providing local businesses with fresh food is the supply isn’t consistent, due to the climate. However, new technology has brought about ways to extend growing seasons to some degree.
Going forward, the main thrust of SEED will be to get people to look at gardening as a way to supplement income. “SEED might be able to help them do that,” Beezat said.
“If you like gardening, working outside and being your own boss, there’s an appeal to folks at any age to have your own little company,” Beezat added.
For folks who don’t garden but are interested in the local food movement, SEED is run completely by volunteers and there are plenty of volunteer opportunities available.
Wild Root Market
There’s a potential new market for local food taking root, so to speak, in Racine. Wild Root Market is the result of a casual conversation between a group of friends a few years ago.
Camela Langendorf is a member of the Wild Root Market board of directors and was part of that conversation where she and her friends concluded that people want better food choices. “People are traveling to Milwaukee for natural and organic foods,” she said.
The group concluded that Racine seemed like a good place for a food cooperative, even though retailers like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have turned down Racine because the market can’t support it. “We feel otherwise,” Langendorf said.
The Wild Root Market board of directors is conducting a market study of three different possible locations for a store. People can get involved by buying in as an owner, which can be done on the website. Benefits will include store specials, special educational opportunities and voting on major decisions.
Ultimately, Langendorf describes ownership this way, “It’s sort of like being part of the bigger picture — the common good.”
There are also volunteer opportunities for those who would like to get involved in the co-op.
Kate Jerome, Robert Beezat and Rose Skora all expressed excitement about the prospect of the market opening in Racine.
“I think if it happens, there’s an opportunity for local farmers,” Skora said.
Beezat sums it all up like this, “We’ve gotta get back to being a bread basket again.”
For more information:
Gateway Technical College:
Log on to www.gtc.edu then click on “Academics and Careers” then choose “Advanced Technical Certificates” then choose “Urban Farming”
or call 262-564-2200
University of Wisconsin-Extension
Log on to www.ces.uwex.edu then click on publications.
For Kenosha County, call 262-857-1945.
For Racine County, call 262-767-2929
For Walworth County, call 262-741-4951
SEED (Sustainable Edible economic Development)
Log on to www.seedtofood.com
Wild Root Market
Log on to www.wildrootmarket.com