Urban farming is one way to help replenish food deserts in poor Milwaukee neighborhoods, and this is not just a matter of growing food.

“This is not only about fresh and healthy food, but also the education behind it,” said Venice Williams, executive director of Alice’s Garden, an urban and agricultural park that originated in 1972. “We do a lot of work to help people understand their relationship to food. . ”

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the food desert is a low-income area where supermarkets or grocery stores are at least a mile away. Based on 2015 data, the USDA estimated that nearly 9% of the Milwaukee population lives in food deserts, including many areas on the north side of the city.

“Having access is very important from a health perspective,” said Alfonso Morales, a professor and agricultural expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison about urban agriculture. “Not only is the absence of healthy foods that have a negative impact on health, but the presence of healthy foods positively impacts mental and physical health.”

Studies support Morales’s relationship between health and food.

A learn Californians research how access to healthy food choices affects the rates of obesity and diabetes. This study shows that residents in food deserts with fewer choices of fresh produce and access to fast food are more at risk for obesity and diabetes. A 2012 study found that the city of Cleveland can meet all fresh product demand through sustainable urban agriculture. In California, the Berkeley Food Institute, which is affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley, has an ongoing study aims to identify the best urban agricultural policies and practices to reduce food insecurity.

The growth of food insecurity and food desert is rooted in long-term discrimination in Milwaukee and other cities.

Reducing, the practice of denying minority mortgages, access to loans and equal housing opportunities, has a profound impact. “Inequality Mapping” University of Richmond interactive map the decline in the 1930s showed that the north side of Milwaukee was given a red code, rated ‘D’ (lowest from A to D) and labeled as bad for investment.

Ninety years after the Milwaukee environment was classified, the effects of the system and segregation are still visible today. The history of divestment helped to cause service to flee.

Lack of access to fresh and healthy food in low-income communities means more and more people will suffer from diabetes, heart disease, and other diet-related illnesses. African American in Wisconsin have a higher rate of hospitalization and death from heart disease compared to the total population of Wisconsin, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

And that is why organizations like Alice Park has stepped in to fill gaps in food supplies.

Alice focuses on providing fresh food for residents of the Harambee neighborhood and the opportunity to grow on their own. This is an urban farm but also has a community park.

The lineage of many black families stretches back to the South, where growing food and farming is a big part of their ancestral life. But some families have lost connection with agriculture and food.

Williams is optimistic that the right resources will help people adopt gardening and a deeper appreciation for healthy food.

“We are developing habits,” Williams said. “I see a resurgence in growing and processing food. We are a growing family, growing the community through food. “

Victory Park Initiative, popular during world wars, helps people get through tough times by encouraging them to grow their own products in yards and community spaces. Victory Garden Initiative is fighting a different enemy now – food security in underserved communities.

“It’s important to have access to fresh and healthy food,” said Executive Director Ann Brummitt. “We know that there are communities that do not have access and resources because of certain circumstances. We are here to bridge the relationship of growing fresh food and people. “

Victory Garden Initiative organizes the largest park development event in the country, their Garden Blitz.

The Blitz installation raised garden beds including building structures and supplying soil and seeds to start the garden. In 2019, the eleventh year of the initiative, the group has installed more than 4,500 raised beds in Milwaukee and other cities.

It has also run a farming establishment in the Harambee environment that operates on a pay-what-you-can model to give everyone the opportunity to have fresh produce.

Meanwhile, Hungry Task Force operates a 208-hectare farm that provides fresh produce for more than 47 food kitchens in Milwaukee County.

Starving Task Force Executive Director Sherrie Tussler said the farm produces between 500,000 and 700,000 pounds of food each year.

“This is for food pantry, homeless shelter and public kitchen,” he said. “And that often goes with the ‘Stockbox Program,’ which is a program for seniors.”

Supplying pantry foods with fresh produce helps people living in poverty – often in the food desert – get access to nutritious foods that they normally cannot find.

“We feel like we are contributing to overall public health by ensuring that people who are at risk of living in the food desert have access to healthy food and that they can prepare it easily,” Tussler said.

Patricia McKnight is an intern at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Ideas Lab. His work is supported by funding from Solutions Journalism Network, a non-profit organization that promotes reporting on responses to social problems. Email: [email protected]

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