Vertical farming in fire station helps combat food insecurity


An unconventional partnership between firefighters and farms hopes to convey contemporary produce to meals deserts in Milwaukee.

The Gardens for First Responders program has had a vegetable backyard at one Milwaukee Fireplace Division station for about two years. Now, this system is including a hydroponic vertical backyard at Fireplace Station #5 to develop contemporary produce yr spherical.

Leafy greens and contemporary herbs grown in 4 cylindrical towers will feed households within the neighborhood. The hearth division launched the initiative together with Neighborhood Agricultural Rising Experiences, or CAGE, and the hydroponic gardening methods firm Fork Farms to fight meals insecurity. 

Meals insecurity is a technique to describe individuals who lack entry to contemporary meals, and in excessive circumstances, need to eat much less meals to make ends meet. Boundaries to meals can embody distance from a wholesome grocery retailer, cash to purchase contemporary meals and inadequate gear to arrange or retailer produce.  

Andre’ Lee Ellis is the founding father of CAGE. He wished to do his half in fixing meals insecurity. 

“I knew that our neighborhood wanted progress. I knew that we had meals deserts and I knew that the individuals on the underside wanted to eat higher,” Ellis stated. 

Two years in the past, he planted a backyard subsequent to the non-operational fireplace home with the assist of Milwaukee Fireplace Chief Aaron Lipske. Now there are 4 rising towers within the firehouse. Collectively, the towers are anticipated to develop 100 kilos of meals every month. That’s along with the normal backyard subsequent door.

Each gardens are maintained by CAGE, which additionally trains Milwaukee youth to work within the gardens.

The mission, funded by a grant from Bader Philanthropies, goals so as to add vertical farms to 4 extra fireplace stations inside the subsequent two years.  

Jace Perry is a 16-year-old highschool scholar who has been gardening on the firehouse six days per week for a yr. Perry stated working with individuals like Ellis has taught him the advantages of working in a backyard. And, he stated, it’s peaceable. 

“You hear birds chirping, flowers blooming, stuff like that. It’s additionally so good to listen to in case you are wired or something like that,” Perry stated. 

Many areas of Milwaukee are meals deserts — that means residents don’t stay inside strolling distance of a grocery retailer. In accordance with a report by the town, grocery shops are disappearing from Milwaukee. Large identify grocery shops are reluctant to construct grocery shops in low earnings areas the place the necessity is bigger. As a substitute, these areas are sometimes served by comfort and nook shops, solely half of which carry contemporary produce. 

Join each day information!

Keep knowledgeable with WPR’s electronic mail e-newsletter.

Lipske stated he has an obligation to not solely maintain individuals protected from fires but additionally maintain them wholesome. The placement of the vertical farms is strategic — the place there isn’t a grocery retailer, there could also be a hearth station.

“There are enormous swaths of our metropolis that embody a lot of our vibrant communities that don’t have entry to wholesome leafy greens, produce,” Lipske stated. 

In 2019, Milwaukee established a six-pronged strategy to tackling meals insecurity within the metropolis. The Division of Metropolis Improvement stated in a press release that the town has made “nice progress” towards undertaking the 26 objectives outlined within the report. A Recent Meals Entry fund has been profitable in bringing wholesome meals to underserved communities. 

The Gardens for First Responders is hyper native, with meals grown by and distributed to neighbors. Anybody is welcome to choose their very own meals from the backyard. In any other case, harvested produce is shipped dwelling with youngsters who grew it, in addition to the firefighters who act as mentors. Extra meals might be given out door-to-door. CAGE additionally needs to host neighborhood potlucks utilizing the meals from the backyard.  

Michael Hostad is the chief vp of social innovation at Fork Farms. The corporate, based mostly in Inexperienced Bay, manufactures and distributes the vertical rising towers which can be getting used on the fireplace station. 

“We imagine everyone seems to be a farmer. That’s the reason we spend all of our time growing expertise that makes rising contemporary meals accessible,” Hostad stated.  

Fork Farms hopes this partnership will make contemporary meals accessible to individuals who stay within the neighborhood, train the youngsters to farm to allow them to develop employable abilities, and to foster relationships between neighborhood members and first responders. 

“We all know that change occurs on the pace of belief in our communities,” Hostad stated. 

Ellis shares the identical objectives. He stated he has created a protected house, “the place younger Black boys can come and hone their abilities for rising” — not simply rising meals but additionally rising abilities like work ethics and timeliness.

Ellis hopes rising these abilities may also assist fight gun violence plaguing younger individuals within the metropolis.

“So long as they’ve their palms within the soil, they will maintain them off the set off of a gun,” Ellis stated. 

Lipske stated whereas the partnership appears unconventional, he needs to present it a attempt.

“Let’s bridge that bridge. Let’s tie these issues collectively,” Lipske stated.