Partnership in La Crosse aims to increase local food production

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) -- A national icon in the world of agriculture visited La Crosse Tuesday.

Will Allen, CEO and founder of the Milwaukee-based nonprofit organization "Growing Power" toured the city to talk about the challenges facing today's food system and to help launch a new partnership between three local groups.

It was a busy day for Will Allen, as he helped La Crosse celebrate the new "Get Growing" partnership between Hillview Urban Agriculture Center, Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare, and Western Technical College.

In fact, it was Allen's message from a visit to La Crosse five years ago that inspired this new partnership.

“I think one of the challenges that we have is to really educate folks about what our food system really is today," said Allen. "A lot of people really don't know much about our food system.”

That's where the Get Growing partnership comes in.

“We're going to be able to teach a lot of people how to grow their own vegetables, how to prepare those vegetables," said Peter Hughes, Chief Planning Officer for Mayo Clinic Health System. "We'll be growing vegetables here that we'll make available to food pantries and the people in need and it's going to benefit the next generation of urban agricultural experts.”

Allen joined the Get Growing partners Tuesday to celebrate the new Horticulture Education Center at Western Technical College.

“We need to grow more good food and people are demanding it," he said. "Wholesalers want it, local grocers. Everybody, box stores want it, they want this local food but there's no one to do it.”

Allen says it's up to local places like the Horticulture Education Center at Western Technical College to get young people interested in farming.

Allen also visited the Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare Washburn Garden, vermicomposting center, and hoop house to see what La Crosse is already doing to keep food production local.

“It's allowing people to use space in the city to produce healthy food they can consume," said Teri Wildt, Director of Community Engagement for Mayo Clinic Health System. "It keeps their cost down and it just keeps people eating healthy foods.”

“We modeled our organization after what Will's doing in Milwaukee," said Joe Klinge of the Hillview Urban Agriculture Center. "We're one and the same, we're all kind of in this together trying to teach people how to keep their food system local. That will benefit not only our community but it'll spread throughout the world and teach people.”

The mission of Get Growing is simple: "Good food, good health, good community."

Allen also toured Western's Passive House Instructional Facility and he gave a public speech Tuesday evening on urban agriculture and sustainability.

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