3 Milwaukee-area initiatives to help you eat fresh, local food | WUWM 89.7 FM

Grappling with climate change is critical to our future. But how can one person make a difference? Throughout Earth Week, WUWM is looking at ways individuals and organizations are stepping up – starting with what we eat.

WUWM environmental reporter Susan Bence shares some food for thought from Milwaukee-area three initiatives.

Milwaukee Microgreens & Milwaukee Farmers United


Patrick Darrough showing off one of his microgreens.

Welcome to Patrick Darrough’s world, near where the Kinnickinnic River meets Milwaukee’s harbor. It’s in a rambling early 20th century-era factory building that in part has been transformed into a microgreens growing operation, called Milwaukee Microgreens.

“I started on this rack here, it has five levels – you could produce 15 plus pounds of food every week,” Darrough explains. Now, he produces more than three times that amount.

There are trays and trays of tender, flavorful and nutritional baby plants.

rack of microgreens

Patrick Darrough standing on a rack of microgreens.

“People are really into the peas, sunflowers. This one is very, very unique and special – this is micro-cantaloupe, ”he shares.

Darrough sells the microgreens to restaurants as well as families through an online farmers market, called Milwaukee Farmers United, run by his partner Shannon Dunne.

A section of the old factory building looks like a well-stocked mini mart – there’s honey by the jar-full, homemade ketchup, pickled mushrooms, pasta sauce.

In the huge, refrigerated area, apples, produce, cheese and other goodies from partnering growers from the region are stored.

“So especially in the summer, we’re getting thousands of pounds delivered from our farms on a weekly basis – sometimes twice a week, depending on what it is,” Dunne says.

Dunne and Darrough deliver to more than 125 families this time of year. Next summer, they anticipate reaching up to 500.

Darrough hopes to encourage both food production and access to it throughout the city beyond the specialized niche they’re carving out.

Riverwest Food Pantry

Riverwest Food Pantry

The Riverwest Food Pantry farm is located on Port Washington Road.

Susan Bence’s extended conversation on local food.

Lee Valentyn, Meg Kilkenny and Danielle Nabak work with the University of Wisconsin-Extension, Milwaukee County. Each has a role on the Milwaukee Food Council and Milwaukee Farmers Market Coalition in a shared quest to create a regional food hub.

Ten miles north in Glendale, Cole Compton is also out to prove food can be produced and consumed locally – and passed along to people on limited incomes. Compton is urban farm coordinator with Riverwest Food Pantry.

This year-round growing operation fills 11 large hoop houses.

A stiff wind buffets the heavy plastic skin of one hoop house as Compton instructs volunteers on their tasks of the day.

On this day, there’s a small group but Compton says often as many as 30 people show up on workdays. Some of the food pantry users roll up their sleeves to help with the planting.

“That’s really the main goal,” Compton says, “to create an ecosystem of people who benefit from this fresh food and come here and be able to say they have a role in growing it.”

Last year, the farm yielded more than 10,000 pounds of produce, all delivered to the Riverwest Food Pantry, where the bounty is shared with clients.



Seventh graders at Victory Italian Immersion School chopping up vegetables.

Yet another effort to encourage the consumption of local, fresh food is underway in some Milwaukee schools.

Meet registered dietician and educator Stephani Meyer. She’s in the thick of working with a classroom full of seventh graders at Victory Italian Immersion School on the south side.

The program’s, called FoodRight, mission is to “empower youth to choose foods that sustain lifelong health.” That includes promoting healthy choices and cooking from scratch.

Stephani Meyer

Stephani Meyer (left) working with seventh graders at Victory Italian Immersion School.

“We’re going to have three cooking groups make the latkes and one cooking group is going to make the root soup,” Meyer explains.

The students are mastering how to chop, slim and sautéed. They grab their ingredients, set up their prep areas – complete with portable burners and they’re off.

Lisa Kingery created the FoodRight curriculum and leads the nonprofit.

“I’m trying to change what people want to eat. And so when you change what they want to eat, they’re voting with their dollars when they go to the grocery store and they’re demanding more fresh or more grains, ”she says.

That could make for healthier eating that’s also better for the environment because it means less food processing, packaging and shipping.

Have an environmental question you’d like WUWM’s Susan Bence to investigate? Submit below.

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