Creating a healthy and vibrant local food system takes on a variety of forms.
The organizations, events and businesses described below are among many others that promote the local food system, share knowledge and ideas, and promote healthy eating.
AMOS is an interfaith coalition of La Crosse area congregations committed to creating a more just and compassionate community. The AMOS volunteers work in task forces to ‘cut’ complex social problems into specific ‘issues’ around which engaged citizens can create new solutions or bring about positive change to existing policy or practice. The Food Insecurity Task Force created Share the Bounty program to provide fresh produce to people who use area food pantries. (The Share the Bounty truck is located at Riverside Park and Onalaska farmers markets so shoppers can donate any produce they purchase.) The locally grown produce is collected by Share the Bounty and distributed to pantries by the Hunger Task Force of La Crosse. AMOS also sponsors “Preparing Garden Produce” cooking demonstrations and tastings to help people learn how to make meals with in-season produce.
Clearwater Farm At Clearwater Farm in Onalaska, children who live in the city get involved in planting, maintaining and harvesting a garden of vegetables, fruits and herbs. Clearwater Farm started in 1999 and is a nonprofit organization run by volunteer staff and families. The farm offers a variety of options and volunteer opportunities as well as sharing in the garden’s harvest. Family membership is $40/year.
The mission of La Crosse Area YMCA’s Pioneering Healthier Communities program is “Be the spark that creates change to support healthy living.” The program creates and sustains a collaborative environment that promotes and supports eating well and moving more. Projects range from installing bike racks to improving healthy behaviors by creating healthier concession environments.
The La Crosse Seed Library, located in the La Crosse Public Library, allows people to check out heirloom garden seeds to plant, grow, harvest and return to the library. As the only seed library in Wisconsin, it began in 2013 with initial seed stock from Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa, one of the largest heirloom seed repositories in the world. One of the Seed Library’s goals is to increase education and awareness of heirloom seeds, seed saving and the importance of growing and eating local foods.
Healthy eating and physical activity are two priorities for the La Crosse Medical Health Science Consortium, which publishes a health scorecard for 20 area counties each year.
Formed in 2009, the La Crosse Healthy Living Collaboration (HLC) brought together local groups working on nutrition, physical activity and tobacco control. The mission of HLC is to make living tobacco free, eating healthy and being physically active the norm among La Crosse County residents. The goal: to make La Crosse County the healthiest county in Wisconsin. Many initiatives, such as the Farm2School program, FoodShare (EBT/Quest) and debit card acceptance at the Cameron Park Farmers Market, sprang from this collaboration.
Local food pantries and other organizations that promote healthy eating with local foods include WAFER and Couleecap. The Hunger Task Force is a local food bank and runs the Food
Recovery Program, which supports a variety of organizations and programs.
Community Hunger Solutions (CHS) in Vernon County provides the coordination for generous local farmers to share their unsold produce with those in need. Throughout the growing season, CHS organizes weekly trips to area farms to harvest healthy leftover produce using the labor of volunteers and paid workers with disabilities. This food is delivered to at least 20 meal sites in La Crosse, Vernon, Crawford and Monroe counties, serving approximately 400 families per week.
Other area organizations promoting gardening and healthy eating include Riverfront, Inc., a nonprofit organization that serves individuals with disabilities, has ground and raised-bed gardens, and a greenhouse to promote therapeutic horticulture; WisCorps, a nonprofit conservation corps that engages youth and young adults in conservation projects, offers gardening space and produce to its employees; and the Boys & Girls Club Mathy Center, which has a garden the children tend and harvest.
Many local foundations have also been instrumental in helping organizations address food security issues and creating a healthy local food system, including Robert & Eleanor Franke Charitable Foundation, Great Rivers United Way, La Crosse Community Foundation, Otto Bremer Foundation and Paul E. Stry Foundation [c/o Robert Swartz (608-452-3346)]
The Washburn Garden Expo, put on by the Washburn Neighborhood Association and held each spring, provides an opportunity to learn more about landscaping and gardening from vendors and local organizations. The event is held at Lincoln Middle School and features an annual rain barrel contest.
Bluff Country Master Gardeners sponsor a yearly “Spring into Gardening” workshop covering many landscaping topics including using the garden as an extension of your living space and protecting rainforests to protect migratory birds.
The MOSES Conference (Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service) is the largest event in the U.S. teaching about organic and sustainable farming. Every February this event draws more than 3,000 farmers, advocates, educators, students, and others to the La Crosse Center for educational workshops, inspiring keynote speakers and exhibitions.
Other organizations and events that promote the local food system and healthy eating are Earth Fair and Northwest Earth Institute discussion courses put on by Coulee Partners for Sustainability and the Fall Festival on the Farm, held at Deep Roots Community Farm and put on by Grow Your Brain.
Many businesses in La Crosse and the surrounding area promote and support the local food system, including the following:
Festival Foods is an Onalaska-based company that makes an effort to put local food in its grocery stores, and its stores feature large organic foods departments. It also promotes healthy eating with recipes from registered dietitians and the NuVal Nutritional Scoring System to help shoppers make good choices. Festival is a company grounded by its roots, which run deep in the community. Every year Festival is pleased to hold and manage the Holmen and Onalaska farmers markets in their parking lots. Festival also raises thousands of dollars annually for the Hunger Task Force (HTF operates the Kane Street Community Garden and coordinates the Food Recovery Program) through Festival’s Food for Neighbors Program and through their Seeds for Hope icon sales.
People’s Food Co-op is a neighborhood grocery store that belongs to the greater community with well over 7,500 member-owners, and thousands more nonmember shoppers each week. Nearly one-third of store sales are from products supplied by ranchers, farmers, or producers within a 150-mile radius, and the store is also a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) drop-site. PFC works hard to elevate the importance of locally grown food through cooking classes, cooperative education, community involvement, and collaboration. The Co-op participates in many community events like the La Crosse Earth Fair, and supports dozens of local non-profit organizations, including working closely with groups such as Hillview Urban Agriculture Center, Downtown Mainstreet, Inc. and Coulee Partners for Sustainability.
Fifth Season Cooperative, located in Viroqua, brings together producers, producer groups, processors, distributors, buyers and workers to make decisions that are best for the community, the environment, and their businesses. Created in 2010, it covers communities within a 150-mile radius of Viroqua. Its goal is to develop long-term relationships between growers and buyers that lead to fair pricing and fair treatment of all members in a local food system. Fifth Season promotes food that is raised or processed with practices of preserving land, water, and air, and minimal use or nonuse of chemical pesticides.
The Food Enterprise Center, owned and managed by Vernon Economic Development Association, is a 100,000-square-foot multi-tenant facility in Viroqua that provides infrastructure for food- or wellness-related businesses in the region to start up or expand. The center welcomed its first tenant in 2010 and today houses more than 10 businesses employing at least 45 people, with plenty of space for more tenants.
Farmer-owned Organic Valley, headquartered in La Farge, is the largest and most successful organic cooperative in the nation. Also known as Coulee Region Organic Produce Pool (CROPP), Organic Valley has 1,834 farmer-owners located in 32 states. The farmer-owners produce organic food that is sold under the Organic Valley brand to grocery distributors, retailers, food manufacturers, food services, and restaurants. Organic Valley supports many local events.
Many restaurants and caterers in the area support local foods by including them on their menu.
Savory Creations provides full-service catering and cooking classes with the use of local and sustainable organic products when possible.