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Mayo Clinic, Western Technical College Embark on Sustainable Ag Partnership

Mayo Clinic, Western Technical College Embark on Sustainable Ag Partnership

December 14, 2015 |


Western Technical College in La Crosse, Wisconsin now has a new Horticulture Education Center. The center is the result of a collaboration with Hillview Urban Agriculture Center. (Photo courtesy Pam Hartwell/Hillview Urban Agriculture Center).

La Crosse, Wisconsin is taking a triple bottom line approach to sustainable agriculture education.

A partnership formed by three local organizations, Hillview Urban Agriculture Center, Western Technical College, and Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare — dubbed the Get Growing Partnership — marked a culmination of sorts in October when a dedication took place for a new greenhouse and Horticulture Education Center at Western Technical College.

The Get Growing partners are working together to increase accessibility for more healthy local foods. The main goal of the partnership is to enhance physical and mental health benefits for people living in the La Crosse area, and to educate citizens about the importance of sustainable local food systems. All three Get Growing partners are involved in every facet of the partnership, not only as contributors but also as beneficiaries.

Growing Power CEO Will Allen, a prominent figure in the field of sustainable food and agriculture, made the short trip from Milwaukee to La Crosse to help celebrate this new collaboration.

According to Pam Hartwell, executive director of Hillview Urban Agricultural Center, it was appropriate that Allen was present for the greenhouse ribbon-cutting and partnership commemoration because it was his words and work that inspired these three La Crosse entities to start working together.

“Will Allen came to La Crosse and spoke in 2010, and he lit a spark that cemented the partnership,” she says.

The partnership has been brewing for a while. Hillview Urban Agriculture Center started its current work in 2010, with a mission to create a sustainable food system in the La Crosse area. But outdated facilities and a burdensome mortgage kept the center from living up to its full potential. So the Mayo Clinic Health System assisted Hillview with mortgage payments and, together with Hillview and Western Tech, offered community wellness classes.

In 2012, the Mayo Clinic Health System donated a hoop house for the Center’s Washburn Community Garden. Produce from this garden is given to the needy and sold to raise money for the Center’s work. The hoop house is also designed for educational programming.

This effort fits in with Mayo’s mission, as it strives to educate patients and community members alike on the importance of a healthy diet, to drive down healthcare costs. 

Together, Hillview and the college will use the new greenhouse to teach those low-income persons, senior citizens, people with disabilities and other community members how to grow and use healthy food. Visitors to the facility will also be able to take advantage of classes that teach them how to prepare food in a healthy manner.

The site of Hillview’s old greenhouse will be utilized to construct energy-efficient residences, designed for single-family usage.

“Hillview Urban Agriculture Center broadened its mission to look at urban agriculture systems,” says Hartwell.

Ultimately, she says, the objective of the partnership is to create a more resilient food system.

In addition to partnering with Mayo and Western Tech, Hillview also receives all of food waste from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse for use in its vermicomposting project. The vermicompost fertilizes the gardens that grow produce for the Mayo Clinic Health System cafeteria.

The partnership was bolstered even further when the La Crosse Community Foundation gave a grant worth $110,000 for the partnership’s cooperative efforts.

“We’re excited about these opportunities to put La Crosse on the map for urban agriculture,” Hartwell says.

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