This urban garden on Marquette Street in Racine is one of nine sites throughout the city. For just $20, interested gardners can start their own plot. Visit rugn.org for more information.

by Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Kenosha

You might not be able to tell by looking at the thermometer, but spring is here.  The snow is gone, the grass is green, and the flowers are blooming.  Spring is a time of growth and rebirth, a fresh start.  You can see this as gardens are put in all around the area.  Gardening is a hobby for some, a way to enjoy the outdoors, but for others, it is a way to shape our communities and change the way we think about food.

Did you know that the average food item travels fifteen hundred miles from where it is produced to where it is eaten?  Think about the fuel required to ship all of that food.  Think about the preservatives needed to keep the food fresh and the nutrients lost in the process. Most of us have gotten away from the notion of farm-to-table.  In urban areas like Kenosha and Racine, some families have no choice. We have “food deserts”, where their neighborhood food options consist of convenience stores and fast food restaurants, with no access to fresh produce, dairy products, lean meats, or other foods that we know are important to healthy living.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

One of my heroes is a man named Will Allen, “the urban farmer” and author of the book, The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities. Based in Milwaukee, Mr. Allen has indeed started a revolution.  Growing Power, his nonprofit organization, operates a three-acre Community Food Center in downtown Milwaukee, where they grow 150 different types of crops and raise bees, fish, chickens, turkeys, ducks, and goats.  The foods produced by Growing Power feed 10,000 people in Milwaukee, and they aren’t stopping there.  The organization is putting 100 acres of greenhouses in and around southeastern Wisconsin, Madison, and Chicago.

There are folks doing great things right in our backyard, too.  Down to Earth Gardening in Kenosha and the Racine Urban Garden Network (RUGN) are local groups promoting community gardening.  Community gardens provide city-dwellers with the tools and resources to produce their own sustainable food sources, while beautifying their neighborhoods and connecting with other community members of all ages and backgrounds.  Down to Earth aims to empower community members through gardening, healthy eating, and sustainable living.  Since creating its first garden, Marquette Street Grows, in 2010, the RUGN has blossomed to over 10 garden locations with a vibrant network of dedicated volunteers and board members. Community gardens aren’t just about growing good foods; they are also about growing communities.

For community gardening information in Kenosha, check out Down to Earth Gardening atwww.downtoearthkenosha.org or call (262)515-3308. In Racine, learn more about the Racine Urban Garden Network at www.rugn.org or call (262)676-2209.

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