Jewish Community Center Executive Director Mark Shapiro was looking for ideas to promote community wellness, so he picked up the phone and called Growing Power founder Will Allen, a nationally-recognized leader in the Good Food Movement.
When Shapiro and Allen met, they came up with a number of ideas to promote locally-grown food in the Milwaukee area. The first idea, a farmers market at Bayshore Town Center, didn't gain traction the way they'd hoped. Shapiro and Allen then realized the farmers market was lacking an interactive, education component aimed at children.
This year, they are bringing together kids from the JCC Rainbow Day Camp, Growing Power's volunteer Youth Corps, and the United Community Center to help them grow, maintain and prepare their own vegetables on the 90-acre site of the JCC Rainbow Day Camp in Fredonia.
The idea has so far been a success. Although campers have a swimming pool, archery and other fun recreation options to choose from, Shapiro said the kids get excited about Growing Power's educational gardening workshops.
"It has far exceeded our expectations," Shapiro said.
The JCC and Growing Power hope that, by teaching children the value of locally-grown, organic food, they will not only maintain those values through the rest of their life – but also hopefully teach their families about eating healthier.
"It helps them take ownership of the food they are eating," said Tami Hughes, Growing Power's communications manager. "Once you know and you get that education, it changes the way you look at food."
The JCC Rainbow Day Camp has a large education garden and greenhouse, which allows the students to learn about a wide variety of different vegetables. Then with help from Growing Power interns and the JCC's certified chef, the kids cut, wash, and prepare the vegetables and eat them for lunch. The vegetables are also donated to the Jewish Community Pantry.
"They get to be involved in every aspect of it here," said Tami Hughes, Growing Power's communications manager. "It creates an awareness about real food at a young age."
Growing Power's volunteer Youth Corps, a group of about 20 Milwaukee kids ranging from seven years old to 13 years old, spend two days a week at the camp. Once a week, Hispanic children from the United Community Center come and participate in the Growing Power workshop and other camp activities.
As a result, Hispanic kids, black kids and North Shore suburban kids are brought together in an outdoor activity that promotes healthy lifestyles.
"We're beginning to build healthy relationships between different cultures, and we're trying to teach them that healthiness comes from locally grown produce," Shapiro said.