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Small Plot Intensive (SPIN) farming techniques will be featured in a full-day workshop at the conference. SPIN farmers can bring in annual gross sales of ,000 from a half-acre of urban land.

Pollinating Our Future: Changing the Urban Landscape

Try as we will to ignore them, there are some problems that just won’t go away. We’re running out of oil and our climate is changing. The way we produce our food in this country is becoming increasingly unsustainable. Change is going to happen. Our only choice in the matter is whether we choose to manage that change, or just let it happen to us. That’s the reasoning that led members of the Milwaukee Urban Agriculture Network (MUAN) to pull together a national conference in Milwaukee to talk about growing food in the city. Scheduled for Feb. 28 through March 1, the Pollinating our Future Urban Agriculture Conference is sponsored by the USDA Risk Management Agency, Mitchell Park Domes and Milwaukee County Parks, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, Slow Food Wisconsin SouthEast Chapter, the Kitchen Table Project, Kane Commons and Outpost Natural Foods. The conference goal is to bring together a wide range of often-disconnected stakeholders – urban food producers, researchers, urban planners, developers, community organizations, and urban activists – to address the barriers to urban agriculture. {shadowboxwtw echo=no}”There is a quiet revolution stirring in our food system. It is not happening so much on the distant farms that still provide us with the majority of our food; it is happening in cities, neighborhoods, and towns. It has evolved out of the basic need that every person has to know their food, and to have some sense of control over its safety and security. It is a revolution that is providing poor people with an important safety net where they can grow some nourishment and income for themselves and their families. And it is providing an oasis for the human spirit where urban people can gather, preserve something of their culture through native seeds and foods, and teach their children about food and the earth. The revolution is taking place in small gardens, under railroad tracks and power lines, on rooftops, at farmers markets, and in the most unlikely of places. It is a movement that has the potential to address a multitude of issues: economic, environmental, personal health, and cultural.” –Michael Ableman (keynote speaker at the conference){/shadowboxwtw}

Fresh Answers For Serious Problems

Conference organizers believe that growing food in urban neighborhoods will bring a fresh perspective to several problems. Under our current food distribution system, food travels an average of 1,500 miles “farm to fork.” The fossil fuel used in food delivery, not to mention the whole process of raising the food – cultivating the fields; hauling and applying fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides; harvesting and processing – makes our food delivery system a major energy drain and a source of pollution and waste. This consideration alone makes local food production attractive. A second major issue that can be addressed by local food production is the need for family sustaining jobs in a postindustrial economy. On the opening day of the conference, Thursday, Feb. 28, there will be a full-day Small Plot Intensive (SPIN) Farming workshop at the Mitchell Park Pavilion, 2200 W. Pierce St. The workshop is presented by urban framer Wally Satzewich and his partner Gail Vandersteen. SPIN farming methods can produce $50,000+ in gross sales from half an acre in neighborhood backyard plots.

Training for Policy Changers

The idea of transforming our present urban landscape into one that includes food production takes a stretch of the imagination. It won’t be possible without some major changes in governmental policy at all levels. To answer that challenge, the Urban Ag Conference will be hosting one of the three 2008 regional Food Policy Council workshops offered by the Community Food Security Coalition. This workshop will help Upper Midwestern individuals and groups develop local, regional or state food policy councils. It will also help existing councils, like the emerging Milwaukee Food Policy Group, to plan and implement strategies for effective local and state food policy change. The training session is scheduled from noon on Thursday, Feb. 28 through 3 pm Friday.

Local Interest

The conference is also an opportunity for Milwaukee to show off our own urban ag luminaries to the rest of the region. On Friday, Feb. 29 there will be a Composting and Vermiculture Workshop with Will Allen at Growing Power. There will also be Urban Green Tours, highlighting work done at Growing Power, Walnut Way, the Urban Ecology Center and Michael Fields Agricultural Institute.

Workshops and Forums

The Urban Ag Conference will be highlighted by an opening celebration featuring a local, seasonal feast prepared by Slow Foods Chefs on Friday evening at the Mitchell Park Domes, 524 S Layton Blvd. Urban farmer, writer and photographer Michael Ableman will be the keynote speaker. Saturday, March 1, the final day of the conference will take place at the Milwaukee Hilton. Attendees can choose four workshops or forums from the broad topic areas of Food Justice, Garden as Community, Policy and Planning, and Enterprise Development. There will be an exhibit hall featuring regional urban agricultural activists. Urban agricultural books, including some by presenters, and urban ag videos will be available. The final formal gathering of the day will be a Town Hall Meeting, where participants can gather to share discoveries and insights, and recommend future networking, support, and plans to promote change in our food systems both locally and nationally. Dinner prepared with regional foods will also be presented. For conference details and registration information, visit growurban.org. There are opportunities for volunteers to work at the conference, and some scholarships are still available.

If You Go: February 28, 29 and March 1 – Pollinating our Future: Urban Agriculture Conference – Mitchell Park Domes, Milwaukee Hilton and other sites – www.growurban.org

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