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New partnership sprouts between MFD and organization to grow fresh produce in food deserts

August 11, 2023
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A new partnership is sprouting between the Milwaukee Fire Department and Community Agricultural Growing Experience or CAGE.

The nonprofit organization has teamed up with its neighbors at Milwaukee Fire Station #5 to bring fresh produce to those in need.

Through hydroponic Flex Farms, made by Fork Farms in Green Bay, Wisconsin, firefighters and members of CAGE are growing fresh produce in an area of Milwaukee that’s considered a food desert.

“I knew that we had food deserts, and I knew that the people at the bottom needed to eat better because we have a lot of chronic diseases,” Andre Lee Ellis, Executive Director of CAGE, said Friday.

Lee Ellis knows first-hand the impact eating fresh produce can have on your health.

“Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, I have all three. I am a four-time heart attack survivor– I know what diabetes and the attack of it can be, and the beginning of the healing is the eating that we do,” he said.

Milwaukee Fire Chief Aaron Lipski called the partnership a no-brainer Friday as the department not only works to reduce emergency fire calls but medical calls too.

“This is a way for us to also address what is clearly worsening health conditions in our community,” Chief Lipski said.

The nutrient-dense water in the base of the hydroponic farm circulates through the seedlings and makes the plants grow. Michael Hostad, Executive Vice President of Social Innovation at Fork Farms, tells 12 News each unit can produce up to 25 pounds of leafy greens every 28 days.

“The best part is that we can grow fresh food in our Wisconsin winters,” Hostad said as the farms are completely indoors.

Milwaukee Fire Station #5 has been equipped with five hydroponic farms for about a year now, and there are plans to bring more farms to two other fire stations in the next year.

While the produce will be distributed through meal kits and given to local nonprofit organizations, the fire department hopes to eventually be able to host community potluck dinners with the fresh produce grown.

Each hydroponic farm costs around $5,000. The farms have been made possible by a two-year grant through Bader Philanthropies Inc.