A merger among two local organizations will connect more hands to healthy food and nature.
After six months, affiliation is finalized between Grow La Crosse and the Hillview Urban Agriculture Center. The two groups have been connected for years. In 2013, Hillview was GROW’s fiscal sponsor before the organization had its nonprofit status. Now, they are coming together under the simple name GROW with a larger mission.
Executive Director Jamie O’Neill said GROW has been much larger than the La Crosse area with school gardens in Coon Valley, La Crescent, Minn., and Maple Grove, Minn. She said Hillview has been around since 2010, formally as a non-profit organization, but even before that, they had people in La Crosse that worked out of a greenhouse that prioritized local food.
“They have a lot of people that they’ve worked with and are interested in the mission,” O’Neill said. “Combining that with GROW’s school gardens and farm experiences can really fill out that whole picture.”
Their work goes beyond getting fruits and vegetables into the hands of the hungry.
“We find that just giving people fresh food isn’t enough,” she said. “If you don’t know how to cook, a beet for instance, or use the fresh food, then you’re less likely to use it.”
They found that if people get to see the ‘seed-to-table experience,’ they are more likely to eat the food, and may even prefer the foods.
GROW recently moved into the space at the Hillview Urban Agriculture Center where there is a greenhouse. Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, there are challenges of working safely in that space, but they hope to have it re-opened by January or February for classes or volunteer experiences.
The next step in the merger will be to work on the greenhouse and expanding the outreach to the community from GROW’s perspective.
“We’ve mainly focused on the school district through the school gardens and the farm experiences,” O’Neill said. “In the greenhouse right now, we’re not able to invite people in. but at the school gardens, we still are utilizing volunteers. They are helping GROW manage them, pick and harvest the produce, and include it in the free school lunches the district is handing out.”
She added they will use this time to revitalize GROW and receive feedback from the community about how the greenhouse should be designed and used. Those looking for more information or opportunities to volunteer can visit growlacrosse.org.