Celebrating the News of the Milwaukee International Urban Agriculture Conference, Feb. 28-March 1, 2008
The “urban agrarians” gathered in Milwaukee this weekend
And co-created perhaps the world’s first
International Urban Agriculture Conference.
The “Milwaukee International Urban Agriculture Conference”
Officially named “Pollinating Our Future”
Was attended by about 250 people
From all over North America and a few from Europe and Africa.
News of this conference was front page news for a few weeks at
It was a transcendent moment for perhaps all who gathered
And shared information, stories, images, and visions
About this new movement for urban agriculture and edible schoolyards.
All who attended and all who will find more graceful lives
By virtue of the rippling of this event through our communities
All across the globe,
Celebrate the imaginative and competent work
Of the conferences organizers, presenters, attendees,
And people at the hotel and in Milwaukee
Who made this so sweet and rich an event.
Viva, the Urban Agrarians!
If you would like to co-create an on-line and then hard copy publication
Of what might be a significant historic event, perhaps even coffee table worthy,
Send an e-mal to email@example.com
Over the days, weeks, and months, pictures, essays, workshops, and connections
Will follow from this firt ever International Urban Agriculture Conference.
Reports and Reflections From the First International Urban Agriculture Conference: “Pollinating Our Future”
Pollinating Our Future—Cross Pollinating Ideas by Howard Hinterthuer
More than two hundred-fifty people gathered in Milwaukee this weekend (2/29, 3/1) for sustainability summit focused on urban agriculture. Hosted buy the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute and Slow Foods Wisconsin Southeast, the conference welcomed attendees from as far away as Ghana, Toronto, New York, California, and Maine.
According to Martha Kipcak of Slow Foods, “We started planning this in June. We had keynote speaker Michael Ableman on board prior to that, so we used the opportunity to build the conference around him.”
Ableman, an award winning urban farmer, author and educator, is the founder and executive director emeritus of the Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens, one of the oldest and most diverse organic farms in southern California. Ableman offered a broad spectrum overview of the key issues faced by urban agriculturalists, as well as a personal perspective. In addition, a variety of other international speakers conducted workshops focused on specific areas of interest including food policy, urban design as it relates to community agriculture, food as a justice issue, eco cities and global warming, urban livestock, funding, adult-youth partnerships, and more.
Said Kipcak, “There was good synergy all the way through. Participants have been making important connections and identifying relationships. My feeling is that an event of this type is more lively and effective in raising awareness than is a position paper. It’s an opportunity for many organizations to partner and work together.”
An enthusiastic advocate of networking, Kipcak leads the “Kitchen Table Project,” a Regal Foundation funded effort to bring together various individuals and groups to wrestle with ideas and develop workable strategies.
Some attendees came to have a good time. Said Mequon, Wisconsin beekeeper Charley Koenen, “I’m here to have fun, but the conference is jumpstarting a broader vision of the relationship between the urban community and the rural community. We have to work to change the laws and ordinances in cities to allow low impact livestock like bees, poultry, and rabbits. Those activities lend interest and help to create ‘community.’”
Dietitian Jennifer Casey of the Gerald Ignace Indian Health Center focused big picture issues affecting health. “Our food systems need to be changed in order to improve our overall health.” Casey describes how industrialized food systems “over process” foods contributing to increased diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and more. She said, “I appreciate how conferences like this seek solutions from many angles.”
Ableman also feels that the issues need to be addressed comprehensively. He said, “There is a collision of oil prices, climate change, and other factors currently impacting grain production. Motorists are competing with poor people who want to eat more than one meal per day. What can we do? Identifying strategies and solutions will be extremely important as things begin to unravel.
“While I’m not advocating for Cuba in any way, I think it is important to look at what happened in 1989 when Cuba lost it’s access to chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and fuel. Their response was to elevate people with expertise in organic agriculture to key positions. As a result they were able to advance some innovative solutions. Of course this happened in a ‘planned economy’ which allowed them more flexibility in imposing changes, but when you’re hungry, you start to figure it out.”
Clearly many fine minds came to Milwaukee to try to figure it out. The overriding message of the conference is that urban agriculture is an increasingly viable component to a reconfigured food production, processing, and distribution system. Skyrocketing energy costs alone give witness to the attractiveness of producing food locally. Shipping costs are substantially reduced, local economies are supported, less food processing and refrigeration are required to assure freshness. The overall feeling is that urban agriculture is on the move.
Karen Herzog’s “Journal Sentinel” Article: “Urban Farming Goes Global”
Urban farming goes global
City event attracts interest from afar
By KAREN HERZOG
Posted: March 2, 2008
Beer may have made Milwaukee famous, but the city’s image in the 21st century could be shaped by organic vegetables and free-range chickens raised in urban neighborhoods.
The city is at the center of a growing international movement that advocates urban vegetable gardens, and even livestock farms, to raise food locally and to bring together residents of neighborhoods torn apart by poverty and crime.
The Urban Agriculture Conference at the downtown Hilton Milwaukee City Center, which ended Saturday, drew 250 people from around the world to discuss everything from rooftop gardens to pigs raised in skyscrapers. Organizers said it was the first U.S. urban agriculture conference with an international audience.
“Urban agriculture in most people’s minds is a contradiction of terms,” said Michael Ableman, an urban farmer, author and educator, and the conference’s keynote speaker. “Doesn’t agriculture take place on farms, far from cities?”
Rising food prices tied to higher shipping costs, crime in poor neighborhoods and diseases linked to unhealthy foods are compelling reasons to bring farming - and its values - into cities, Ableman said.
Academic researchers, city planners, health officials and urban farmers came to the three-day conference from as far as Europe and Africa.
“That was not our design,” said organizer Martha Davis Kipcak, a leader of Slow Food Wisconsin Southeast, which co-sponsored the event with the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in East Troy. “It shocked us when we started getting calls from other countries. But we had a hunch that the time was right, and Milwaukee was poised to step forward.”
Jan Willem Van der Schans, a researcher at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, said he was surfing the Web when he found the conference agenda online and immediately booked a flight to Milwaukee.
He was looking for ideas to develop a rooftop farm with livestock and vegetables over a shopping center.
“We are very into modern architecture in Amsterdam, but our town is not known for being green,” he said. “The urban agriculture movement really captures the spirit.”
Van der Schans said he was particularly interested in a workshop about SPIN (small plot intensive) farming, which theoretically can gross more than $50,000 with a half-acre of organically farmed land, according to the concept’s Canadian developers, who spoke at the conference.
Van der Schans was involved in a research proposal that drew international attention, but it failed because it was too large-scale - an urban skyscraper with organically farmed pigs in stacked flats with a self-contained ecosystem, including a manure factory on the top floor.
Touring local examples
A major conference draw was the chance to visit Growing Power, which grows vegetables and trains urban farmers at W. Silver Spring Drive and N. 55th St., not far from Milwaukee’s largest public housing project.
Other local success stories included Walnut Way Conservation Corp. - a community development organization that serves a neighborhood near W. Fond du Lac and W. North avenues and is using community gardens to help revitalize the area. Community gardens, including some at nearby Johnson Park and on the near south side, also help battle chronic diseases by encouraging people to eat fresh vegetables.
A conference encouraging locally grown foods could not, in good conscience, serve typical hotel conference fare. Organizers purchased a whole pig from an Amish farmer in Markesan to create entrées for Friday night’s dinner at the Mitchell Park Domes.
Organizers also went to area farms for ingredients for Saturday night’s dinner at the Hilton, including free-range chickens and organic vegetables, eggs and butter.
Pollinating Picture File
Give Voice to Urban Agrarian Movement
Is it not time for the issues raised by powerful recent critiques of our oil-based, industrial agriculture industry, including best selling authors Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver, to be the subject of public discussion as we choose the next president?
Are not the projects and visions shared at the First International Urban Agriculture Conference: “Pollinating Our Future,” in Milwaukee this past Feb. 28 through March 1, worthy of a question to the candidates at the debate proposed by Chris Matthews for the Pennsylvania primary to be held at the University of Pennsylvania at a time to be forthcoming.
We are in contact with three University of Pennsylvania students who might know enough about these matters as to frame a rich question that will serve to bring organic urban agriculture and edible playgrounds into the nation’s conversation this presidential year.
Would you wish to submit a question for these students to consider asking of Hillary and Obama, regarding industrial versus organic agriculture or other matters pertaining to…food.
Would you like to offer an essay for the consideration of the students in framing their question?
Growing Power’s President of the Board Jerry Kaufman has an idea to propose.
The “Father of Urban Agriculture,” Jac Smits, expressed interest in contributing.
How about you?