Beginning this spring, Fondy Food Center will have a new source of fresh fruits and vegetables — its own 80-acre farm. Fondy is negotiating a lease with Afterglow Farms for the property, located in Port Washington, as part of Fondy Food Center’s expansion plan.
“Our country is losing an acre of farmland a minute,” said Young Kim, executive director of the Food Center. Afterglow Farms, approximately 30 miles north of Milwaukee, wants to keep the land for farming, rather than sell to developers, he said.
Fondy Food Market, an outdoor farmers market at 2200 W. Fond du Lac Ave. in Lindsay Heights, had 45 farmers in 2004. Since then, Kim has noticed a decline of approximately five farmers a year. Most of the farmers at Fondy Market are Hmong and small-scale farmers who do not own the land where they grow their produce. Kim explained that Fondy’s Hmong farmers paid more than other farmers to lease their land. He believes the language barrier and lack of written contracts are part of the problem. The Neighborhood News Service was unable to contact the Hmong farmers for comment.
The Fondy Food Center’s mission is to create fairer farming opportunities, and provide access to healthy foods for residents of Milwaukee’s north side with the goal of becoming a year-round farm. If the center is successful, people will cook more home meals with fresh ingredients instead of processed foods.
Farmers who are part of the Fondy Farm Project will rent affordable land and share farming equipment. In the past, they have done everything by hand. Kim hopes to lease the land to each farmer for at least three years, and, eventually, to develop the farm into a cooperative. To Kim, the point is “reaching deeper into the food distribution system, having vendors be profitable, distributing more and teaching healthy habits.”
One of the few farmers’ markets to accept food stamps, Fondy Food Center saw food stamp sales increase 56 percent between 2009 and 2010, from $16,000 to $25,000 last year. “That’s a lot of healthy foods going into the community,” Kim said. Last year, more than $400,000 was spent at the farmers market, and the money stays in the community. All of the vendors live on the north side of Milwaukee, added Kim.
Leasing the farmland is the first major step in an expansion plan that includes building a cooking pavilion, an outdoor restaurant, permanent office space and a teaching kitchen for canning and preserving food. The Zilber Family Foundation has donated $75,000 to fund the expansion plan. Additional funders include the USDA, Ceres and the BRICO Fund.
The average age of farmers in Wisconsin is 60, and their children are not going into farming, Kim said. Everyone is wondering where the next generation of farmers is going to come from in Milwaukee, he added. He’s hoping that the Fondy Farm Center will be part of the answer.
This story was corrected 3/24/2011.