Rural Wisconsin Is Going Hyperlocal During Covid-19

The Lempert Report
September 30, 2020

One pilot program in Wisconsin is striving to eradicate food, health and economic disparities by embedding hyperlocal food production in everyday community spaces.

The objective is to provide access to fresh produce, and even more important to foster a long term culture of local food ownership, supply chain transparency, and healthy living.

Interestingly enough the farm-rich state of Wisconsin has a problem - grocery stores are  limited for low-income residents in both urban and rural areas, with consumers relying on dollar stores and gas stations as their primary food stores.

Marshfield Clinic Health System and Fork Farms are partnering to place indoor vertical hydroponic farming systems in critical community spaces, and combining farming systems with educational programming on healthy eating, innovation, and sustainability.

This partnership allows food-insecure residents with minimal farming experience to produce (and own the production of) their own healthy foods. It also provides hyperlocal access to food production at a scale that can not only feed individual families, but supplement entire school lunch programs with healthy produce.

By bringing low-maintenance food production to schools, senior facilities, and other local spaces, this partnership helped reduce the burden (including travel time and costs) for residents to produce their own food, and produce food for others.

Since the start of the pandemic, they have scaled the pilot program from its 13 initial community sites to 15 more community spaces and at the same time been able to increase productivity—producing over 20 pounds of leafy greens in each site every month—and have made residents feel more comfortable asking questions, learning, and eventually taking ownership of the food production process.

The Partnership has been critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it’s now more important than ever to increase food access and empower communities to understand where and how their food is produced.