When other Shorewood moms were gathering pipe cleaners for the perfect spider costume, Gretchen Mead, the Executive Director of Victory Garden Initiative, was putting together an ingenious plan to answer Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's Tournavation challenge.
This competition solicited ideas to combat the issue of the broken food system within the city.
"The lack of access to healthy foods can have profoundly negative effects on individuals’ health," she said.
The winning idea in Milwaukee came from Mead and the VGI, which she titled "PUHA, the Post-Industrial Homestead Act," which turns empty lots and foreclosed homes into community-based food system hubs.
The solution in the application was to "find out how to leverage the land and property assets in foreclosure to create greater and more efficient access to healthy, locally-grown food for citizens in need of better food security."
And now, Milwaukee’s proposal, submitted by Barrett and now called “Home Gr/Own,” encompasses Mead's plan as its nucleus in the submission to the Bloomberg Foundation, which was just selected as a finalist in the top 20 out of 300 cities in the country, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Mary Louise Schumacher reports.
Barrett's competition was designed to cull ideas from Milwaukee in order to formulate an entry for the Bloomberg Challenge.
"The idea is to pair rehab-able homes with thousands of empty lots that are owned by the City of Milwaukee," Mead said. "Someone would be gifted the property and farm after receiving training through the PUHA, implemented by the City."
The plan is further described in this video by Radio Milwaukee.
"Currently, the Department of City Development is doing some analysis - taking each block and finding potential homes and lots. On our end, we're looking at how to secure grant infrastructure for farm training and home ownership. The project allows for flexibility to partner with many organizations that offer expertise in different areas, like Habitat for Humanity on the training and management for rehabbing homes, while the farmer is farming the land," Mead explained.
"After five years of successful farming, the person would inherit the home and the land. By 'success' we mean that farm would be bringing vital fresh foods to the neighborhood and helping to solve the broken food problem."
"It's really an exciting project," said Mead.
Mead herself is a successful victory garden farmer, and describes the impetus for the idea as coming from "just driving around the city, and seeing these places that would make magnificent farms in the heart of the city.
"When you realize there are (foreclosed) houses right there that could be rehabbed and house the farmer, puts all the resources right where they need to be to start solving these big problems." said Mead.
Mead will be speaking next week with another researcher about the reduction of violence caused by green spaces as well, which will be followed by a "What's Next" discussion at Milwaukee's Urban Ecology Center.
The manager of the Bloomberg Foundation, James Anderson, spoke about the 20 finalists.
"Some cities thought creatively about how under-utilized assets and unaddressed needs can be tackled together (e.g., Milwaukee's approach to using foreclosed properties to address healthy food disparities)," Anderson said in an interview with Rahim Kanani, a Forbes reporter.
The finalists, including Milwaukee's team, the only group from Wisconsin, will submit refined proposals early in 2013. In addition to the $5 million winner, four runners up will get $1 million each. The winners will be announced in the second quarter of 2013. The Mayor’s Challenge is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, Bloomberg's Family Foundation.
All eyes will be on Milwaukee in the challenge as they seek to gain vital funding and build nutritional infrastructure in the urban areas of Milwaukee.