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Want to help feed the hungry? Volunteer at the Hunger Task Force Farm

Volunteers from the First United Methodist Church of Gastonia, North Carolina, clear weeds from winter squash plants at the Hunger Task Force Farm in Franklin on July 25.

Volunteers from the First United Methodist Church of Gastonia, North Carolina, clear weeds from winter squash plants at the Hunger Task Force Farm in Franklin on July 25. Photo By C.T. Kruger

Aug. 4, 2014

Franklin —The Hunger Task Force Farm in Franklin is currently looking for more volunteers to help with the fall harvest in the months ahead.

The Farm, located at 9000 S. 68th Street, produces more than 300,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables each year for Milwaukee families in need.

The produce is distributed across southeast Wisconsin at 180 different sites, which include food pantries, soup kitchens and low-income senior centers. The 200-acre farm grows more than 30 different produce items throughout the year.

The food is delivered free of charge to Milwaukee's hungry.

"We really try to spread the growing season out over a long period of time," said Farm Development Director Matt King. "We're not growing the food to sell it but to give it to the families who need it."

The produce is harvested in sections. Currently, volunteers and staff members are harvesting the farm's peppers, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and summer squash.

In the next few weeks, the tomatoes and corn will be collected.

"The produce goes directly from the field to the food pantries, which open the following day," King said. "So the food goes from the field to the fork within 24 to 48 hours."

"It's like a vegetable-of-the-week club for the families," added Dana Hartenstein, communications manager. "The families have access to a healthy diet, but they also get some variety."

Last year, more than 2,000 volunteers helped harvest more than one million pounds of produce.

"It's a real community effort to get this work done," King said. "We have a small team of staff but a large team of volunteers. Without the help of those volunteers, The Farm wouldn't be able to grow as much for the hungry."

King said the biggest push for volunteer help comes between August and September, before the winter months set it.

For information about volunteer work, visit HungerTaskForce.org/the-farm.

About The Farm

The Hunger Task Force took control of the farm in 2004, which had previously been operated by the Milwaukee County House of Correction — located across from the farm on South 68th Street.

The house of correction established the work farm in 1946 to rehabilitate inmates through farm operation and gardening. The farm was in operation for 35 years until a major fire in 1980 brought an end to production.

In 1984, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Center for the Great Lakes Studies converted an old creamery facility on the farm grounds into a small fish hatchery. The building was later transformed into a full-scale indoor hatchery in 1989.

The farm's hatchery remains in operation, rearing 40,000 fish each year to stock Milwaukee County Parks' lagoons for youth fishing clinics.

The farm was resurrected in 1993 after a renewed interest in the facility and inmate labor was used once again to cultivate the 30 acres of community gardens.

Inmate labor was also used to cultivate The Farm from 2005 to 2009, after the Hunger Task Force began its operations in 2004. The Farm replaced inmate labor with volunteers in 2010.

In 2012, the Hunger Task Force signed a 30-year lease with Milwaukee County for the farm property, which includes six acres of orchards and a 43-acre oak savanna preservation with walking trails, King said.

The savanna "is a really unique conservation effort that runs along the Root River," he said. "There's only a few of its kind in the area."

Goats are currently being leased to help manage invasive species in the preservation.

"They're our new 'herd' of volunteers," King laughed.

Other programs

In addition to volunteers, The Farm also offers a Transitional Jobs program for unemployed men and women.

Workers who graduate from the program often find employment soon after, King said. Many of them are employed to help maintain county parks.

Milwaukee Harley-Davidson, The Farm's largest partner, also helps with employment, King said.

"The company's three core values are health, education and the environment," he said. "We have a shared mission in that respect."

The Farm employs a dietitian educator, who travels to different schools within the Milwaukee Public School District and educates children from low-income families about nutrition.

During the summer, participating students are picked up from Milwaukee Community Learning Centers and brought to the farm for hands-on learning about healthy eating.

Classes run from mid-June to mid-August and include students from five different MPS schools. Each group is organized to visit The Farm at a different time, Monday through Thursday.

Children grow, harvest and taste-test their produce made in The Farm's 28 garden beds.

"A lot of these kids in an urban setting don't know how to grow, or sometimes even eat, fresh produce," Hartenstein said. "This gives them an opportunity to learn."

The 90-minute to two-hour sessions include three elements: nutrition education, exercise and a cooking demonstration in the facility's Education Kitchen.

For more information about The Farm's youth program, contact the dietitian educator by calling (414) 588-7193.

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