2490 N Cramer Street, Milwaukee, WI 53211
414.962.2443 ssppmilw@ffpmke.org

Community Ministry Connection: Riverwest Food Pantry Urban Farm

Each month the Human Concerns Committee will highlight the work of a community organization doing outstanding ministry in the city of Milwaukee. Our July partner is the Riverwest Food Pantry Urban Farm.

Mission 

Riverwest Food Pantry is a community food center that engages volunteers and neighborhood residents to end hunger, isolation and poverty. Our innovative programs nourish food security and wellness, foster belonging and community engagement, and empower stability and economic prosperity in our city.

About the Pantry

Riverwest Food Pantry, born in 1979 out of our community of Catholic parishes on the East Side of Milwaukee and incorporated in 2013 as a 501c3, is no longer your stereotypical food pantry that simply hands out cans of food. We are part of a growing movement across the nation and Canada to become a community food center that recognizes that food is the entry point…not the end point. Through our innovative programs, we harness the power of food to build a community where all of us are nourished, all of us belong, and all of us can prosper. By engaging volunteers and community residents to end hunger, isolation, and poverty, we will change the way hunger is addressed in Milwaukee.

Being human means hungering not just for food but for kinship as well. We find this hunger everywhere – from our grandmother’s kitchen all the way to the Last Supper. As a community of generosity, we share in each other’s struggles and joys. When we dare to enter the mess of each other’s lives a little bit through community, our eyes begin to change. When we start to live for others, the part of yourself you thought was broken becomes gold. We realize there’s no such thing as “waste” anymore, only grace. These are some of the spiritual truths at the heart of our community.

The work of the Riverwest Food Pantry was founded as a response of the Catholic Church to God and the belief that right here in our city, we find Christ in each of our neighbors, in the poverty of every heart.

Our culture is spiritually nourished by a team of mission-interns and staff who live a communal life of daily prayer and formation rooted in the Gospel and Catholic Social Teaching. Every day, we draw from this spiritual well so we can see Christ in one another – God himself who hungers and thirsts for each of us.

Here, we find Christ in people of all backgrounds and beliefs, in every person who is looking for a place at the table of kinship.

In a Community of Generosity we believe that no one is so deprived that they have nothing to give, and no one is so well-off that they no longer have needs.  Here, our neighborhood residents, volunteers, and other community members grow together to discover the gifts they’re meant to give and the gifts they’re meant to receive.

This mutuality – and a fear, for the first time that many of us had about not being able to access food during the earliest days of the pandemic especially – is what helped Riverwest see record response from the community this past year. We typically serve about 13,000 people each year, but in 2020 served 290,701 pounds of food to nearly 20,000 so the need was strong and thankfully the support of the community even stronger.

About the Community Gardens and Urban Farm

The Community Gardens of the Family of Four parishes have a wonderful history of donating produce to the Riverwest Food Pantry. In much the same way that a garden grows, there are various plots of land throughout the community that have changed and grown over time. The stories of the gardens, including the Urban Farm, intertwine in life-giving ways.

Dan Lesniak, former coordinator of the Environmental Justice Ministry at Three Holy Women Parish, had a vision of engaging parishioners through hands-on activity. The notion of a community garden surfaced and became a reality in the spring of 2009. Land was cleared in the front of St. Rita’s convent and a truck load of topsoil was brought in. Parishioners were invited to “adopt-a-plot” or help garden the open area not claimed by parishioners and volunteers. It was determined that the garden would be an organic garden and that most of the produce would go to the Riverwest Food Pantry. As time proceeded, other cluster parish members joined in, as well as neighbors who wanted to participate. The garden has now emerged as truly a cluster ministry and a neighborhood, community project.

In 2014 we added the garden at St. Casimir’s Riverwest Food Pantry site to our gardens. It began with the help of many volunteers to revitalize an existing garden that was being used by META House. Originally, the plan was to create raised beds, but this evolved into one large raised garden area with a stone retaining wall found at the north-end of the parking lot. The goal was to have shoppers from the pantry become involved with the planning, planting and harvesting of the vegetables. In 2015, Patricia Holland, a shopper at the pantry, took on a leadership role of planning what to plant; overseeing, as well as, helping plant the vegetables; and supervising the maintenance, harvesting, and distribution of the produce during Saturday pantry hours. The desire is to continue to grow the shoppers’ involvement in the Riverwest Food Pantry’s Garden.

Over the years various partnerships have developed in the community, sometimes they last just for a season, and sometimes they have borne fruit for many years. Some of those partnerships include an annual “Feed for Seeds” fundraiser sponsored by the YNot Bar II; ongoing partnerships with the Victory Gardens Initiative and Riverside High School Gardening Club; and the generous donation of garden plots by neighbors of St. Casimir.

Very significantly, the other new garden, or really farm, is located at Maglio Companies on Port Washington Road. At this location, the Urban Farm, there are 11 hoop houses that are being managed and farmed by Anna Metscher and Anna Jean Hallmann for Riverwest Food Pantry along with Samson Sork from Groundwork Milwaukee. In 2020, the farm grew produce during the winter months in two hoop houses and harvested through the winter and early spring. Most of the produce grown during the winter was utilized by the Riverwest Food Pantry and two other pantries received excess produce. Also in 2020, some of the houses were re-covered with new plastic and there is a plan to re-cover all of them by the end of this growing season. In 2021, most of the hoop houses were used to grow produce for the Riverwest Food Pantry throughout the winter and early spring. Now in 2021, all of the hoop houses are being used to grow produce for the pantry which is harvested on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Overall, the purpose of the Community Gardens and Urban Farm is to:

  • Provide hands-on opportunity for shoppers and parishioners to engage in caring for God’s creation.
  • Develop relationships in our faith community as well as the neighborhood.
  • Provide fresh produce for the Riverwest Food Pantry.
  • Be a more visual sign of faith in our community.

Education and Involvement

We invite you to come and get your hands, and hearts, dirty at the RWFP Urban Farm. Join us on Wednesday, July 14, 2021 from 5 pm to 7:30 pm to learn more about our 27,000 square foot farm that produces 10,000 pounds of fresh produce for our neighbors each year. We’ll take a tour of our 11 hoop houses and a prairie, engage in conversation about healthy eating and sustainability, and yes, do a little bit of weeding. You’ll even get to take home some of our fresh produce to sample. Registration is limited to 30 guests. Please email Laura Hancock at lhancock@ffpmke.org to sign up!

Prayer Requests

  • Pray that the crops from the Riverwest Food Pantry Urban Farm are able to satisfy the hunger and nutritional needs of our community.
  • Pray for an increase of volunteers to care for the Riverwest Food Pantry Urban Farm so that it may cultivate the produce needed in our community.
  • Pray that the Riverwest Food Pantry Urban Farm can be a place where individuals come together around food to build relationships and a community of belonging.
  • Pray for the continued sustainability of the Riverwest Food Pantry Urban Farm so that it can be fruitful and yield plentiful crops for years to come.

To Support this Community Ministry Connection

We encourage you to support the good work of the Riverwest Food Pantry Urban Farm by volunteering at the farm! Discover the fruit of entering deeper into community by… pulling weeds?? Yes! By volunteering and tending the Urban Farm, you are helping the community prosper. 

During the summer months, the needs at the farm include planting, harvesting, and general garden maintenance. Volunteer times are on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 8:30 am – Noon and Wednesdays from 5:00 – 7:30 pm. To sign up to volunteer at the Urban Farm, please email urbanfarm@riverwestfoodpantry.org.

To make financial donations that support the entire operations of the Riverwest Food Pantry, please visit their website: www.riverwestfoodpantry.org.

Links

Website – https://www.riverwestfoodpantry.org/urban-farm

Facebook – @Riverwestfoodpantry – https://www.facebook.com/riverwestfoodpantry

LinkedIn – Riverwest Food Pantry (A Community of Generosity) – https://www.linkedin.com/company/riverwest-food-pantry