Sustainability efforts have attained a new importance in the thoughts of our nation. Efforts are focused on a variety of elements from preserving our environment, teaching healthy lifestyle changes to offering social and economic opportunities. Three La Crosse organizations plan to encompass those efforts into a vision that could become a model throughout the nation.
Hillview Urban Agriculture Center, Mayo Clinic Health System – Franciscan Healthcare, and Western Technical College announce their agreement to collaborate on a mission to create sustainable communities. “This collaboration truly illuminates what has long been embedded in the soil of our community: a value of hard work, appreciation for the earth that nourishes us, a spirit of pulling together in good times and tough and a neighborly sharing of what each of us has been blessed with,” says Leanne Carlson, Hillview Urban Agriculture Center (HUAC).
In July 2010, HUAC received a $25,000 grant from the La Crosse Community Foundation to develop a business plan for an urban agriculture center. That plan included: educating the community on growing, preparing and preserving nutritious foods, growing produce, and developing community-wide composting. However, the weight of the property mortgage, along with the age of facilities, created significant barriers to developing a financially sustainable plan.
Nutritional education and programming. Franciscan Healthcare has stepped up to financially assist HUAC with their current mortgage, teaming up with both Western and HUAC to provide community wellness programs focused on nutrition and physical activity. “This project fits with our mission to manage chronic diseases,” says Joe Kruse, Chief Administrative Officer of Operations. “Studies done by the Preventive Medicine Research Institute have found that diet can reserve the negative effects of coronary artery disease. Add to that only 12 percent of Americans eat a healthy diet, this collaborative effort will offer healthy lifestyle alternatives in our area.”
Local food, healthy eating. “Western, along with the collaborative efforts of Mayo Clinic Health System and Hillview, will promote local food, healthy eating and sustainable practices through the new venture called Sustainability Institute,” said Lee Rasch, President of Western Technical College. “This is a component of our 10-year master plan, Vision 2020.”
Energy-efficient greenhouse. As part of this new collaborative effort, a state-of-the-art, Urban Landscape and Agriculture Center, including an energy-efficient greenhouse will be constructed on Western’s campus at the corner of 7th and Vine Streets, where the former Ivy Motel and previous residence hall are located. Horticulture, landscape, science, agriculture and culinary programs will all reap the benefits of having the facility on the downtown campus. In addition, Hillview Urban Agriculture Center will be housed in this greenhouse, providing their mission with greater visibility and accessibility.
Energy-efficient housing. With the mortgage paid off, HUAC will transfer the current greenhouse property to Western to be converted into 4-5 new energy-efficient, sustainable homes. The homes will be constructed by Western students and will be sold. “Not only will the construction process provide education to our students and area contractors on the aspects and techniques of sustainable home construction, but the new homes will create additional tax base for the city of La Crosse,” Rasch says.
This agreement between Hillview Urban Agriculture Center, Western Technical College and Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare covers the initial 10-years of the HUAC/Western lease agreement.
“This collaborative effort also honors our Franciscan ‘roots’,” comments Kruse. “As some of you may know the Franciscan Sisters’ nursing home on St. Joseph’s Ridge originally served as a farm where they grew food for St. Francis Hospital patients. We feel this collaboration will offer everything a health care provider wants for patients.”
Carlson believes this is the first of its kind collaboration in the nation. “With the strong framework that this has created, we now issue a call to businesses to help us create a thriving and resilient community,” she says.
All three organizations believe this effort among educators, growers and health care is another step to improve the health and well-being of individuals and the communities they serve.