Youth Grow Local Conference and Growing Power

Last week I had the privilege to attend the Madison Youth Grow Local Conference and visit Growing Power in Milwaukee. These were two amazing days that really provided many ideas and inspiration for what a group of people are attempting to accomplish by creating a community garden here in Menomonie.

Growing Power & Will Allen have done an amazing job creating an urban farm in Milwaukee. As the last remaining farm in Milwaukee's central city it is a great way for many urban children to get their hands dirty, see farm animals, and learn where their food actually comes from. Despite being a not for profit organization many of their techniques have been adapted by companies in the for profit sector.

  • An innovative, yet inexpensively built, aquaponics system creates a wondrous environment where they grow crops in a re-circulating water system.
  • Worms are the main laborers recycling waste from the Milwaukee area and creating the soil that keeps Growing Power producing year round. Bees, chickens, turkeys, and goats round out the farm.
  • A few of the greenhouses yield produce throughout the winter heated only by compost and sunlight.

They are continuing to find ways to become more sustainable and soon even water and electricity will be almost entirely "off-the-grid" through water collection, large solar panels, and an anaerobic digesting system.

Growing power provides jobs and internships for area youth and anyone is welcome to come and volunteer and participate. They truly are "Growing Power." If you get a chance and have an hour or so, stop in and visit Growing Power. You are likely to leave inspired.

Here are a few photos from the trip:

The Madison Youth Grow Local Conference was also very inspirational for me. I learned a lot about how the Madison School District has incorporated school and community gardening into their curriculum in subtle ways. Folks with years of experience explained simple ways of grabbing the imagination and attention of students and using the garden to explore multiple subjects (math, science, social studies, english, art, etc) in a hands-on and memorable ways.

The keynote speaker was Tory Miller the Executive Chef & Co-Proprietor of L'Etoile Restaurant in Madison. One of his passions is working with the youth and inspiring them to eat healthier and giving them "more healthy options". He was taken aback when he went into his former High School and witnessed the type of food that was being served from fast-food style windows every single day.

He currently inspires youth as a "Chef in the Classroom" to start thinking about their choices by introducing them to new foods, getting them to try things they have never eaten before, cook with them and show them how enjoy foods they otherwise wouldn't eat alone, and get them to start thinking about the prolonged effects of having "cookie dough and Gatorade" for every meal - he joked that the kid in all of us would love to eat pizza and cheeseburgers for every meal.

The conference also provided a link to a number of exciting resources and people that will help give many of the new projects in Menomonie (from day care gardens, to school gardens, to community gardens) a boost this spring.

Being an AmeriCorps VISTA

When I decided to accept the position as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) I really didn't know exactly what to expect. After training, orientation, and almost two weeks on the job I no longer question why president Lyndon Johnson and Sargent Shriver, the program's founders, considered the VISTA program the domestic version of the Peace Corps.

To the first group of VISTA volunteers in 1964 President Johnson had this to say:

"This is your job--to guide the young, to comfort the sick, to encourage the downtrodden, to teach the skills which may lead to a more satisfying and a more rewarding life. On your idealism and on your success rests much of our hope for the final elimination of poverty in our American life."

"VISTA volunteers stand ready to serve at the request of every community and every neighborhood, every organization and institution, which joins the war against poverty.

I believe--I know--that you will receive the support of all Americans. And I hope that all those with skills and dedication to offer will come and join with you in this most extraordinary force for good in our country. "

In just two weeks I have met some very amazing and passionate people all working in one way or another towards a similar goal: reducing and ending poverty. I am working with these leaders to organize and identify community assets and in doing so will help people and organizations to help themselves through the development of trainings, community organizing, and the development of organizational assets with an emphasis on sustainability. All of this will be aimed at showing people that the metaphorical "lifting myself up by my bootstraps" can be done. Or, if they don't have any boots to begin with, show people that there are resources in the community that will help them find a pair of boots. My small projects that I am helping to organize may not be a significant contribution to the war on poverty but add up the energy, passion, and accomplishments of over 5000 VISTA volunteers across the country who are spreading that same passion everyday and instilling it in their communities and it is a pretty good start.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
-- Margaret Mead

"We are all part of something bigger and we are all part of it together."


Like our economy and our health care system this web site is currently under reconstruction which will make it better and more efficient. We were recently hacked and as a result all of our information was corrupted. Some code was inserted into our database through a hole in the wordpress code, it made almost infinite copies of each post and made our recent backups worthless. Pretty good trick. Sigh.

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.
- C. S. Lewis

Peace Corps

We are working on getting our Peace Corps blog and diaries together and back up on the web site. Until then feel free to browse our photos.


We are currently working closely with Honore, a friend living in Madagascar, to make sure a young Malagasy girl, Odile, graduates college. She is currently 12 years old and without Honore's guidance and our assistance, this bright young girl, would not be continuing school. She comes from an extremely remote village of Madagascar where only primary education is available. She is now living away from her family with a few of her peers handling responsibilities and situations most of her American peers will not experience until college or thereafter. We are so proud of her and her classmates! Thank you Honore for all of your hard work!


We are working to help Honore start a non-profit to make it possible to support more students who otherwise would not have an opportunity to obtain an education. If you would like to hear more about this project or are interested in supporting one of the many bright students eager to continue their education please contact us.

For up to date information join the facebook group!