MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) –The Milwaukee Fire Department is a part of a new initiative to help neighborhoods stay safe and get healthy foods that may not be accessible to those who live in underserved communities.
The new two-year pilot program is called “Gardens for First Responders” and it is made possible thanks to a $55,000 grant awarded by Bader Philanthropies.
“I am a four-time heart attack survivor, just recently having gone through a surgery, so I know what diabetes and the attack of it can be — and the beginning of healing is the eating that we do,” said Andre Lee Ellis, at a press conference held Friday.
Ellis is the founder of the organization known as C.A.G.E. or Community Agricultural Growing Experiences. He brought the idea forward to Milwaukee Fire Chief Aaron Lipski.
“Many of our vibrant communities that don’t have access to healthy, leafy greens, produce, and if it is accessible, there’s not a lot of it or it’s very expensive,” said Lipski.
The fire chief said hydroponic farms, a gardening method that doesn’t use soil, will be placed directly in certain neighborhoods to offer free and fresh food for those who need it most.
“My mom had to work two, three jobs in order to provide for our household, so she made sure that we had ends meet,” said C.A.G.E. Member Xegon El.
El told CBS 58 News that growing up in Milwaukee wasn’t easy, but helping out in his grandmother’s garden helped him stay out of trouble.
“She grew roses, flowers, we even had an apple tree at one point…garden is in my blood,” he chuckled.
El said growth isn’t just a journey in gardening, it’s a personal one.
“We want to be the light that shines in these young men’s darkness, you know what I’m saying? So they can see a better way out,” he said. “We want to keep them productive and industrious, keep their minds off of foolishness.”
Milwaukee Fire Department Station #5 shut down its operation in 2008 and has since become a health and wellness hub.
C.A.G.E. members said anyone can simply stop by and help plant or take a bag of fresh greens to take home.