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GROW La Crosse and Hillview Urban Agriculture finalize merger
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GROW La Crosse and Hillview Urban Agriculture finalize merger

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After proposing a merger in January, GROW La Crosse and Hillview Urban Agriculture have officially combined forces to become GROW, with the mission to connect youth with fresh, healthy food and nature.

Jamie O'Neill

O'Neill

Hillview started more than a century ago as a greenhouse in the Grandview-Emerson Neighborhood and switched ownership over the decades before becoming the Hillview Greenhouse Life Center community farm in 2008, and two years later Hillview Urban Agriculture Center.

GROW La Crosse, formerly called Grow Your Brain, was created in 2011 and was sponsored by Hillview in 2013 before gaining nonprofit status the next year.

Plant Sale 2018

Gardeners browse the selection at the Hillview Urban Agriculture Center annual plant sale in 2018.

Both programs have thrived during the past several years, but hope to accomplish even more as a team.

“It is my belief that the more gardens, the more healthy food options and the more environmental efforts that we can sustain in our community, the better off we all are,” says Jamie O’Neill, executive director of GROW. “I want our community someday to stand out as the place that prioritizes local, healthy food for all of our residents. This will take as many people working towards this common goal as possible.”

Among the projects Hillview Urban Agriculture Center, located in Western Technical College’s Horticulture Education Center since 2015, has successfully facilitated are a vermicompost program, Market Basket classes that teach cooking healthy, low-cost meals using locally grown ingredients, the Bountiful Garden Tours, Seed Library Garlic Tomato Fest, and a Hoop House that produces greens year round.

Some of these programs have now been taken over by other entities, with Viterbo dietetics students adopting Market Baskets and Hilltopper Recycling and Refuse starting its own food scrap recycling and composting endeavor.

In addition, Hillview has hosted the Generation Gardeners program for the La Crosse County Juvenile Justice CORE Program.

The mentorship program, in partnership with Coulee Region RSVP, allows juvenile offenders to complete their community service hours through watering plants and tending to the gardens. Generation Gardeners is also available to youth from organizations including the Boys & Girls Club, YMCA Teen Center and Big Brothers, Big Sisters.

GROW La Crosse has built gardens at local schools and hosts programs, camps and field trips to educate youth on nutrition, sustainability and farming.

“Hillview is thrilled to merge with GROW La Crosse to continue the work of creating a healthy local food system,” Hillview president Mackenzie Mindel said. “GROW has been a valuable partner in this work, and we feel that merging is the natural next step to ensuring the La Crosse community has access to nature and a thriving local food system for many years to come.”

“It is my belief that the more gardens, the more healthy food options and the more environmental efforts that we can sustain in our community, the better off we all are.”Jamie O’Neill, executive director of GROW.

Emily Pyrek can be reached at emily.pyrek@lee.net.

"It is my belief that the more gardens, the more healthy food options and the more environmental efforts that we can sustain in our community, the better off we all are."

Jamie O'Neill, executive director of GROW. 

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