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La Crosse to talk food at Mayor's Neighborhood Conference Saturday

La Crosse to talk food at Mayor's Neighborhood Conference Saturday

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La Crosse area residents will get together to talk food at the third annual Mayors Neighborhood Conference on Saturday at the La Crosse Center.

“We’re all sort of super engaged in raising the idea of a good food culture in our community,” said Hillview Urban Agriculture Center executive director Pam Hartwell.

In addition to helping organize the conference, Hartwell will also discuss La Crosse food deserts as part of the Keep in Local panel presentation that wil be the keynote address at 9:45 a.m. Other panel members include La Crosse farmer Casey Peterson, restaurateur Dane Gonzales and Grow La Crosse member Ana Skemp.

While organizers have the chance to bring a keynote speaker in from another city, they decided to keep the focus on local efforts and bring in a panel of area residents to talk food.

“We really want to reconnect the citizens of La Crosse to their food sources,” Hartwell said.

Hartwell will introduce the concept of food deserts — defined as areas where a person does not live within walking distance of a grocery store with healthy and affordable food — and show maps of the two La Crosse areas that qualify. She will also share strategies to eliminate food deserts in the area, which she says will start with education.

“We’ve sort of lost the corner food market in our culture,” Hartwell said, but she has hopes organizations such as the La Crosse-based Kwik Trip could fill that gap.

Kwik Trip has expanded its food options in recent years, including adding a meat department.

“We’re looking to encourage Kwik Trip to do more of that and to encourage citizens to utilize those resources and demand more of them,” Hartwell said.

The panelists will talk about ways to create urban farmland, build restaurants with locally-sourced food and connect children to food through a variety of local innovations.

“Finding ways to bring all those models into play for people is a big part of what our panel will communicate,” Hartwell said.

The conference will have a positive atmosphere while they highlight all the wonderful things going on, she said.

“Obviously we find that fun and we want to find ways for other people to find that fun,” Hartwell said.

In the interest of fun, Hillview has launched a Future Iron Chef program, where teams from the Boys & Girls Club of the Greater La Crosse Area and the Ho-Chunk Nation will face off under the supervision of local chef Shawn McManus.

“They are trained and excited and getting familiar with ingredients,” Hartwell said.

Mayor Tim Kabat, chef Monique Hooker and Thippi Luangpraseuth will judge the cooking competition, which will run from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.

There will also be a youth track with activities and games for children from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 2:30 p.m.

Although the primary focus will be food, the conference will also take time to recognize leaders in La Crosse’s neighborhoods.

“Along with all of the fun food pieces of it, we know that we do better when we do it with our community with our neighbors,” Hartwell said.

Neighborhood associations will provide information on their benefits and network with their neighbors from 1 to 2:15 p.m. and the conference will wrap up with the Neighborhood Revitalization Awards from 2:30 to 3 p.m. Honorees include co-chair of the Grandview Emerson Neighborhood Association Jacob Sciammas, Hillview board president Vicki Miller, Jill Miller of the YMCA and the Kane Street Community Garden of the Hunger Task Force of La Crosse.

Entrance to the conference is free, and there will be cash lunch available from The Dam Tasty, The Mint and Big Boar Barbecue, which are all incorporating as much locally-sourced food as possible for the event.

“We’ve sort of lost the corner food market in our culture. We’re looking to encourage Kwik Trip to do more of that and to encourage citizens to utilize those resources and demand more of them.” Pam Hartwell, Hillview Urban Agriculture Center executive director
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