The Hunger Task Force works to end hunger in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, metro area. Their farm, located just southwest of the city, serves over 40,000 people in need each month. The farm produces over 800,000 pounds of fresh produce each year, cultivating nearly 30 varieties of fruits and vegetables.
Formed in the early 1980s, the Hunger Task Force’s mission is to provide food to people in need today, to achieve a hunger-free community tomorrow. Some 75 percent of their produce recipients are a particularly vulnerable population: children and the elderly.
The Hunger Task Force is dedicated to its work. But with a group of beginner farmers at the helm, they were willing to try new things. And Midwestern BioAg was happy to provide guidance.
“We have a really bright and talented crew of young farmers,” including four University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Agriculture alums,” said Matt King, farm director at the Hunger Task Force. “That’s where the partnership with Midwestern BioAg comes into play, because we are young farmers.”
The operation is unique because staff can test equipment and management practices without affecting the financial bottom line that a typical commercial farmer must consider.
“The fun part about working with them is that they are very receptive,” said Ben Bartlett, a southeastern Wisconsin-based BioAg consultant who works alongside BioAg vegetable expert Allen Philo to craft the Hunger Task Force fertility program. “We make a suggestion and they try it out: short cropping cycles, multiple cropping cycles.”
The Hunger Task Force also has an interesting labor force: a small army of nearly 5,000 volunteers who participate in every aspect of their farming process, from seed to harvest.
“Hunger Task Force is a food bank year-round,” noted King. “After the farm has planned out the next year, ordered seeds, and completed any necessary equipment repairs, our team works on a natural-area restoration project.” This fall, the farm also plans to build hoop houses to extend the growing season into late fall.
Aside from an open-minded approach to agricultural practices and ag connections, the Hunger Task Force shares Midwestern BioAg’s dedication to replenishing soils and treating them responsibly for the benefit of all.
Bio-Cal® is a building block for healthy soil, with a proprietary blend of five calcium sources including both soluble and time-released.
“We really view ourselves as stewards of this land that we’re farming,” King said. “We want to ensure that the farm is going to continue to be viable and to produce 20 to 30 years from now. And Midwestern BioAg has the expertise to help move in that direction.”
Midwestern BioAg keyed in on the Hunger Task Force’s need to develop a program to revitalize their soil with cover crops on the nearly 100 acres it farms on a 200-acre parcel of land. The other 100 acres lies along the Root River.
“In some years past, it’s been challenging for us to stay organized and be deliberate with our cover-cropping schedule,” King said. “Working with Ben and Midwestern BioAg, we’ve been able to keep on top of that and we haven’t had any fields without cover this year.”
With the help of Bartlett and Philo, King’s team analyzed the farm’s different geographical areas to determine the best cover crops to improve issues like soil compaction and nutrient imbalances.
“Their challenges were heavy clay soils and relatively out-of-balance calcium ratios,” Bartlett said. “With clay soils you get tightness, hard crusting issues, and poor drainage. So we’re trying to improve water management, as well as fertility.”
“Despite cover cropping in the previous year, we were experiencing a degree of soil compaction that was limiting the production of our green beans,” said King. “Through Midwestern BioAg, we were able to optimize the planting rate of our cover crop seeds.”
Midwestern BioAg’s Bio-Cal® product has helped to rebalance the land’s nutrient ratios. Bio-Cal is a building block for healthy soil, with a proprietary blend of five calcium sources including both soluble and time-released. It helps improve nutrient availability and also improves soil structure in heavy soils.
The Hunger Task Force’s farm also applies Midwestern BioAg’s custom-blended fertilizers, which are designed to work with the land it’s used on. These custom blends contain not just N-P-K, but calcium, sulfur, and magnesium, as well as micronutrients, including iron, manganese, copper, zinc, and boron.
King said the relationship they’ve built with Midwestern BioAg is an asset to the growth of their farm and their experience as farmers.
“They’ve taken a lot of time to come and visit us throughout the season. They check on our progress and provide insight,” King said. “With them, we have a long-term partner who cares about the sustainability of our operation.”
Midwestern BioAg’s dedication to healthier soils, farms, food, and communities is a tie that binds them to the mission of the Hunger Task Force.
“I know that there’s a concerted interest on their part in helping our farm be successful so that families who are struggling and having hard times can also have access to fresh produce,” King said.
Raised on a third-generation cattle and grain farm in Illinois, Holly Henschen is an active writer and blogger from Madison, Wisconsin.