9.10.20 Honoring History Looking Forward Merger Finalized

Honoring History Looking Forward
We are very pleased to say that the work over the past six months to merge Hillview with GROW has been finalized.  We are now officially GROW.  One organization with a mission to connect children to healthy food and nature.  Your involvement in our organization shows you care about the health and wellbeing of our community. We truly want to thank you for all you have done to support these impactful efforts.

Importance of local food
Hillview Urban Agriculture Center is an organization that has moved the needle towards a healthier and more abundant local food system through many grassroots efforts.  Although Hillview Urban Agriculture Center officially formed as a non-profit in 2010, these roots go back much further.  We want to celebrate and honor Hillview’s history and recognize the importance of continuing the momentum of these efforts.

GROW is fortunate to have recently merged with an organization with such deep roots and grateful for all the time people have put into getting our community to where we are today.“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.  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.” GROW’s Executive Director, Jamie O’Neill.
Hillview’s History
Hillview started over 100 years ago, when the greenhouse was established in a residential neighborhood on North 24th Street.  Early on, from 1926 to 1987, the Jones family owned the property and grew local food and flowers for the region.In 1987 Joel and Jean Olson purchased the property. In 2005, the Olsons switched to organic food production, including their own brand of clam-shell herbs and tomatoes—“Gracie’s Garden”—sold at the People’s Food Co-op and local restaurants.

The Olson’s decision to move to eco-friendly gardening practices and increase horticultural awareness in the community advanced the state of urban agriculture in La Crosse.

In 2007 the Olsons had discussions with their friends Tom and Julie Klemond which led to a new vision for the next stage of the Hillview Greenhouse. Tom Klemond, a local palliative doctor, had a dream of creating a non-profit organization with a mission to utilize the Hillview Greenhouse as an urban community farm, devoted to making the most of the talents and abilities of elders and other volunteers.

In 2008, Hillview Greenhouse Life Center was born, led by co founders Julie (executive director) and Tom Klemond (president). Besides growing produce that was sold to local businesses and restaurants to support their operations, the Life Center also built connections between generations, worked with schools, businesses and community nonprofits and set an example of the many uses of urban agriculture in an active community. 

Though the Life Center was praised for the steps it took in promoting both ecological and social awareness, it faced a constant financial battle and on July 23, 2020, suspended operations.
More Recent
In July 2010, about a dozen concerned citizens responded to a public call from Tom Klemond to “Help Save Hillview” and soon afterwards became Hillview Urban Agriculture Center.

Like its predecessor, Hillview Urban Agriculture Center helped to create a vibrant and sustainable food system built in large part on community partnerships and collaborations.

A vermicompost program was developed in partnership with UWL (that later included Mayo Clinic Health System) in which food scraps were used to make VermiGold, a product sold to go towards Hillview programs.  

At Market Baskets classes people learned how to cook and prepare locally grown food to create low-cost, tasty and nutritious meals. Many partnerships were created to make these programs happen with maximum impact.

Generation Gardeners program for La Crosse County Juvenile Justice CORE Program, partnering with RSVP in a mentorship program with the JJ Offenders completing their CSH by planting, watering plants, and other duties in the greenhouse.

Hillview also had many events like Future Iron Chef, Seed Library Garlic Tomato Fest, Bountiful Garden Tours and a plant sale that were highly attended.

Hillview, with the help of volunteers, grew and provided plants year-round in the greenhouse and hoop house (in which Mayo Clinic Health System owned and Hillview operated).  Many were fans of the annual plant sale and helping during the winter.  Hillview also grew and sold highly nutritious microgreens to area grocers and restaurants to support its programs.  

Recipient of the Food for All Grant award Hillview formed the Coulee Food System Coalition, with a large portion of the $150,000 distributed in mini-grants to nonprofits in creating a food system that nourishes the health and well-being of all. And through a collaboration with Mayo Clinic Health System, Western Technical College and the La Crosse Public Library, Hillview created a publication on our area’s urban agriculture and local food system called La Crosse Area’s Growing Experience – Past, Present and Future.

In 2013, Hillview was GROW’s fiscal sponsor.  GROW, then Grow Your Brain, was a program under Hillview until 2014 as GROW was getting their nonprofit status.

In 2015, thanks to a shared vision and generous support from Mayo Clinic Health System and Western Technical College, with support from the La Crosse Community Foundation,  Hillview moved into a new state-of-the-art greenhouse located on Western’s campus in the Horticulture Education Center on the corner of 7th & Vine. This space allowed Hillview to provide education on growing, preparing and preserving nutritious food with a focus on low-income individuals and families as well as providing senior citizens, specially-abled and other community members with volunteer opportunities in greenhouse activities and programs.

Hillview was the flame of these programs, several are now off on their own. For example, Hilltopper Recycling and Refuse has decided to take recycling food scraps to the next level.  Hilltopper is collecting scraps from UWL and also many other places around town like Festival Foods. Market Baskets is now a program run by the Viterbo Dietetics students. GROW did a Virtual Bountiful Garden Tour this year and plans to do a Virtual Iron Chef event this fall.
Thank yous
As you can see, Hillview has a long history of local and healthy food system efforts. We would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who has helped with these efforts and hope that we can continue promoting healthy, local food efforts together with you.

A special thank you goes out to people who have kept the vision going over the years through time, advocating and/or designating funds:  Sheila Garrity, Lee Rasch, Joe Kruse, Leanne Hedberg Carlson, Joe and Ann Kotnour, Vicki Miller and Pam Hartwell, Hillview UAC E.D., with initial financial support from, David and Barb Erickson, Dr. David and Sacia Morris and the La Crosse Community Foundation.

Many thanks to Hillview’s past employees, volunteers and interns, all of whom put time and energy into the programming and promoting of healthy soil, growing and eating.

And, thank you to the most recent board of directors for your efforts prior to and during the merge and transition: Mackenzie Mindel, Olivia Hackbarth, Steve Thicke, Zack Gaugush, Jared Hickey, John Houskamp, MD, David Lein, Carlie Von Ax and Vicki Miller.

We have immense gratitude to everyone who donated time and/or money – whether it was $5 or 500 hours – we are a stronger community due to your support. There have been so many people integral in the multitude of success stories throughout Hillview’s 100+ year history. 

We hope to have honored many, but realize we are sure to have missed some.  Let us know if there are others we can recognize. Together we can honor Hillview’s long history of advancing local food systems through continued programing dedicated to education promoting healthy eating and connecting with nature as GROW. 
Moving Forward Together
The health and wellbeing of our community is still as important today as it was 100 years ago.  GROW will continue to move the needle towards a healthier and more abundant local food system through education and programs encouraging and promoting locally grown food.  Your support and involvement is key to successfully carrying out this vision.