Local conference highlights healthy food efforts in region

La Crosse Mayor's Neighborhood Conference focuses on healthy, sustainable food

The theme of the third annual La Crosse Mayor’s Neighborhood Conference was Food in the City, and organizers hope it left community members with resources to build a healthier life.

Saturday’s events at the La Crosse Center South Hall brought neighborhood leaders to speak about healthy, sustainable food initiatives in the area.

“We wanted to highlight the growing, the sourcing, the production and the eating of really healthy good food,” said conference organizer and Executive Director of Hillview Urban Agriculture Center Pam Hartwell. “If we don’t eat well it kills us, literally. Food is one of those great things where you do it right and you’re healthy and able to live your life in a successful and positive way.”

There were local vendors and organizations, a panel of speakers, teaching sessions and a variety of activities relating to healthy food.

Hartwell said coming together over food is one of the best ways to unite a community.

“I think food is the best way to bring people together,” said Hartwell. “One of the greatest common denominators of being a human on this planet is the need to eat food.”

She said many people still don’t think enough about where their food is coming from.

“Often times, what’s quick and easy and cheap in the world of food is also just terribly unhealthy and we’re missing out,” she said. “We’re missing out on an opportunity to engage in a food culture that connects us to other people, that connects us to farms, connects us to the environment.”

But she said there is a trend towards healthy, sustainable food practices in the area, many of which could be found at the conference. Like Casey Peterson, a panel speaker and urban farmer, who grows produce in community member’s backyards.

“In return for them letting me use their space, I give them a weekly basket of vegetables from the garden and the rest I sell at the farmers market and local restaurants.”

He said along with growing food, he also makes connections in the area.

“One of the things I’m passionate about is helping to educate people to get them growing their own food, or at the very least getting them to pay attention to the kind of food they’re eating. Local, fresh, lots of vegetables, things like that,” said Peterson. “So it’s been a great feeling to really connect with the community.”

Hartwell and Peterson said they hope the conference plants a seed in people’s minds going forward.

“I hope they want to go eat a healthy meal or prepare it with their family or start a garden,” said Hartwell.

“At the very least, just a heightened awareness,” said Peterson. “Maybe pique an interest in local food production or healthy eating.”

The third annual neighborhood revitalization awards also took place at the conference, highlighting people and organizations in the community who are making a difference.

Hartwell said overall, the conference could be a boost for the community.

“It’s a really nice opportunity to make La Crosse shine,” said Hartwell.