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Cream City Farms Takes Root in the 30th Street Corridor

Jun. 6, 2017
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About a decade ago, the City of Milwaukee began an ambitious plan to revive the 30th Street Industrial Corridor, located in a neighborhood that once thrived when automobile frame manufacturers A.O. Smith, and later, Tower Automotive, operated in the area. One of those revitalization projects is Cream City Farms (2055 N. 30 St.), owned and operated by David Johnson. Through a host of public, private and government partners, Cream City Farms now occupies a one-and-a-half-acre swath, providing nutritious food, aesthetic appeal and potential employment. 

Johnson was inspired to start Cream City Farms while he was pursuing his master’s degree in urban planning. He was the co-founder of the Cream City Gardens educational project at the Guest House shelter. In 2013, he planned to start farming on land near Amaranth Bakery, but it was discovered that that land needed remediation. Johnson then approached UW-County Extension and ECO’S HOME GR/OWN in search of vacant city land for his farm, and the 30th Street site proved ideal.

Through an Environmental Protection Agency grant, the property was cleaned up and covered with two feet of fresh topsoil. Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District, Reflo, GZA Inc. and Veolia partnered to design and install storm water management measures such as bioswales and a 40,000-gallon underground cistern, its pump powered by a solar panel provided through Milwaukee Shines. Veolia wants to develop expertise with cisterns in farming and garden operations, Johnson said, so they granted money for a software application that monitors weather conditions and water levels in the cistern.

Arts@Large decorated the fence around Cream City Farms. A grant through Strong Neighborhoods covered the fence materials.

After some setbacks in 2015, Johnson completed his first full growing season last year. “Because I’m in the early stages of my farming, I’m casting a wide net,” he said. “I’m working with as many vegetable varieties as I can to find out what will work well for this site and for the palates of my customers.”

Johnson grows seedlings at Capitol Drive Greenhouse and Schultes Greenhouse. So far, weather this year has been cooperative and everything is on schedule for this season. In late April, he planted beets, radishes and leafy greens. He specializes in unique cherry tomatoes varieties.

Swiss chard grows well, and Johnson said it’s becoming a customer favorite. “I’m still a big spinach fan. Swiss chard is similar, but it has a wider variety of flavor profiles,” he said.

Zephyr zucchini is another favorite Johnson will bring back this year. This slender, yellow squash with green tips is firm, with a slightly sweet and nutty flavor. Last year, he partnered also with Joe Muench of Black Shoe Hospitality restaurants to supply cauliflower greens—a part of the vegetable that contains vitamins A and C, as well as antioxidants. Johnson will offer those again this year.

Cream City Farms also has a quarter-acre site near Timmerman Airport. Johnson hopes to soon hire part-time employees. He wants to expand Cream City Farms and acquire the recently foreclosed building just south of the 30th Street farm to use for an aquaponics operation. He received a grant through the Sustainable Agriculture Research Association division of the United States Department of Agriculture for a two-year case study on soil and composting to develop an understanding of its economic impact on farmers.

Cream City Farms offers community supported agriculture (CSA) subscriptions and will be at yet-to-be-determined markets and events this season.

For more information, visit creamcityfarms.blogspot.com.

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