LA POINTE, Wis. – A group of people came together to make the world a better place this past growing season in La Pointe. Farmers on Mooingwanekaaning – also known as Madeline Island – became concerned with food security during the pandemic. The island is part of Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands, located in cold and deep Lake Superior. The only regular transportation to and from the island is a ferry.
Islanders could have looked for help from the outside world. But most folks in the remote north don’t wait. Instead they band together to plan and execute projects like a food wagon to help their neighbors.
Like other parts of the nation Madeline Island has wealthy fair-weather residents. It also has year-round residents – some middle-class but also some who live in tents in the summer. The latter group is desperate for housing in the winter. Some folks make their whole annual income during the five months tourists flock to the island. Some people know hunger well.
St. John’s United Church of Christ in La Pointe maintains a food shelf. People can go there anonymously. This year people have been more desperate due to the pandemic. Some wealthier residents donated funds for an island-based pandemic response. That inspired action by other islanders.
For years the island had resident committees to address community issues, a food committee among them. That committee had discussed an independent food system for the island.
“Finally we couldn’t just talk about it anymore,” Regina Laroche said. “I had people coming to me saying, ‘Are you going to grow food this year? We don’t want to go over (to the mainland) on the ferry.’”
Laroche and her husband Jeff Theune operate Diaspora on Madeline, an organic market garden and learning center. They supply produce through community-sponsored-agriculture shares.
“Being on an island we are a microcosm of the bigger world – whether it’s how we get rid of garbage or how we feed ourselves, or how we take care of each other,” she said. “We can play out for this community what could play out for the whole world, by growing gardens and being in community with other people who are also growing.”
Growing as a community, rather than in isolation, brings home an idea of selflessness.
“The bigness of partnering with the land and the lake means you have to get beyond yourself,” she said.
The island growers planted extra to produce food for a weekly sale specifically to supply islanders with fresh food. They sold it Monday evenings, with 30 to 60 people coming to the food wagon each week. People with limited income could obtain vouchers.
Riley Kaiser, who works at Diaspora, said, “The wagon shows the cost of food in a way that is dignified for the growers. The church offers compensation (vouchers) so the food can be available to all islanders.”
Sue Brenna from Little Footprint Farm said toward the end of September, “We gathered with other island growers. We got together in March because of COVID-19. (The food wagon) used to be a trailer. My husband built and renovated it. This is our last week; it’s been going great. Everybody loves it; we normally sell out. We are battling food insecurity and COVID. If we can give people organic-grown food here on the island, they don’t have to go off the island and expose themselves.”
Cindy Dalzell, who brought heirloom pumpkins, said, “It’s been the best community event all summer and it’s the most social thing I’ve done all summer.”
The growers on Mooingwanekaaning don’t boast about themselves. But their actions and the food on their neighbor’s table do, along with their caring and community. Plans are for the food wagon to continue to fight food insecurity and COVID-19 again next year. It may be a long winter to come, but growers on Madeline Island show us all how a sense of community helps everybody live together to see a new growing season.
Visit www.madelineisland.com for more information.