Feature Stories Spring 2011 Issue

For the Benefit of Society

By Wendy Allen 0

To honor the positivity and optimism that emanates from non-profit organizations (and often gushes from those who work for them), first, let’s get the term right—”not for profit” says exactly nothing about what these organizations do, not to mention, the term turns their idealism into something negative. Rather than talk about what non-profits are not, let’s focus on what they are: they are missiondriven organizations made up of people who are change makers in their communities and beyond, tirelessly working for the benefit of society. For this reason, I have joined the movement to adopt “social benefit organization” (SBO) as a replacement term that homes in on the positive qualities of optimism, community action and greater purpose.

“In my mind, social benefit organizations work because the concept represents some of the best qualities in human nature,” says Kristen Joiner, executive director for Sustain Dane in Madison. “SBOs are built on our highest values around sociability, community, fun, a sense of purpose and a desire to be of help. If you don’t believe in people it’s an improbable concept.”
SBOs operate on budgets that make bigwig marketing executives snort in disdain, work hours similar to an accountant in tax season, and every year, they must cross their fingers for the generosity of strangers and grants to provide their salaries. But they get stuff done. Often, big stuff.

We have more than forty non-profit organizations involved in food and farming in the Edible Madison region, and likely many more tucked away in the rolling country hills, quietly doing their good works. They’re too busy to toot their own horns, so we’re going to do it for them. We only have space to describe a handful of them here and encourage you to learn more about them all online. And we hope you’ll be inspired to support your favorite cause this year by making a donation and/or volunteering your time.

Defying the advice of friends and colleagues, Aldo Leopold and his family moved in 1935 onto a worn out farm in the “sand counties,” an area of the state near Baraboo deemed a wasteland of sandy, worthless soil. But it was no wasteland, and from his patient observations emerged a cornerstone text for conservation, policy and ethics—The Sand County Almanac. In 1982, his five children established The Aldo Leopold Foundation near the original farm in order to further Leopold’s philosophy of the “land ethic.” This year, the Foundation released a new film called Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time, which honors Leopold’s life and the ways his “land ethic” is being expressed by people and organizations around the world today, including a segment on the Dane County Farmers’ Market and local, sustainable food. Visit www.aldoleopold.org for screening times and locations. 

Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin, Inc. (CAC), encourages Dane, Jefferson and Waukesha county communities to support those in need beyond the once-a-week meal. CAC has in-depth projects addressing food security, composting, community gardens and other community involvement programs. Its Gardens Program hosted the 2011 Growing Together Conference in February, which brought together those involved in community, youth and food pantry gardens for a day of leadership and gardening workshops. And notably, CAC receives and distributes over 100,000 pounds of food donations each year (127,159 pounds in 2010!) from 25 area community gardens in an effort to get fresh produce on the tables of families in need. 

A highly active community center serving Madison’s near-east side, the Goodman Community Center is not only a place for community exercise classes, preschool and birthday parties. It also houses the Ironworks Café and Working Class Catering, both serving delicious local, seasonal and organic food and which are part of a valuable teen employment program. Teens who work at Ironworks Café or Working Class Catering learn basic job skills and customer service, and they have the opportunity to observe the ins and outs of running a business. In addition, Goodman Community Center manages 110 community garden plots, the Atwood Prairie Restoration block along the Capital City Bike Path, a food pantry and more community involvement programs for all ages.

The directness of Porchlight, Inc.’s slogan, “A helping hand—not a handout,” echoes the organization’s forthright and respectful approach to its work with Madison’s homeless and transitioning men and women. As part of their services designed to foster independence and teach valuable job skills, they also produce “Porchlight Products,” providing meaningful employment opportunities while supporting local farms. The jams, jellies, sauces and pickled specialties use local, fresh and seasonal ingredients and are sold in the Madison area at Sentry Metcalfe’s Hilldale, Regent Market Coop, Daisy Café and Cupcakery, and Willy Street Co-op, and are on the menu at Cooper’s Tavern and Daisy Café and Cupcakery.

As their detailed name suggests, the Research, Education, Action and Policy on Food Group (more often known as REAP Food Group or simply REAP) has their hands in an almost overwhelming number of projects in the Madison area. They publish the Farm Fresh Atlas each year listing the region’s farmers markets, manage Southern Wisconsin’s Buy Fresh Buy Local program, run a Farm to School program, and they host incredible local food celebrations: the Food for Thought Festival, the Pie Palooza brunch, Burgers & Brew, A Taste of the Town restaurant events, and their Spring Gala fundraiser evening. And their website is a veritable wealth of information about the importance of supporting local food systems. They do all this to connect producers, consumers, policy makers, educators, businesses and organizations to shorten the distance from farm to table, support farmers, encourage sustainable agricultural practices, address food insecurity, and more. We don’t know how they keep track of everything, but they’re changing Madison one busy day at a time.

Southwest Wisconsin’s Social Benefit Organizations (SBOs):

4-H, regionwideAldo Leopold Foundation • Allied-Dunn’s Marsh Neighborhood Center • American Farmland Trust—Wisconsin ChapterCenter for Resilient CitiesChurches’ Center for Land and PeopleCommunity Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin, Inc.Community GroundWorks Cornucopia InstituteCulinary History Enthusiasts of Wisconsin (CHEW)Driftless Land Trust Driftless Region Food and Farm Project Farley Center for Peace, Justice and SustainabilityFamily Farm Defenders, Inc. Farm to School—Wisconsin programs • Farmers markets, regionwide • FFA, regionwideFitchburg Fields Friends of the Dane County Farmers Market Gathering Waters ConservancyGoodman Community CenterGrowing PowerHealthy Farmers Healthy Profits ProjectMadison Area Community Support Agriculture Coalition (MACSAC)Madison Fruits & NutsMichael Fields Agriculture InstituteMidwest Environmental AdvocatesMidwest Organic and Sustainable Education Services (MOSES) • Midwest Organic Services Association (MOSA)Natural Heritage Land TrustPorchlight, Inc. • Research, Education, Action and Policy on Food Group (REAP Food Group) River Alliance of WisconsinSecond Harvest Food Bank of Southern Wisconsin SHARESlow Food Madison and Slow Food UWSustain DaneSustainable AtwoodThousand Friends of WisconsinTown and Country Resource Conservation & Development, Inc. Valley Stewardship Network Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & LettersWisconsin Natural Food Associates Wisconsin Wetlands AssociationWormfarm Institute

The UW system also has many programs and student groups focusing on food and farming. We encourage readers to seek them out and get involved. Thanks to Madison Nonprofit Day for assistance compiling this list.

Wendy Allen is digital editor, copy editor, and a writer for Edible Madison. She reads style guides for fun, believes stories have power, and is fascinated by the evolution of the English languageā€”for better or worse. Her mission: to wrestle the wily comma into submission.

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