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SHARP Literacy Revitalizes an Urban Greenhouse at Browning Elementary for Milwaukee Students

Young girl at the Urban Greenhouse holding a zucchini.
SHARP Literacy
Student at the new urban greenhouse holding a zucchini.

Gardening is a great way to learn about a lot of things. Like, where your food comes from, the work it takes to get a vegetable from seed to plate, and even how ecosystems work. But these are lessons best learned in a hands-on environment which may not be accessible for a lot of city dwellers.

SHARP Literacy wanted to help Milwaukee kids get that experience. So with help from organizations around the city, they renovated a greenhouse at Browning Elementary in Milwaukee’s Westlawn neighborhood. Lynda Kohler, the president & CEO of SHARP Literacy says, “It’s easy to talk about an aquaponics system in a classroom, but when you actually walk into the greenhouse and you see it, it just makes things easier to understand.”

Kohler shared that back in 2017, as she was walking from an event at Silver Spring Neighborhood Center, she saw the greenhouse for the first time. Lynda asked Tom Ellis, who was the executive director at Silver Spring Neighborhood Center at the time, what was going on in that greenhouse. Tom Ellis responded, that it was empty and asked if she had something in mind.

Kohler then put a team together and the revitalization of the greenhouse began in 2018 with the help from MOSE honor students who developed a solar dehydrator and aquaponic system. Since then, there have been additions like a hydroponic system, raised garden beds, and LED lights so that starter plants can grow year round. All these things are great learning tools for Browning Elementary students. The school not only uses it for summer programming, but also uses it in during the school year with Browning students.

Students inside greenhouse.
SHARP Literacy
SHARP Literacy
Browning students inside greenhouse.

Students learn about harvesting, planting, watering, and what they can do with fresh vegetables. “Many of them have never had zucchini and tomatoes so we've done some really great things of providing them with the opportunity to taste and eat tomatoes and zucchini bread and salsa, and really find out that vegetables are not only healthy but also very good tasting,” Kohler explains.

The area near Browning Elementary is considered a food desert, so the greenhouse is helping provide fresh vegetables in an area where they're lacking. Kids are able to bring the fresh vegetables home after the Tuesday and Thursday programs. Silver Spring Neighborhood Center has a food bank as well, where the greenhouse was able to provide food that is then distributed out to the community. "We would love to, you know, have a farmers market and teach the kids about financial literacy as well and have a plant sale,” Lynda says.

Joy Powers hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2016.
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