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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Milwaukee Area Teens Serve Locally Grown Greens At Miller Park

Brewers fans have plenty of food options. Eight kitchens produce everything from concession-style faire to pasta with romesco sauce. And, this season a new food cart appeared at the stadium.

ROOTS For the Home Team Milwaukee offers salads served by high school students. And, some of the ingredients come out of gardens the teens tended.

The idea didn’t drop out of the sky. It came from Minnesota where a dietician wanted to couple two passions – encouraging people to eat fresh, healthy food and supporting youth garden programs.

Roots For The Home Team came to life in 2012 when the Minnesota Twins allowed students to set up a cart from which they sold luscious fresh salads.

Credit Susan Bence
High school students Alex Harmon and Kayla Thomas at one of three microfarms they helped tend over the summer. Part of the harvest is used as ingredients for salads served at Miller Park.

In Milwaukee, Bonnie Halvorsen was tapped to duplicate the model. She’s a founder of Learn-Earn-Grow Milwaukee. The summer-long program teaches high school students how to nurture crops as well as workplace skills and personal finance.

The students worked with local chefs to create salad recipes – four different ones - using as many ingredients out of their gardens as possible.

Back in late July, ROOTS opened for business at Sunday Brewers games at Miller Park.

Salad Prep

A few days before each game, Halvorsen starts pulling together ingredients for the 60 salads the teens plan to sell at the ballpark.

Credit Susan Bence

She sorts and weighs tomatoes from Learn-Earn-Grow’s three microfarms located in three far-flung Milwaukee neighborhoods. Produce from local farms is incorporated into the salads as well, such as herbs from Milwaukee Farmers Union, a cluster of urban growers.

Chef Dave Swanson not only helped the students design one of their salads, he fills in ingredients Halvorsen lacks, like croutons and chicken.

Swanson also delivers all of Halvorsen’s ingredients to Miller Park the day before the games.

Credit Susan Bence
Dave Swanson helps Bonnie Halvorsen pull together all the ingredients needed for each Brewers game day.

Swanson’s a busy guy, so why does he help with this wee project?

Swanson says he's passionate about local food and any opportunity to create a demand for it. “People sitting in the seats. They get a chance to see what a good salad tastes like at Miller Park. Maybe they’d ask at TGI Fridays, 'Hey why don’t my greens taste as good as the one I had at Miller Park?'”

Game Day

On game day, ROOTS For The Home Team members report to work. Brewers executive chef Seth Vanderlaan greets them.

Credit Susan Bence
Executive chef Seth Vanderlaan (far right) greets the ROOTS team.

At any given game, Vanderlaan and a staff of 100 serves up thousands of pounds of food throughout the Miller Park complex, yet he jumped at the chance to work with the teen salad team.

“Honestly it is because of what they stand for. It’s about showing the youth and community that giving back is important and it’s about teaching the next generation where food comes from," he says. "Those are the things that that are important to me. It’s important to have that presence at the ballpark.”

Credit Susan Bence
The teens put together salad samples.

Cheryl Leatherman from Appleton is one of their first customers. Last time she attended a Brewers game, she says Roots ran out of salads before she could buy one. She selects the salad that Washington High School student Kayla Thomas helped create.

Credit Susan Bence
Kayla Thomas and Lynett Wheeler helped come up with the Kaylett Southwest salad.

A wide smile fills the student’s face.

ROOTS salads sell out less than an hour after the game starts.

They’ll be back this Sunday.

And next year, Halvorsen says they plan to serve up salads Saturdays and Sundays throughout the season.

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Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.
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