Northside Planning Council–Fostering a Stronger Northside Community

Excess produce is collected from farms, then cleaned and repackaged at FEED Kitchens for distribution to food pantries and neighborhoods all over Madison.
Photograph by Chris Brockel

The Northside Planning Council (NPC), an independent nonprofit 501(c)(3), has advocated quality-of-life improvements for Madison’s 22,000 north side residents and fostered equity through community organizing and economic development since 1993. The formerly known northeast or east side lacked its own identity, so NPC’s first order of business was to brand it as Northside. The neighborhood faced the same demographics and challenges as the rest of Madison, but because of a higher concentration of affordable homes for working families, there was a greater need to advance racial and economic equity and to transform the area’s challenges into assets.

Northside is bordered by the beautiful natural resources of Lake Mendota and Cherokee Marsh Conservation Park, Dane County Regional Airport, Madison College, Aberg corridor, and Packers Avenue to the former Oscar Mayer plant. The neighborhood enjoys a small-town character all its own and a cohesive culture for a multitude of ethnicities. Largely due to the affordability of housing, demographics show the neighborhood is home to more families with children ages 0 to 18 and seniors.

Dedicated and passionate NPC volunteer citizen leaders assess neighborhood needs and set out to transform the area by engaging residents, building leadership capacity, and developing partnerships to impact its associations, schools, nonprofits, and small businesses. Accomplishments include the Warner Park Community Recreation Center, neighborhood associations, Troy Community Gardens, Dane County TimeBank, Grassroots Leadership College, Eastside PTO Coalition, and more.

Many in the neighborhood lack transportation, so when the only grocery store closed in 2003, NPC established the Northside Farmers Market and helped bring in Pierce’s Northside Market in 2007. When Pierce’s announced plans to close in 2015, NPC asked Willy Street Co-op to open a store. The organizations then partnered to provide a shuttle to nearby grocery stores until Willy Street Co-op opened in August 2016.

The Northside News, a free bimonthly newspaper, started in 1995 to cover news and issues not covered by other sources. It tells the stories of Northside people, places, and activities with a strong sense of pride, and is delivered free to every Northside household and area business.

The Northside Economic Development Coalition was established in 2011 to convene business owners, developers, city economic-development leaders, business organizations, and alders to revitalize the business district and discuss projects, proposals, and concerns. It also mentors minority business owners and connects them to the Northside News, Northside Business Association, and Dane Buy Local for additional support and networking.

In 2015, NPC became a nonprofit community development organization with community-based economic development programs.

Neighborhood and civic capacity-building services. Organize and facilitate candidate forums and community meetings; host the North Star Awards; and provide fiscal agency services, training, and community tools to neighborhood and civic groups. The Stable Families, Strong Community program supports, engages, and connects with residents whose voices often go unheard.

Food security. Healthy Food For All is a food-recovery project that works with farmers and corporate cafeterias to rescue produce and prepared foods from becoming food waste, and to ensure Dane County children and families can access affordable, healthy, and culturally cognizant food for better health outcomes and a higher quality of life. The local ecosystem is also protected by reducing landfill waste—more than 315,000 pounds of food have been rescued since 2015.

Small business incubation. FEED (Food Enterprise and Economic Development) Kitchens is a shared commercial kitchen space and business incubator that opened fall 2013. Rental access to over $500,000 in equipment helps food entrepreneurs begin and grow their businesses, and small businesses, nonprofits, training programs, and community groups have a place to prepare food. In its five years, 130-plus businesses have been supported, 150-plus jobs have been created, and more than $5 million in business revenue has been generated. These businesses are 45 percent owned by people of color and 45 percent owned by women.

Vocational training. FEED Bakery Training program started in 2016 to ensure that un- and under-employed individuals have access to a local vocational training program with food-industry job placement support. The 90-day program provides free baking and life-skills instruction to eligible individuals.

Regional food system coordination. NPC administrates the Madison Public Market’s MarketReady program, launched in 2017. There are 30 new and growing businesses through the initiative, which are 80 percent owned by people of color and 60 percent owned by women. MarketReady provides peer support, mentorship, promotional opportunities, and microgrants to a diverse cohort of entrepreneurs.

With NPC as an ongoing advocate, Northside is ready to meet the changing needs of its evolving community.

Lauri Lee is a freelance writer living in Madison.

Northside Planning Council