April 22, 2024

Growing Impact: Reflecting on Our History of Environmental Grantmaking

Earth Day is a time not only for celebration but also for reflection. Protecting our planet is a collective responsibility, one that requires both individual action and institutional support. That is why one of MCF’s five grantmaking focus areas is the environment.

These grants help to preserve natural spaces by supporting conservation, restoration, education and policymaking in the Madison community. Over the years, MCF has supported dozens of organizations and their green programs and projects. Join us as we celebrate this Earth Day by highlighting some of these environmental efforts.

Soaking Up the Sun

Madison Metropolitan School District

In 2017, MCF gave a $25,000 grant to the West High School Green Club toward Project Solis, a renewable energy pilot program to install 100 solar panels on the roof of West High School. The project aimed to reduce the school’s carbon emissions while supporting a youth-led movement for solutions to environmental challenges.

The solar array, installed in 2020, already has saved the school more than $50,000 in energy costs. Each year of the 125.8 kW solar system’s 30-year lifespan will offset CO2 emissions equivalent to the electrical usage of 16.1 homes or 236,218 miles driven by an average passenger vehicle.

Deerfield Community Center

Deerfield Community Center Solar Array

In 2021, Deerfield Community Center received a $35,000 grant from MCF to install a solar energy system for its Food Pantry and Senior Center. The solar panels form the roof of both a car port and pergola at the entrance of the community center, reducing energy costs while also creating a safer walkway for seniors and improved outdoor seating for programs and events.

The community center also chose to install double sided solar panels in this 40 kW system. By surrounding the system with white rocks as the base of their landscaping, DCC is maximizing the output of its investment. Completed in 2024, the solar panels are expected to reduce energy costs by 20% annually for the next 25 years.

Urban Tree Alliance

Trees provide crucial environmental and public health benefits. They protect people from increasingly common extreme heat and rainfall. In 2023, MCF awarded Urban Tree Alliance a $50,000 Community Impact grant for its Neighborhood Canopy project, an innovative forestry pilot to plant trees and improve air quality and increase shade in South Side neighborhoods that lack tree coverage.

Starting this summer, Urban Tree Alliance plans to plant 160 trees per year on Madison’s South Side, benefiting approximately 1,300 residents. The Neighborhood Canopy project will serve as a model for neighborhood-scale, community-engaged tree canopy development and stewardship for other Madison neighborhoods and beyond.

Nurturing Nature’s Scholars

Wisconsin Youth Company

Elver Park Learning Garden

MCF awarded a $5,300 grant to Wisconsin Youth Company in 2022 toward its Elver Park Neighborhood Center Learning Garden. Wisconsin Youth Company sought to transform the center’s small courtyard it into a learning garden for children and their families to enjoy. The space is now equipped with new seating areas, raised beds, colorful stepping stones, educational signage, and local wildflowers and pollinator-friendly plants.

Children can now learn how different flowers, fruits and vegetables grow in the garden as well as enjoy time reading or playing games with staff. The reimagined courtyard was completed in summer of 2023 and all produce grown in the garden goes to neighborhood residents or the center’s food pantry.

Groundswell Conservancy & Operation Fresh Start

People of color and people from disadvantaged economic backgrounds often face multiple barriers when entering the conservation field. Groundswell Conservancy sought to break these barriers by partnering with Operation Fresh Start to create a Conservation Graduate Crew. In 2021, MCF gave a $32,000 grant to help kickstart this initative and provide crew participants with the experience, training, mentorships and connections necessary to pursue a career in green business.

The program is now in its third year and has served 21 participants thus far. Students gain hands-on training and experience in chainsaw safety, pesticide application, prescribed burning, trail building and planting and pruning techniques. Participants also complete seven to 12 months of professional experience in their desired field by working with Dane County, the City of Madison, Wiscosnin DNR, UW Arboretum, The Nature Conservancy, Ice Age Trail Alliance, or Groundswell Conservancy.

Driftless Area Land Conservancy

In 2021, MCF awarded a $20,000 grant to Driftless Area Land Conservancy to develop a geographic information system (GIS)-based tool. This tool allowed DALC to analyze the intersection of sensitive habitat and biodiversity with areas under threat of conversion or loss.

By identifying the most valuable parcels of land in Dane County using the GIS tool, DALC then made recommendations to city and state officials on restoration and conservation needs. DALC was able to identify 10 or more tracts to prioritize for long-term protection, including prairies, forests and bird conservation areas.

A Green Thumbs Up

Rooted WI

Over the past four years, MCF has granted Rooted WI more than $100,000 to help purchase and maintain garden space, children’s education programs and build its organizational capacity. One such grant was awarded in 2020 to purchase raised beds to increase the accessibility of their community garden for a greater age range of gardeners.

Rooted partnered with the Latino Academy for Workforce Development’s bilingual construction class to build and install 50 raised garden beds in 10 gardens throughout Madison. These raised beds allow older gardeners and gardeners with disabilities to access the beds more easily without putting strain on their bodies. They are also a great way to teach new gardeners and allow gardening in areas with inadequate soil.

Madison Area Food Pantry Gardens

madison area food pantry gardens Forward Garden

In 2021, Madison Area Food Pantry Gardens received a $50,000 grant toward the purchase of the 15-acre Pope Farm Homestead, now called Forward Garden. MAFPG provides high-demand, specialty produce to nearly 30 area food pantries and other food programs annually. With this 15-acre expansion, MAFPG was able to double its growing capacity to provide 200,000 pounds of produce each year.

MAFPG and its over 1,000 volunteers recognize the growing issue of food insecurity in Dane County. More than 50,000 people currently are experiencing food insecurity in Madison, including the more than 50% of Madison Metropolitan School District students who receive free and reduced lunch, a disproportionate number of whom are members of BIPOC communities. MAFPG helps combat this disparity by providing nutrient-dense, culturally relevant produce to families in need.

Community Action Coalition

In 2007, MCF awarded a $300,000 multi-year grant to Community Action Coalition to strengthen and expand community gardens throughout Dane County. Working with City of Madison, Madison Area Community Land Trust, Madison Area Food Pantry Gardens, United Way of Dane County and Sustain Dane, CAC nearly tripled the number of community garden plots in Dane County.

This initiative created or refurbished 10 community gardens in its first two years, including Troy Garden, Quann Park Garden and Brittingham Community Garden. Between 2008 and 2010, the city saw a 46% increase in the number of households using community gardens. These gardens are a staple for Madison residents and food pantries, with more than 4,000 community garden plots across 47 acres throughout Dane County.


As we celebrate Earth Day and look ahead, we can draw inspiration from these projects that are committed to ongoing environmental protection and stewardship. Together, we can create a healthier environment in Dane County for generations to come.

You can support MCF’s grantmaking and environmental projects like these by contributing to our Community Impact fund or Environmental Field of Interest funds. If you’re interested in supporting environmentally focused projects with your giving, we would be happy to help you explore your options.

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