— Stacy Besonen, Crow River Food Council Member

Our group of dedicated community volunteers are working hard to connect our community to local grown food. Research shows that if we eat local, we are healthier and our community thrives. This summer, we have several programs in the works. Here’s a little summary of a few of them:

  1. PoP program: Each week, kids* receive a free $2 token to spend on produce at the farmers market! Registration required, no income restrictions. Participating farmers markets: Albertville, Annandale, Buffalo, Delano, Howard Lake, Monticello, Otsego and Rockford. Partnering with the PoP program helps the program thrive, if the program thrives then local kids thrive with increased consumption of local fruits, veggies, and berries! See graphic below for dates and times. (*age eligibility depends on market)
  2. Senior CSA: A program we are hoping to develop and test this summer in which 20 area seniors will be gifted a CSA share. This is a small box of locally grown produce. Boxes will be delivered directly to the home for six weeks during peak harvest. Breaking down barriers for these seniors to have access to local produce will improve his or her wellness.
  3. Little Boon FarmMonthly meetings will be held at different locations throughout the summer. We visit local farms, restaurants that source local foods, farmers markets, food hubs and food festivals. Visiting local sites helps the council get a pulse on what is happening and what projects we need to focus on in the future.
  4. Planning and coordinating a Cooking Competition, using locally growing produce, with area high school students. We are mentoring and inspiring future chef’s and food service entrepreneurs. These students will also involve area middle and elementary school students in to the cooking competition process.
  5. Group1Farmers Market Coalition Manager: continuous communication with our area farmers markets helps everyone understand the need for locally grown produce, not only for our communities, but for our farmers, too! Read about our latest Farmers Market Manager meeting here.
  6. Saving food from being wasted! Working with our farmers to save the ugly produce, extra produce before it spoils, and those who could benefit and consume this produce. To see a list of what other states are doing with gleaning, click here: https://foodtank.com/news/2017/11/gleaning-fighting-food-waste/

If you are interested in becoming involved in any of these projects or have ideas for us, please feel free to connect.


 

WC PoP 2019

 

Feature image is a stock photo.

— Katie Henson, Crow River Food Council Farmers Market Coalition Manager

ProduceTree‘Tis the Season! Yes, I know (and am thankful) that it is not December – but I am positively joyful about fresh, great-tasting, affordable AND locally grown produce! The raspberries, the asparagus, the tomatoes…my mouth is watering already. I absolutely love going to my farmers market. It gives me a sense of community to connect with the person growing my food and it brings together the neighborhood. Now that I have children, I enjoy the fact that they are aware of where their food comes from and get excited to pick out our produce for the week.

To get ready for the 2019 farmers markets, we had an extra meeting this year for our managers. We get together every spring to talk about our upcoming markets, what the plans are and share information. But this year, we also had some exciting guests come from the University of Minnesota Extension Program come and teach us how to get the most out of our social media pages. Here are two not-so-fun facts:

  • Unless you are strategic about your social media posts, there is only a 6% chance that someone will see what you posted.
  • Out of those who do not attend farmers markets, many do so only because they do not know when and where their market is.

Group2We clearly have our work cut out for us. Thankfully, we learned how to increase the number of followers by proactively engaging with the community more. We also learned how to increase the chances that people will see your post using analytics and scheduling posts. Last, but certainly not least, we also received some tips and tricks to beautify pictures and posts to make them more ‘clickable’ or ‘shareable’. While we focused on Facebook, we also touched briefly on Instagram – mainly how to use hashtags to your advantage (and thankfully for me, we learned exactly what a hashtag is).

producePlease be prepared for a social media frenzy about your local markets! If you are not following them already, please do (see links below). They have some exciting plans this year – from local music to kid’s activities and many markets will be participating again in the Power of Produce Club. This program provides $2 tokens to children to go shopping at the market and is loved by many, I am so happy to see this program continue! The Rockford Market will also begin partnering with Second Harvest Heartland and their local food shelf to start a food donation program with leftover produce at the end of the market each week. I hope to see you all at the markets soon!

Happy Farmers Market Season!

#IstilldontknowwhatImdoing #mngrown #wrightcofarmersmarket #farmersmarkets #lovemymarket


Follow our local Farmers Markets using the links below:

— Ellie Vanasse, Crow River Food Council Member

Just south of the small town of Howard Lake lies the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School, a school of about 330 students with a robust Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter. One of FFA’s most successful recent ventures is their garden. Located on about an acre and a half of school property, this garden successfully supports a 37-customer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, provides produce to sell at the Howard Lake Farmer’s Market, and teaches students both farming and business practices.

“The CSA is run mostly by a student manager,” says James Weninger, an FFA advisor. “This student learns how to run an agricultural business, including overseeing student workers and communicating with customers.

hlww_ffaIn the early days, the garden needed additional support and found it in the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP), a statewide partnership that supports healthy eating, active living, and tobacco cessation efforts. FFA applied for and received a mini-grant from SHIP that was used to repurpose a walk-in freezer, which is now a cooler to store fresh produce. This cooler is used by the agricultural department to support their FFA chapter. By peak season, the cooler is filled with every type of produce waiting to go to CSA customers or the farmers market. “Without the cooler, we wouldn’t be able to harvest our produce in a timely manner,” said Seena Glessing, FFA advisor, who pointed out a crop of radishes that needed to be harvested the week before. They would otherwise be too large to go out in the next CSA boxes and would have been wasted.

The garden is within sight of the high school; one green house and two high tunnels add additional growing space. Also included is an on-site chicken coop. CSA members can receive eggs with their share, as well as extra treats such as honey from a local vendor.

Learn more about HL-W-W’s FFA chapter and their CSA program by visiting their Facebook page.

— Text and photos by BHM Food Service Department

The Buffalo Community Middle School Kitchen is all about providing a healthy variety of lunch options for students. Recent changes to our Grab and Go Lunch line were inspired by the current trend to offer a variety of quick choices with an effort to meet the increasing demand for gluten free diet needs.

DSC_0005Daily meal choices include our signature Fruit Smoothie/Homemade Muffin Bison Cup, which is where we offer a homemade gluten free muffin. Also available on this line is an Uncrustable Bison Box and a Nacho Cheese Bison Box. Our Bison Cups and Bison Boxes are complete meals and students can also help themselves to any of the fruits and vegetables offered. In addition, we also offer a wrapped sandwich served hot every day on the Grab and Go line. The sandwich rotation includes Chicken Patty, BBQ Pulled Pork, Ham & Cheese Croissant, Burgers, and Hot Dog on a Bun. We are excited to be adding a homemade Black Bean Vegetarian Burger on burger day soon!

Image-17Knowing that students can be particular about which fruits and vegetables they prefer, we offer a wide variety of choices including romaine, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, celery, mushrooms, radishes, onions, carrots, apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, kiwi, pears and strawberries. In order to meet the USDA’s legume requirement, we roast garbanzo beans and season them in a variety of flavors then serve them on the Grab and Go lunch line as a crunchy side snack or salad topping.

We will continue to use our expertise and creativity to meet the students’ nutritional needs while keeping food choices fun and inspiring.

— Jeff Aldrich, Crow River Food Council Member. Feature image by Mary Sue Stevens.

What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.
– John Steinbeck

30954969557_06e1bac2ac_mDriving through our region in January, I’ll occasionally spot a garden or vegetable plot that wasn’t cleared before winter set in. Once stalwart phalanxes of kale droop despondently next to trellises tangled with the spindly, brittle vines of last summer’s tomatoes. Hoops that once held row covers protecting the last spinach and hardy greens of the season resemble the vertebrae of large, delicate fossils. The orange bellies of frozen pumpkins protrude randomly from the snow; one hosts a crow pecking futilely at its frozen midriff. An unemployed watering can hangs from a fencepost above a bundle of garden hose. A nye of pheasants explores a patch of sweet corn stalks scouting for a cob missed by the humans and raccoons.

I take pleasure in coming across these scenes of local resilience during the winter months nearly as much as I enjoy seeing the vibrant patches of vegetables in the summer when farmers’ market tables are heaped with fresh produce. I tend to believe we here in the Upper Midwest appreciate the bounty of summer a bit more simply because we cannot enjoy it year round. We mark the days on our calendars until the first spring lettuce will become available, the first heirloom tomatoes, the first squash. And then we begin the wait again. Waiting for the sweetness of summer.

It will probably be at least a month before we start seeing the exhaust rising from snow-banked greenhouses as local growers turn on the heat and begin seeding starts for the summer season, and a month or two beyond that before early season crops start becoming available. But several nearby farmers’ markets continue to run through the winter months offering you the opportunity to purchase many items locally and support your area vendors during the off-season.

Image by Mary Sue Stevens

Image by Mary Sue Stevens

Typical vegetable offerings during this time of year vary from market to market, but often include storage vegetables such as potatoes, onions, carrots, brussels sprouts, turnips, and dried beans; occasionally you may even find something fresh and green such as hydroponic lettuce or micro-greens. Local eggs, meats, maple syrup, and honey are often available, and one can usually purchase breads and other baked goods as well as jams and jellies, krauts, mustards, pickles and relishes, dried herbs and seasonings, soaps, balms and lotions, and handmade craft items. If you are looking for something in particular, don’t hesitate to reach out to your local market to ask if they might have it.

Winter market hours are typically one or two days a month. The Crow River Food Council maintains a directory of area farmers’ market schedules here, but you may also consult the web site or social media accounts of your nearest market to confirm the dates, hours, and locations of their winter offerings.

We may be experiencing the worst of the cold of winter about now, but the sweetness of summer will again be upon us in no time. Until then, consider visiting an area winter farmers’ market to see what they have to offer. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you are able to find to tide you over.

— Katie Henson, Crow River Food Council Member

As the summer farmers markets came to a close, another gathering took place this fall. All of the Crow River area farmers market managers were invited to a post market meeting to collaborate and network. It’s a meeting I personally looked forward to all summer. It is really a unique opportunity to pull together this great group of local community members to help each other improve our markets and share information. This year we were a small but mighty group and, as always, there was a lot of discussion on how the season went. What was good and bad? Why? We were able to share resources and ideas to help each other out for next year.

43103847_2200100296922388_1052644601044664320_nThis year we had the chance to hold the meeting at the newly built Delano Central Park Commercial Kitchen. It gave everyone a chance to see this great facility that’s right in our own backyards. It was great to see another option for producers, small operations. It’s a great facility for any individual, too, who wants to process a large quantity of produce and maybe don’t have a large enough kitchen or the right equipment themselves. If you want more information on this facility, please reach out to Nick Neaton, with the City of Delano at nneaton@delano.mn.us or 763-972-0575.

We were also given a presentation from Heidi Coe of Second Harvest Heartland. Their mission is to end hunger through community partnerships and one of the ways they accomplish this is by working as a distributor of food to various agencies across the region. There is a great Farm to Food Shelf initiative to get produce (that would have gone unharvested or otherwise been discarded) to a food shelf. Now, they are trying to extend this work to the farmers markets as well. The goal is to facilitate the donation of unsold produce (that wouldn’t last until next week’s market) at the end of the day to a local food shelf. They are still gathering information and have just finished up their pilot program, but they hope to extend this program further next year. My hope is that we can drum up some interest within the Crow River region and pull together enough volunteers to be a part of their program next year! We are looking for interested farmers markets as well as local food shelves who would be interested in partnering for this program.

Now it’s time to rest and celebrate the holidays, and then it is on to start planning next year’s work!

— Colleen Wolbeck, Crow River Food Council Member

Can local living create a culture to support our community? “Shop Local” is a phrase identifying products, food, and businesses rooted in the community. Patrons make a conscious effort to buy from local shops, eat fare grown by local farmers and obtain supplies from artisans in the area. The newest generation uses social media to routinely post about local stores, breweries, wineries and farmer’s markets. If they have started a trend to shop local, can the rest of the population do this also? Let’s find out how.

Which places entice the locals to buy from local shops and markets? The most gracious method to get local products is directly from the farmer or maker. Social media and websites have played a positive role recently to give producers a leg up in the marketplace. Many of these producers will most definitely give buyers a deal just to contact them in person. This feat will benefit the consumer only if they take charge of how they purchase. Subscribing to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share to obtain fresh vegetables and goods weekly during the growing season is the next best thing. Then, you have your neighborhood Farmer’s Market showcasing the locally grown products in the area. In recent years, grocery stores have included homegrown products on their shelves. Discerning shoppers need to read the fine print and ask questions as to “how” local is the product. Grocery store “Local” can mean made in the United States or within the general region, so shoppers should inspect where foodstuffs are actually sourced. Buying as close to the source will get you fresher and better merchandise in the long run.

Collage 2018-10-02 15_37_16Small businesses are a way to support the area’s commerce. Mom and pop shops, antique stores, eateries, food trucks and markets have a magnetism which draws in people. Chefs have started to source local seasonal ingredients from farmers and food producers. Restaurant goers then experience the food scene from the area. Artisans take great pride in expertly crafting their goods, and shoppers reap the benefit when buying local goods. The community of producers are a tight knit group who point consumers toward other producers developing a verbal farmer’s market.

Local living intertwines where we live to the people who create and grow. Marketers enhance the consciousness of local living. Attracting the population to this movement will benefit producers which feeds into the soul of the community. Take this as a call to action, support local! This is the best way to love where you live!

Editors note: we’re working to update our Regional Directory to make it even easier to find local products, food and businesses in the Crow River region. Keep an eye on our social media, newsletter and website for an announcement about it’s completion.

— Ellie Vanasse, Crow River Food Council Member

I sat at my first Crow River Food Council meeting about two years ago, surrounded by a passionate group of school workers, farmers, local health care representatives, chefs, community members, and more. Amazed by the diversity of background and perspective in the room, I thought to myself, “I’m going to love working with and learning from this group.”

Not only was I new on the Council, but I was also new to my position as a Public Health Nurse with Wright County (and new to the area!). I had been searching for a way to marry my passion for local food with my work in public health, which made this opportunity with the Council a great fit. What makes this possible is my work on the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP), a grant from the Minnesota Department of Health that focuses on obesity prevention and tobacco cessation.

Vanasse, center, at a spring Farmer's Market Meeting.

Vanasse, center, at a spring Farmer’s Market Meeting.

The Council was established by a few like-minded people who wanted to intentionally strengthen the local, healthy food environment in Wright County. With the support of SHIP since its inception, the Council has done just that; this is a reliable group of people who work to ensure consumers have access to healthy food from local producers. SHIP funds staff positions on the Council to coordinate projects at places like farmers markets, local food retailers, and food shelves. My goal, and the goal of SHIP, is to make the healthiest choice the easiest choice by adapting the policies, systems, and environments that impact the availability and accessibility of healthy food.

Since 2009, Community Health Boards across the state have received SHIP funding to promote active living, healthy eating, and tobacco cessation. We know that good health is created where we live, work, learn, and play; therefore, Wright County Public Health partners with schools, workplaces, child care providers, hospitals, and communities to make long-term, sustainable changes. My work, and that of my colleagues, is all about using local resources to enhance opportunities for our community to live happier and healthier lives.

If you’d like to learn more about SHIP and other local health initiatives, please visit www.livewright.org or feel free to contact me at eleanor.vanasse@co.wright.mn.us.

— Stacy Besonen, Crow River Food Council Member. Feature image: The Little Boon Farm, Maple Lake, by Mary Sue Stevens.

Did you know, most Americans don’t know where their food comes from – let alone who grew it or how it was grown? Our connection to food has diminished to nothing more than a quick transaction at the check-out line, with no thought to who is behind the kale in our salads or the chicken on our grills. As a society, we know we are nature deprived. Not enough Vitamin D from the sun, not enough contact with the ground to literally ground us, not enough fresh air to breath deep! This is where Farms and Farmers Markets can play a role in reconnecting!

Farms and Farmers Markets reconnect communities to their food system. They create an opportunity where farmers can simultaneously sell fresh, local food and serve as food educators, revitalizing the way consumers shop and eat. They are places where farmers and neighbors meet to socialize and exchange ideas around cooking, nutrition, and agriculture. What produce is in season? What’s a healthy way to prepare asparagus? How do you raise your chicken? These answers can be found at a farm or farmers market – answers that educate, inform, and build relationships between communities, farmers, and food.

Farms and Farmers Markets reconnect a sense of community among their customers. Not only do patrons shop for farm fresh food, but they also engage in conversation, meet neighbors for lunch, and enjoy the festive atmosphere with family and friends. Research indicates people thrive and are naturally happier when socially connected. Farms and Farmers Markets support emotional health by creating a cheerful space where people come together for laughter, fellowship, food, and fun.

Farms and Farmers Markets reconnect us to healthy lifestyles and diets. Many local area Farmers Markets have the Power of Produce program (POP), where kids receive a $2 weekly token to purchase food themselves. Parents report that their kids, who participate in the program, eat more veggies! Farmers Markets in low-income areas also report increased consumption of vegetables among people within walking distance. To find a Farmers Market close to you, visit: https://minnesotagrown.com/.

baby-potatoes-farm-farming-775707Amelia from Sweet Beet Farm says, “People who visit our farm get to experience the process of small scale organic vegetable production systems. They get to observe the diversity of perennials and annual plants, pollinators, all working together.” Sweet Beet Farm, as well as other local farms, have several events inviting the public to come together to spend time eating, planting or working on big projects. If you want your kids to experience farm life, call a farmer and give your availability and the farmer can put together a work project for your family to get your hands in the dirt! For more information on events at Sweet Beet Farm check out their website at www.sweetbeetfarm.com.

Many local farms welcome visitors at most hours of the day, however, it a good idea to call and set up an appointment before your first visit. To find a farm close to you, visit: https://minnesotagrown.com/.

Farms and Farmers Markets bring people together and improve the health of the community!

— Connie Carlson, Executive Director

Growers need markets for their products.
Chefs and Buyers are eager to buy locally.
Consumers want to eat local food.

Yet, in the Crow River Region, there are only a small number of places where you can order something locally grown off a menu or put it in your shopping cart.

The Crow River Food Council, in partnership with Wright County Extension, has been working to change that and make it easier for farmers to find markets, buyers to find farmers and consumers to enjoy it all.

Local farmers getting a tour of the Buffalo Community Middle School, the event was scheduled by CRFC board member, Sue Spike and included new Food Service Director, Penny Hoops.

Local farmers getting a tour of the Buffalo Community Middle School, the event was scheduled by CRFC board member, Sue Spike and included new Food Service Director, Penny Hoops.

In 2016, Connie Carlson, Executive Director of the Crow River Food Council, and Rod Greder, Wright County Extension Education, submitted and were awarded a grant through the MN Food Charter to bring together producers and buyers. Prior to submitting the grant, Connie and Rod had attempted to host a “Speed Dating” event for local growers and buyers. This event was advertised as an opportunity for attendees to participate in short meet-and-greet sessions to share information about their farms and businesses and spark new market relationships. Unfortunately, Rod and Connie quickly discovered that it was very challenging to get busy farmers and very busy business owners in the same place at the same time.

So, Rod and Connie went back to the drawing board to think through how to bring these two groups together in a way that worked for everyone. They determined their two biggest challenges to getting producers and buyers together were:

  1. Overcoming Mythology: Rod and Connie discovered through conversations and interviews that many small businesses don’t know or believe they can buy produce from local farmers. Licensing and regulations appear to be daunting and confusing and many small business, though interested in buying locally, don’t have the time or energy to figure it all out.
  2. Time is Money: For both growers and buyers, it is challenging to find the time in the day to attend workshops and events. For farmers, this is particularly true during the summer months. Restaurant owners and culinary professionals are equally busy and often have limited to no additional staff to allow them to take time away.

Rod and Connie devised a new plan with these two points in mind. The first part of the plan would be to host a workshop for growers and buyers interested in getting educated on buying local food. Although this didn’t tackle problem of workshops taking up time, the subject matter must’ve struck a cord because the event was very well-attended by growers and businesses.

Producers and businesses attending the Institutional Buying Event, listening to a panel of local food buyers, including the Buffalo Community Middle School.

Producers and businesses attending the Institutional Buying Event, listening to a panel of local food buyers, including the Buffalo Community Middle School.

The second part of the plan was to work with small businesses to arrange a time when they could open their doors to invite producers to visit with them, learn about their business, share information on what they are growing and start developing connections. This was the plan awarded funding by the MN Food Charter grant.

The Institutional Buying Workshop was hosted in May 2017 with approximately 40 producers and small businesses in attendance. Shortly thereafter, businesses such as Irish Blessings (Maple Lake), Rosewood (Rockford) and Harvest Moon Co-op (Long Lake) hosted events. Rod and Connie quickly discovered that summer was definitely NOT the time to host these events if they wanted producers to attend. So, they held off scheduling additional events until the winter months. Events held early in 2018 at The Abundant Kitchen (Buffalo), Buffalo Community Middle School and Baker Wilderness Reserve (Maple Plain) were well attended by farmers who were not busy in their fields.

The events were an hour and a half to stay efficient and respectful of everyone’s time. Each event included time for the business owner to give a tour of their business and talk about what they are doing. Growers were encouraged to bring samples and information on their farms, including contact information, product lists and pricing.

Iron Shoe micro greens at Harvest Moon Co-op.

Iron Shoe micro greens at Harvest Moon Co-op.

The results from these events have been slowly popping up here and there. Harvest Moon Co-op has been the most proactive, seeking garlic, potatoes and micro-greens from various producers who have connected since the event.

The Crow River Food Council is very interested in continuing to facilitate and host future events and are always interested in talking to businesses that want to meet and work with regional farmers. The grant money paid for lunches at the events, provided by the business (which was intended to be another perk–farmers got to try the food!). However, some of the events were hosted in the late afternoon and did not include a lunch, making the events very affordable.

Future work in this area will include hosting additional events, sponsoring produce handling workshops and finalizing a local directory of producers that will be housed on the Crow River Food Council website.

Have a suggestion for a business we should connect with? Know of a business doing great local food work? Send us a note. We’d love to hear from you!