Never eat this food again!

— Katie Henson, Crow River Food Council Member

Image 2I have to admit, “Never eat this food again!” might be my most disliked click-bait of all time. Between fear mongering blog posts, ads, and the never-ending quest to find the magic bullet for weight loss, I fear that we are losing the joy in eating. The truth is, unless you have an underlying health issue, allergy, etc. there is no food you should never eat again. As a Registered Dietitian, the old tried and true (but not catchy or sexy) saying is “variety and moderation.” Any one food can be bad for you if you overdo it – even water is toxic if you drink too much! So the key is to enjoy all of your foods and focus on filling up on the good stuff. We all know what we are supposed to be eating – more vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins, but I hope we can somehow find our way back to eating the occasional piece of dessert without shame and guilt. Because if you feel bad eating food that you like… what’s the point? Food tastes good and it should truly be enjoyed. And just maybe, if we truly savor our indulgent foods, we can feel happy and content with having it only occasionally. There is a quote from a Registered Dietitian that I just love,

“The answer to food guilt isn’t more self-control, willpower or discipline. It’s PERMISSION.”
–Emily Fonnesbeck

I leave you with a challenge – instead of challenging yourself with healthy eating, avoiding certain foods or eating less… I challenge you to do one of the following:

  • Find one new healthy food that you enjoy OR
  • Take a favorite recipe and add in some more healthy goodness. My favorite ways to do this:
    • You can swap out half of your flour in a recipe for whole grain flour without impacting the amount of baking soda or baking powder (in my experience it also doesn’t impact the taste much!)
    • Swap out applesauce for the oil

I would LOVE to hear from you if you have any success – let me know if you found a new recipe you love! Email us

— Cody Hanson, Crow River Food Council Member

Minnesota deer hunters have the opportunity to donate their harvest to families in need in our communities. The following is information regarding the wonderful and unique partnership between the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture that allows for venison donations.

The main page is here:, which lays out the program, how hunters can participate, and where funding for the program is allocated from. It is important to note that deer must be donated whole, after field-dressing; individual cuts of meat cannot be accepted for donation.

The Department of Agriculture page here: also lays out the process, provides information for interested charities who want to register, and offers cooking instructions for venison.

Second to last, this page: contains a list of registered vendors for the year 2019. Each processing site must adhere to special processing for deer harvested by firearm, to include x-rays for lead fragments.

13984332612627After the deer have been inspected and passed, they are processed into cuts. An average-sized Whitetail Deer will provide 140 meals to needy families (per the University of Mississippi Deer Lab). The cuts are collected by Second Harvest from these vendors and then distributed throughout the state to registered food shelves, usually in the early spring. One interesting note about the program is that the registered processors and food shelves are required by Minnesota Statutes to provide a disclaimer that lead exposure may occur while ingesting the venison.

The venison donated during this time is important not just as another way for low-income families to access protein, but as a way to share in the celebration of our outdoor and self-sustaining culture that we cherish in Minnesota.

— Jamie Stang, Wright County Master Gardener and Master Food Preservation Specialist, Crow River Food Council Member

Now that fall is officially here, the first frost of the season isn’t far behind. It’s time to turn our attention to harvesting and storing produce such as pumpkins and winter squash. Here are a few best practices for making the most of your fall produce, according to the University of Minnesota extension program.

food-pasture-pumpkin-209515Harvest your squash and pumpkins before a hard freeze. It’s OK to leave them out during light frosts, which are often designated by nights at 29 degrees or above. Don’t worry if the vines turn brown or die back from the frost, as they are less cold tolerant than the fruit. When cutting the fruit from the vine, leave a few inches of stem attached.

The best way to cure your squash is to leave it in the garden for a week or two during dry sunny weather. This helps the skin toughen and lengthens the time it will store. If the weather is damp or rainy (as our year has been) you can take the fruit indoors and store it in a room that is around 80 degrees. Make sure you don’t crowd the fruit, as ventilation is important to allow the skin to toughen and to prevent molding. Handle the fruit with care to avoid bruising, which can speed up the process of rotting. If the fruit starts to rot, toss it in the trash quickly as squash and pumpkins can go from hard gourds to “soup” in just a few days.

butternut-squash-food-fresh-53458If you don’t have space to store whole fruit, you can preserve pumpkin and squash by roasting or boiling them, then freezing the mashed cooked fruit. Slides of squash can also be dehydrated. Canning cubed pumpkin and winter squash is fine if done in a pressure canner, but cooked pumpkin or pumpkin butter should not be canned due to the high pH and thickness of the product.

More information about preserving your squash and pumpkin can be found at the UMN Extension website:

— Colleen Wolbeck, Crow River Food Council Member

The Crow River Food Council is driven to make food grown by local producers readily available to the consumers in our area. This year we have a committee who spearheaded a cooking demo program at local Farmers Markets. This idea originated from Rockford Farmers Market Manager Colleen Wolbeck who is on the Council. After a few planning meetings this idea came to life on August 9th at the Rockford Farmers Market. The second cooking demo was at the Howard Lake Farmers Market on August 29th. The chef for the demos were Jamie Stang (Rockford, pictured below at right) and Kristi Varner and Donna Gjesvold (Howard Lake).

Aviary Photo_132098762695621743The original recipe used this season is a Zoodle (Zucchini Noodle) Recipe where you spiralize zucchini into noodles. This recipe is vegan, healthy and can be lactose free if you omit the parmesan cheese. For those who don’t have a spiralizer, you can shred, use a peeler, or cut your zucchini to pasta size. Recipes will be catered to what is available at the market on the day of the demo. You can find the recipe at the bottom on the page.

All of the produce can be found at your local Farmers Market. We were lucky to have had generous produce donations by vendors and chefs. The chefs have been fellow Crow River Food Council members and a chef from Main Street Farmer in Saint Michael, but in the future we are planning to bring in more local chefs to inspire us. These cooking demos are a tool to help customers get new ideas for using the produce they buy at the market. The calendar for the rest of the season is as follows:

Monticello Farmers MarketThe market operates Thursdays, 3:30-7:00PM in the Monticello Library Parking Lot at 200 West 6th St. in Monticello. The cooking demo will be from 5-6PM on September 12th. The recipe will be the Zoodle Recipe below. The chef will be Colleen Wolbeck, a member of the Crow River Food Council and home chef.

Rockford Farmers Market – The market is open Fridays, 3:00-6:30PM at 6121 Main Streeet in Rockford. The cooking demo will be from 4-5PM on September 13th. This will be a new recipe called Summer Vegetable Quesadilla. The chef will be Stacy Besonen who is a Crow River Food Council member and Wellness Coach.

Albertville Farmers Market – The market is open Thursdays, 3:00-7:00PM located just off Main Ave in Central Park. The cooking demo will be from 5-6PM on September 26th. The recipe will be determined by what is available at the market at that time. The chef will be Colleen Wolbeck who is a member of the Crow River Food Council and home chef.

Buffalo Farmers Market – The market is open Saturday mornings from 8:00AM-12:00PM located at 100 1st Ave NE in Buffalo. The cooking demo will be from 10:30-11:30 AM.  The recipe will be determined by what is available at the market at that time. The chef will be Stacy Besonen who is a Crow River Food Council member and Wellness Coach.

We are very excited to be able to introduce this important program to help the community eat local and healthy. We plan to expand the program next year to more markets in the area. So be sure to check out one of the demos that is in your area.

Here is the recipe we have used so far (courtesy of Inspired Taste Garlic Parmesan Zoodle Recipe):

Guilt-Free Garlic Parmesan Zucchini Noodles Pasta Recipe

PREP 8mins
COOK 12mins
TOTAL 20mins

We’re in love with this easy zucchini pasta recipe. There’s fresh zucchini, tomatoes, basil, parmesan, and lots of garlic. Plus, it only takes 20 minutes to make. Make this with 100% zucchini noodles or swap half of the zucchini for regular spaghetti for a heartier meal.

Makes 4 Servings

4 medium zucchini (about 2 pounds)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 to 4 cloves)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, depending on how spicy you like the pasta
2 medium tomatoes, chopped, see note (about 12 ounces)
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1 cup basil leaves, torn into pieces
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons cold water
Salt, to taste


    Trim and spiralize the zucchini. Cut extra long noodles so that they are about the length of spaghetti.
    Add olive oil, garlic, and the red pepper flakes to a large, deep skillet. Turn to medium heat. When the oil begins to bubble around the garlic, add the zucchini noodles. Toss the noodles with pasta tongs and cook until al dente — they should be wilted, but still have a crunch; 5 to 7 minutes. Do not let the noodles cook any longer or else they will become mushy. As they cook, keep tossing so that all the zucchini noodles have a chance to hit the bottom of the skillet.
    Stir in the tomatoes, basil, and parmesan cheese. Cook for one minute. Use pasta tongs to transfer the noodles, tomatoes, and basil to a serving dish. Leave the liquid in the skillet.
    Bring the liquid left in the skillet to a simmer.
    Combine cornstarch and cold water in a small bowl then whisk into the simmering liquid. Cook, while whisking until the liquid thickens to a sauce; about 1 minute.
    Taste the sauce and season with salt. Pour the sauce over the zucchini, tomatoes, and basil. Finish with more parmesan cheese on top and serve immediately.

— 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:

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 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!