Why Farm to Fork?

— Stacy Besonen, Crow River Food Council Member, et al.

Crow River Food Council’s focus is working on programming and policy changes to make the healthy choice the easy choice for everyone. This is the work you will support through our Farm to Fork gala. As a community, we have a large need around food insecurity and food accessibility. When we learned that a large number of households did not even have a stove or a working stove in their homes, we knew we had to do something!

The well-being of our residents is vital to the long-term sustainability and prosperity of communities. Regions thrive when residents can be active and healthy. In an effort to combat food insecurity (a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life) and food access in our region, we’re proud to be a part of programs such as:

Power of Produce Kid’s Club: Several local farmer’s markets have implemented the PoP program. Kids are able to sign up at the beginning of the summer at their local farmer’s market and each week they receive a free $2 token to use to purchase their own produce. This program is extremely successful in getting kids to eat vegetables, because research shows that if kids pick it they’ll eat it!

Council member Andrew Doherty works with participants to preapre their meal.

Council member Andrew Doherty works with participants to prepare a meal.

Montrose Cooks! is a program that was developed out of the Crow River Food Council. When a recent study concluded that several households in Wright County do not have working stoves, the council came up with an idea to help. With a generous donation from Allina Health through the Neighborhood Health Connection Grant, the council supported Grace Place in Montrose to create the Montrose Cooks! Program. 15 families signed up for the first six week series. On the first night each family received a free crockpot, a recipe, cooking class on how to make the recipe in the crockpot, a sample meal to enjoy, and finally, a grocery bag full of groceries to be able to go home and remake the recipe on another night! Five additional classes with recipes, money saving tips, sample meals and grocery bags followed. The program was so successful that three more class series are planned; that will be 60 households who will be able to feed their family.

Farmers’ Market Workshops: The council recognized that one of the few ways our region can currently access the food grown in our community is through Farmers’ Markets. They are also one of the easiest ways for farmers to sell their produce. It was decided that CRFC can play an important role in building and supporting our area Farmer’s Markets and one of the first ways to do that would be to meet and connect with our area Farmer’s Market leaders. We wrote and received a MN Food Charter grant to support this work. Our first activity was hosting a Mini-Conference for area Farmers Market leaders on April 22. This event was intended to share resources and information on various programs for Farmer’s Markets and also help the area markets meet and learn from each other. On-going work will include round-table discussions, newsletters, grantwriting and idea-sharing.

Jerry Ford of Living Song Farm and others meet with Harvest Moon Co-op.

Jerry Ford, Living Song Farm, and others meet with Harvest Moon Co-op.

Connecting producers/farmers with institutional buyers: If you enter a local restaurant, odds are that the food traveled for weeks from another state or country to get to your table! We’re working to connect producers/farmers with institutions so local restaurants (schools, daycares and others) purchase foods that are right in their back yards! This helps our local economy, the produce retains it’s nutritional value and improves health for consumers, and zero travel expenses means more affordable food for everyone.

More than an evening gathered with family and friends to celebrate local food in Downtown Buffalo, our Farm to Fork event is all about supporting food access and affordability in our region. Your attendance allows us to continue working to support our local farmers and producers, encouraging kids to eat new fruits and vegetables, creating access for everyone to the food grown in our region and much more. Help us fill our neighbors forks!

Sponsorship opportunities are also available.

— Stacy Besonen, Crow River Food Council Member

Event. Determine if an event is possible, whether assisting an established event or hosting our own. That was one of the goals we set for ourselves in 2017. We’re now excited to host Farm to Fork: A Lakeside Gala in Celebration of Local Food on Saturday, September 16 from 5:30-8:30 pm in Downtown Buffalo. But this, of course, did not just happen overnight. Months of research, planning and connecting have gone into an event not to be missed.

Gathering together, social connection and having a conversation around food insecurity and accessibility is the main focus of this meal. In our region, we have amazing farmers and produce; most of this produce is sold to high end restaurants in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The executive chefs there know the quality of the produce. The Crow River Region of Farmers are known as the ‘Napa Valley’ of the Twin Cities. Both the Crow River Food Council and the Sustainable Farming Association Crow River Chapter are working hard to connect consumers, you and I, with producers and local farmers!

With so much goodness available locally in our region, it may be hard to imagine not being able to take advantage of the food grown here, or any food at all for that matter. But, food insecurity and accessibility are real issues our neighbors face. As defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), food insecurity is a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. This is often, though not always, limited by income, lack of resources and/or the ability to reach available resources. To combat these issues we’re working on programming and policy changes to make the healthy choice the easy choice for everyone, and that’s what this event will benefit.

SFA_CRiverC_CMYK-01But we can’t do it alone; we’ve partnered with Sustainable Farming Association Crow River Chapter. Encompassing an incredibly diverse part of the state that includes the Twin Cities and the rural counties to their west, SFA Crow River Chapter offers opportunities for farmers, sustainable farming supporters and consumers to participate in a vital and active organization. They represent not only the more “traditional” farmers – dairy, grains, etc. – but also a wide range of thriving specialty and niche market farmers: CSAs, goats, sheep, poultry, herbs, garlic, restaurant and co-op produce, etc. They have an emphasis on education in sustainable practices and an impressive roster of events, including farm tours, the Annual Crow River Chapter Annual Meeting, the Minnesota Garlic Festival, and the popular “farm social” gatherings.

We’ve also partnered with farmers, businesses and people who all call this region home, because connecting locally is our passion! We all have a twinkle in our heart for Buffalo and our region. Read about Farm to Fork Chef Mary Jane Miller and the farmers, businesses and others we’re working with here.

How will the proceeds benefit the Food Council and specific programs?
See our “Why Farm to Fork” post to learn about the programs your Farm to Fork support will benefit. In the meantime, save your seat at the table by purchasing tickets. Sponsorship opportunities are also available. You can find Farm to Fork updates on our Facebook page.

Through a program from Randy’s Environmental Services, residents in the City of Buffalo now have the option to recycle their food waste and food-soiled paper into nutrient-rich compost. Instead of sitting in a landfill, these recycled products make their way through an industrial compost facility and are converted to a compost perfect for lawns, flower beds, background and community gardens, small vegetable and berry farms and rain gardens.

organicsProgram-1000

For those who’ve never composted before, the process couldn’t be easier and takes no more time than tossing your food waste in the trash. Randy’s outlines the process in three simple steps:

  1. Discard food waste and food-soiled paper from meals, your refrigerator and the pantry into a kitchen compost bucket, separate from your other household trash.
  2. Empty your kitchen compost bucket into the 13-gallon Blue Bag Organics BPI-certified bag.
  3. For trash day, tightly hand tie the 13-gallon Blue Bag Organics liner and place it inside your regular garbage cart for curbside pickup. All Blue Bag Organics will be separated from other trash after they’ve been collected. And off they’ll go to an industrial composting facility.

What exactly is food waste and food-soiled paper? The following can be recycled in the Blue Bag Organics bag: spoiled leftovers, meat and bones, fruit and vegetable scraps, egg and nut shells, coffee grounds and filters, tea leaves and tea bags, dairy products, paper towels and napkins, pizza boxes, and BPI-certified products.

To begin this program, contact Randy’s Environmental Services at 763-972-3335. You’ll be provided with everything you need to begin your first year of food waste recycling, including a coupon for a complimentary bag of Blue Bag Premium Compost in early spring.

Learn more:

Excerpts of text used from this Blue Bag Organics flyer and a Randy’s Environmental Services brochure.

— Connie Carlson, Executive Director

In past blog posts, I’ve given you an overview of what the Crow River Food Council aims to do in our community and how we hope to do it. As a council comprised of community leaders and experts in food access, health, food production and education, we are uniquely positioned to impact our community in lasting and beneficial ways. Many of the people who sit on our council take the information, resources and connections they gain through our meetings and projects back to their place of business or organization and continue the ripple effect throughout their work.

Late last year, the Crow River Food Council embarked on a strategic review and goal-setting session for 2017. As a council, we reviewed the work and research we did in 2016 and applied that knowledge to the areas and communities we thought had the most need. From that work, we outlined 3 goals we hoped to accomplish by the end of 2017:

  1. Formalize a Farmer’s Market Working Group that provides support, communication, funding and opportunities for our regional farmer’s markets.

    Farmer’s Market Working Group: Andrew, Ellie and Jeff.

    The council recognizes that one of the few ways our region can currently access the food grown in our community is through Farmer’s Markets. They are also one of the easiest ways for farmers to sell their produce. It was decided that CRFC can play an important role in building and supporting our area Farmer’s Markets and one of the first ways to do that would be to meet and connect with our area Farmer’s Market leaders. We wrote and received a MN Food Charter grant to support this work. Our first activity was hosting a Mini-Conference for area Farmers Market leaders on April 22.  This event was intended to share resources and information on various programs for Farmer’s Markets and also help the area markets meet and learn from each other. On-going work will include round-table discussions, newsletters, grantwriting and idea-sharing.

  2. Host a Community-wide Local Food Event to build awareness for the food grown in our community.
    We are pleased to be part of a community-wide effort to host a local food event this Fall that celebrates the bounty of our region and highlights the people who grow our good food. We can’t go into much detail at this time, but suffice to stay, some exciting ideas are in the works. Watch our social media and newsletter for more details as they become available and ways to get involved.
  3. Improve our online mapping and directory to continue to be a local food resource for our region.
    If you tour our website, you’ll see a growing list of resources for local food, farmers and opportunities. We are always working on this resource and encourage you to send us information and updates if you spot something that could use some improvement. Send us a note if you want to be included or know of someone who should be on our list.

As of this writing, I’m pleased to tell you that the Crow River Food Council has exceed our goals already for this year, which is pretty impressive for a small, mostly volunteer run organization. Our next board meeting is scheduled for mid-May and during that meeting we will be reviewing our 2017 and charting out how we want the rest of the year to develop.

We always are seeking community input, suggestions and resources. Feel free to connect with us to share your food system ideas!

— Connie Carlson, Executive Director

You know you are busy when you sit down to write a long overdue blog reviewing a year’s worth of work and realize that it’s March already… whew!

Last year I wrote a short piece, “What exactly IS a Food Council?” that explained who we are and what we are aiming to do in our region. I’m pleased to report that we have held tightly to that vision and have seen tremendous progress in the past year toward growing our food network and goals forward. Here are a few of our accomplishments:

The Little Boon Farm. Photo by Mary Sue Stevens.

The Little Boon Farm. Photo by Mary Sue Stevens.

Our board and individual board members visited dozens of farms, small businesses, food shelves and schools in our region to talk to people in our community who work every day to build our local food system. Our board committed to meeting every month at a different location around our region. Some locations included Irish Blessings Coffee House in Maple Lake, where owner/operator Natalie McClory shared her vision for her Thursday night dinners, and local farmer, Mark Boon from The Little Boon Farm gave a walking tour of his farm and operation. Each visit was an eye-opening experience for the board and an in-person opportunity to understand what it takes to run a small business in our region.

The Little Boon Farm. Photo by Mary Sue Stevens.

The Little Boon Farm. Photo by Mary Sue Stevens.

We expanded our Power of Produce program into Albertville and served well over 1000 children and families in our region. This program has been a tremendous success getting families to try new foods, connecting farmers with new customers and engaging communities in local food. Our council was instrumental in working with a statewide group to develop a PoP Toolkit for other Farmers Markets around the state to implement this important program. The PoP program is slated to return to Monticello and Albertville in 2017 and a few more markets in our region are gearing up to implement it in their markets. Interested in helping YOUR Farmers Market start this program? Email us and we can help you get started.

In October, the Board met for their final meeting of year to go over the work from 2016, assess what we learned and outline our goals for the upcoming year. Our top goals for 2017 are:

  1. Formalize a Farmers Market Working Group that provides support, communication, funding and opportunities for our regional farmer’s markets.
    1. Pleased to report we received a grant through the MN Food Charter to support this work! Look for more details in our newsletter.
  2. Host a Community-wide Local Food Event to build awareness for the food grown in our community.
  3. Improve our online mapping and directory to continue to be a local food resource for our region.  Send us a note if you want to be included or know of someone who should be on our list.

Next month, I’ll outline the progress of these goals and provide some easy ways for you to get involved [Now posted; read more here]. Until then, connect with us on Facebook and Twitter!

— Andrew Doherty, RDN, Crow River Food Council Member

March is National Nutrition Month, this year the theme for the month is “Put Your Best Fork Forward.” To me this phrase means that we should be taking our best attempts to make the healthy food choices when available. The best food choice can vary widely from person to person based on available personal budget, foods, and time. However, these situations that life throws at us shouldn’t be deterrents to “putting our best fork forward.”

The goals of putting your best fork forward are:

  • Creating an eating style of healthful choices that you enjoy
  • Intentionally cooking from home more often, and utilizing healthier ingredients
  • Eating mindfully to encourage proper amounts of food and nutrients
  • Be physically active most days of the week in a way that you enjoy

Here are a few tips to help put your best fork forward;

The first is to create an eating style that includes a variety of your favorite, nutritional foods. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. There are no strict rules for what foods to eat or not eat, but by following the MyPlate guidelines you can find the best way to make healthy eating fit into your life. These guidelines include making half of your plate fruit and vegetables. Fruits or vegetables can come in any form, fresh, frozen, or canned without added salt or sugars. When it comes to eating grain foods, try to incorporate whole grains as much as possible for the added fiber and nutrients they provide. Choosing lean protein and dairy options into your diet can also help to balance energy levels. By following these guidelines it should lead you down the right path for eating a healthy eating pattern.

One of the simplest steps towards putting your best fork forward is to prepare more meals at home. Cooking at home is a cost saving way to eat healthier foods. Preparing ingredients ahead of time can be a great timesaver throughout the week, and ensures that any fruits and vegetables you’re planning on serving are ready to go. If you are running low on time, using a slow-cooker can be a great tool for preparing a large amount of food with relatively little prep. This is also a great way to use of any meats or vegetables before they go bad.

Eating mindfully means making a conscious decision with food choices and amounts. Mindful eating comes down to listening to your body’s natural hunger and fullness signals. Most people tend to overeat, retraining your body to recognize their fullness signal can be a tricky process. A simple first step is to slow down when eating. Many of us eat so fast that we will continue eating right past a feeling of being satisfied and into a state of fullness. A good trick to slowing down while eating is to put your spoon or fork down between bites.

By picking up these simple steps for eating healthier, you’ll be well on your way to putting your best fork forward!

— Stacy Besonen, Crow River Food Council Member

Since school is well underway and we have had over two month’s worth of packing lunches or filling school lunch accounts with money, how is it going? We want our kiddos to get the best nutrition as possible, and let’s face it, most of the time, school lunches aren’t always the healthiest option, unless your school has an on-site garden, partners with local farmers (like the Minneapolis School District Farm to School program, see the story here), or makes everything from scratch based on the ethnicity of the student body majority, like the Menahga School District used to do.

Lunch example -- sandwich, broccoli, apples and oatmeal.What does a healthy school lunch look like? For my kids, I want them to have the energy to make it through their afternoon classes without being hungry, but more importantly, without the after meal sugar crash. How do I make sure this happens? By making sure their lunch box is full of a variety of nutrients, including great sources of protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats! That’s it! An occasional homemade treat will help mix things up, too!

There are several blogs dedicated to just this, making a school lunch! I googled ‘packing school lunches blog’ and quite a few fresh ideas popped up! It seems like the bento box style lunch box is all the rage right now, and why not? Little compartment to showcase all types of nutrient packed morsels for your child to choose from, yum!

Here are few tips to help you get started:

  • Involve your children in planning, shopping for and preparing lunches. A child who helps is more likely to actually eat his or her lunch.
  • Pre-portioned vegetablesDuring each shopping trip, encourage each child to pick out a new fruit or vegetable he or she is curious about or hasn’t yet tried. Kids are more likely to try a new food if they picked it.
  • Plan your meals for the week on Sundays. Eventually, you may become so good at it you’ll be able to plan lunches for two weeks at a time.
  • Prepare and keep pre-portioned healthy snacks on hand. This makes it easier for your child to choose more healthy options plus it’s a great time-saver for busy parents.

For more tips and to print off a Healthy Lunch Builder for Kids visit Allina Health.

— Gina Coburn, Crow River Food Council Member

Why participate in the 10 Day Eat Local Food Challenge? What’s the point of eating local food? Gina explores the answers to these questions in part two of this post.

So is the 10 Day Eat Local Food Challenge worth it? I found it was a fun, eye opening, life enhancing experience for me. This October will mark the third year I’ve participated in the food challenge and each time, because of the 10 days of focus, I learn a bit more, become a little more aware and my appreciation for the food I eat, the people that produce it, the state of the world around me, deepens.

Photo by Mary Sue Stevens.

Photo by Mary Sue Stevens

We are rich here in Minnesota! We have wild rice, nuts, garlic, cherries, grains, maple syrup, herbs, wild medicinal plants, delicious mushrooms and apples along with every vegetable imaginable and plenty of meat! And we have restaurants, lots of them and more all the time that are making a point of using local food. We have breweries, wineries and even distilleries. So lucky are we. And we have products being made here and more all the time.

This summer, my friend Mary Reynolds and I visited The Food Building in Minneapolis where our friend Mike Philips has Red Table Meats, “salumi made from Minnesota pastured pigs”. We discovered a cheese maker shop in the same building: The Lone Grazer, “cheese from Minnesota grass fed cows and Baker’s Field Flour and Bread “stone-milled flour & naturally leavened bread” I heard just opened. These weren’t here two years ago, but they are now and their products are served right next door at The Draft Horse.

sfa_ketchupAnd as time goes on there’s more to find right in our own Crow River Region. Our local Crow River Chapter of the Sustainable Farmers Association experimented with making their own ketchup from extra tomatoes, onions and garlic grown by our farmer neighbors. It didn’t pan out yet, but everyone learned a lot about the economics of our food system. Holly at the Rosewood Eatery in Rockford is working with the Crow River Food Council to source locally and we’re working with her to see how to help other restaurants. The list goes on.

These are the places that I’ve run across in my daily rounds and of course there are many more. Visit our directory on this website, let us know if there are places we’re missing and tell us about your favorites to add to the list.

And join me in 10 Day Eat Local Food Challenge in October. Locally sourced food in an area 100 miles in any direction from where you live plus 10 exotics you don’t want to live without. Let us know how it’s going on our Facebook page.

— Gina Coburn, Crow River Food Council Member

What is the 10 Day Eat Local Food Challenge and how does one even begin? Gina details her introduction to the challenge in part one of this post.

90% of our food comes from the industrial food supply and surely none of us is starving to death. So what is the point of eating local food? Well, here are a few reasons Vicki cited in her introduction audio on the Local Food Challenge website and they are borne out in my experience:

Sarah Lindblom of Solar Fresh Produce. Photo by Mary Sue Stevens.

Sarah Lindblom of Solar Fresh Produce, Buffalo. Photo by Mary Sue Stevens.

  1. Health and personal vitality: Knowing the source of our food, knowing the farmers that raised it, the land that produced it, contributes to our mind and body’s health.
  2. Sustainability: As in our responsibility to leave the earth in at least as good a shape as we found it for the people (our children and grandchildren) that come after us.
  3. Community: Sharing food has always been a social activity, it connects us. And in a larger sense, eating local food contributes to our local economy by supporting the farmers and land where we live.
  4. Sovereignty: As citizens, it is wise to have control over the land, water, soil and seeds that we depend on for our lives.

And maybe one of the best reasons of all is:

  1. Potency vs. resignation: Engaging in an activity that in some way tackles one of our BIG issues, connects us to our world in a tangible way. It might be a small step but it’s a step that if taken by many, would have a large effect on our planet.

So what are the road blocks? Why don’t we get more than 10% of our food from local sources?

Photo by Mary Sue Stevens.

Photo by Mary Sue Stevens.

  1. Time: Much of the food we consider locally sourced is whole food and needs some time to prepare or preserve.
  2. Talent: Not everyone knows what to do when faced with a whole chicken or a beet to make it taste good.
  3. Treasure: True or not, it is perceived that eating locally sourced food costs more.
  4. Pariah factor: It is getting easier but it’s more difficult to eat local food…going out to restaurants and invitations from friends might be tricky if you’re challenging yourself to eat only local.
  5. Food is more than just food: We have food habits, emotional attachments and definite likes and dislikes when it comes to food.

By the way, Vicki’s audio is 45 minutes long and inspiring if you want to hear more about the above.

So is the 10 Day Local Food Challenge worth it? I found it was … find Gina’s final thoughts on her experience as she finished the challenge, with additional sources of local food she discovered, in part three

— Gina Coburn, Crow River Food Council Member

Two years ago I attended a conference in Seattle, and there I heard Vicki Robin talk about the Local Food Challenge. It followed on the heels of the publication of her book Blessing the Hands that Feed Us.

She spoke so passionately and engagingly about her experience of an eating challenge she embarked on in 2010, that I decided it would be fun to explore the food resources in my region and decided to take the challenge myself.

challenge-radiusFor 10 days, October 1-10 in 2014, I ate foods from within 100 miles of where I live here in Delano. The exception was the “exotic list” of 10 items that come from anywhere. It sounded fun, challenging but not impossible, and I thought I would learn a lot.

On the first of October it was game on and with only a local chicken in my refrigerator, a weekly farmers market and a farm stand close by, I began. I was not really prepared. There’s nothing like not knowing where my next meal is coming from to spur me into action so I set out to forage.

First off, I hit the co-ops and to my surprise I found that although there’s plenty of organic, healthy food at the co-ops and plenty of local produce, there’s very little else. I could find bread baked locally…but wherever does the wheat come from I wondered? And where does the milk come from that’s used in Land O’Lakes butter? Granted we have lots of food companies in Minnesota but tracking down the sources of their ingredients was impossible, so out of bounds for this experiment.

I read a zillion labels and found some cheeses at Sunny Road in Cokato! That made me think about Cheese Cave blue cheese made in Faribault. I had attended a Sustainable Farmers Conference and realized that there were some delicious corn chips made in Welcome, Minnesota from corn grown right there for Whole Grain Milling. Bingo, the list was growing. It was like a treasure hunt each find spurring me on to see what else there was.

Google provided me with the fact that there was local wheat being milled by Sunrise Flour Mill in North Branch and I could buy it at Lakewinds. Making bread at this point was starting to sound like a worthwhile endeavor… but wait! Salt was on my exotic list but what about yeast?

Photo by Mary Sue Stevens.

Photo by Mary Sue Stevens

Vegetables were easy to find in October, thank goodness, and Hope Creamery butter (notice how I’m fixated on butter) by the map app is 128 miles from my house…. But as the crow flies, perhaps within my radius …..? And I found local eggs without much trouble with yolks like gold!

Meat was easy too. We have local farmers, co-ops and even grocery stores that carry local chickens, beef and pork. I also know a few hunters.

I wrote about my experience in my weekly blog for Three Crows Café so lots of people knew what I was up to and offered me all kinds of treats that came from their own gardens and larders of canned goods, even wine, although I did think to put that on my exotic list! I was grateful for all the kind thoughts and gained a new appreciation for preserving and community!

90% of our food comes from the industrial food supply and surely none of us is starving to death. So what is the point of eating local food? Well, here are a few reasons Vicki cited … find these reasons and how you can participate in the 10 Day Eat Local Food Challenge, including additional resources from Gina, in part 2 of this post.