— Constance Carlson, Crow River Food Council Director

The 11th Annual MN Garlic Festival is our region’s premier local food festival. This year it will be held on August 13th at the McLeod County Fairgrounds. This annual event is hosted by the Crow River Chapter of the Sustainable Farming Association (CRSFA) and is a family-friendly celebration of food, farming, fun and LOTS of garlic.

Chefs Mary Jane and  Raghavan Iyer

Chefs Mary Jane and Raghavan Iyer.

Minnesota garlic growers will have the first of their fresh gourmet garlic crop at the festival–over 100 varieties of the country’s finest garlic, all planted in the fall, harvested in July, and cured to perfection just in time for the festival. In addition to garlic growers, festival-goers can sample and purchase locally made food and goods from dozens of vendors including Redhead Creamery, Peppy Pete’s Gourmet Salsa and Olive On Tap.

The Crow River Food Council has taken an active role in supporting this event by managing the “Ask the Expert” tent. Council members Rod Greder and Connie Carlson have been scheduling area experts to talk on topics ranging from beekeeping, gardening to deep winter greenhouses and chickens. Council board member and Culinary Professional Mary Jane Miller will continue her role at the Garlic Fest overseeing the cooking demonstrations on the main stage throughout the day.

A typical crowd scene.

A typical crowd scene.

Be sure to come to the festival hungry so you can get a delicious meal at the famous Great ‘Scape Café. The Great ‘Scape Café serves food prepared by some of Twin Cities most respected and loved restaurants, including Birchwood Café, Common Roots, and Bachelor Farmer. The line usually wraps around the corner! Plan on staying for late afternoon pork roast, prepared by the the 2016 King of Pork himself, Jorge Guzman, the executive chef at Surly Brewing company.

Yes, Surly Brewing will also be on tap, as will several other regional craft beers, including our region’s very own Hayes Public House. But, the day is not just eating, drinking and stinking. There’s kite-flying, live musical entertainment, a medallion hunt and much more. For a listing of events, entertainment and vendors, check out the Crow River SFA website and follow the hashtag #MNGarlicFest on Facebook and Twitter.

The Minnesota Garlic Festival will be held at the McLeod County Fairgrounds on Saturday, August 13th, from 10AM – 6PM. Admission is $5 for adults, FREE for kids 12 and under. SPECIAL DEAL: There are several businesses in our region who are offering free 2 for 1 tickets to the Garlic Fest! Visit them and pick up your tickets today:

Buffalo Books and Coffee (Buffalo)
Hayes Public House (Buffalo)
Bonde Bistro (Delano)
Irish Blessings Coffee House (Maple Lake)
Local Roots Food Co-op (Buffalo)
Rosewood Eatery (Rockford)

Read more in this MPR story on The Minnesota Garlic Fest.

— Jeff Aldrich, Crow River Food Council Member

Did you know that local farmers have been growing vegetables in the Wright Technical Center greenhouse in Buffalo for the past eight months? And that much of what they have grown has made its way to the plates and gardens of local community members? Sarah Lindblom of Solar Fresh Produce CSA, Dana Bahr, a veteran watermelon grower, and Jeff Aldrich and Mary Sue Stevens of Mana Gardens moved into the greenhouse early last December and have collectively grown several hundred pounds of produce and several thousand plant starts since that time.

Sarah planting

Sarah Lindblom with Solar Fresh Produce CSA prepares the soil for seeds. Photo by Mary Sue Stevens.

Long-time Wright Technical Center horticulture and landscaping instructor Greg Dickerman retired two years ago, and the WTC had been facing some challenges finding someone to replace him. Consequently, the greenhouse had been sitting empty and was falling into disrepair. Local Roots Food Co-op President Connie Carlson and Jeff Aldrich met with the WTC Director last November and proposed using the greenhouse for winter food production. WTC welcomed the opportunity to have the greenhouse used and maintained, an agreement was reached, and seeding began December 3, 2015.

Sarah Lindblom used the opportunity to experiment with growing cucumbers and a variety of greens during the winter months, and in the early spring she was able to get a head start on the transplants for her CSA.

Jeff watering

Jeff Aldrich waters trays of microgreens. Photo by Mary Sue Stevens.

Dana Bahr, a Buffalo resident whose watermelon farm is in Otter Tail County, experimented successfully with starting an abundance of sweet potato slips, germinated avocados and was picking summer squash in February. In late March he began starting the several hundred watermelon, cantaloupe and squash that have now been transplanted at his farm.

Mana Gardens experimented with growing ginger, turmeric and microgreens, and conducted a 10-week “winter greens” CSA with ten local families. They also sold fresh greens and root crops through Local Roots Food Co-op and Twin Cities Local Food during the winter months, and have been selling locally-grown cucumbers, tomatoes and plant starts through those channels and at the Buffalo Farmers’ Market since early May. A portion of their produce was also donated to the Buffalo Food Shelf. During the last month of the school year, Jeff and Mary Sue welcomed the students from the Cornerstone Program into the greenhouse. The students tasted vegetables, learned about organic growing, helped with transplanting, and took home their own pots filled with vegetable plants on the last day of school.

Part of the role of the Crow River Food Council is to help identify resources that might be used to help strengthen our local food system, whether they be commercial kitchens, land that might be used to grow food, surplus food, or unused greenhouse space. Connecting people and resources is a key part of improving the quality of and accessibility to fresh, healthy food. The WTC greenhouse story is a good example of how both local farmers and local eaters can benefit when these connections are made. If you are aware of any under-utilized resources of any kind that may have the potential to help members of our region eat better, please reach out and let us know.

Joel Torkelson, Crow River Food Council Member

The Power of Produce (PoP) Kids Club originated in 2011 at the Oregon City Farmers’ Market with the goal to expose children to the local food system and give them purchasing power to make their own healthy food choices. The program has since expanded to have international presence, with PoP Kids Clubs “popping up” in Canada and all around the U.S. One of our council’s founding members – Kirsten Bansen Weigle had piloted a PoP Kids Club at the Maple Grove farmers market in 2014 and was a catalyst for us trying it in Wright County – thank you Kirsten for all your help and guidance!


Our PoP Kids Club’s allow for children ages 4 to 12 to receive $2 in market bucks each week they attend the market, once they have signed up (participation is free). Kids receive a nice reusable bag to carry their fruits and vegetables throughout the program at the farmers market. The tokens can be used each week or saved up for larger purchases.

With the support of the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP), Wright County Area United Way, local businesses and local farmers markets, we are helping children to have buying power with locally grown goodness their reward. The PoP Kids Club was launched in Wright County (Delano and Monticello) last year, here is a quick overview of its success;

Monticello Farmers Market: 12 week program with 425 children registering. At the end of the program there was 1012 tokens redeemed! Top 3 items children bought: Sweet Corn, Apples and Cucumbers.
Delano Community Market: 6 week program with 71 children signing up. 185 tokens were redeemed during the PoP Kids Club at Delano.
Farmers markets, health officials, community organizations and businesses are investing time and resources across the state to support PoP Kids Club as was written in the Star Tribune last summer – Minnesota kids discover the power of produce with farmers market program. Additionally, the Minnesota Department of Health recently published a story about our local efforts – Monticello market ‘PoPs’ into healthy plan for kids.

Council members and community partners have been meeting this winter to plan for the summer of 2016 and we are excited to announce that we will continue the PoP Kids Club in 2016 at Monticello (every Thursday, July 14 – September 29) , while expanding to Albertville (every Thursday, June 16 – September 29)! Check out the Crow River Food Council’s website in the coming weeks and months for more information on the PoP Kids Clubs.

— Elissa Brown, Crow River Food Council Member

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a simple concept that has a profound impact within local food systems. CSA farms, at their most basic level, create a mutually beneficial relationship between farmers and people in their community who agree to share the risks and benefits of producing food. Here’s how CSAs generally work:

A farmer decides before their productive season how many memberships they would like to offer to the public. Then, interested individuals or families sign up to become members for the season and pay the farmer a set price in advance. In return, members receive a share of fresh produce every week throughout the season. Vegetables are a popular option, but CSAs can also include shares of eggs, bread, meat, cheese, fruit, flowers, or any other farm product!

Farmers benefit from offering CSA memberships by gaining a reliable source of income before the work and expenses of the growing season, which helps immensely with cash flow. They also earn a safety net of support from members who essentially agree that the farmers’ work is worth paying for, even if the growing season turns out to be less than ideal.

Members benefit from gaining access to what often turns out to be an abundance of fresh, local, and seasonal food – often broadening their palettes and cooking expertise to make use of it all! Members also get the opportunity to form a deeper understanding of where their food comes from and how it is grown, as well as form lasting relationships with their farmer and the community of other CSA members.

Now that spring is upon us, it’s the perfect time to consider whether joining a CSA is the right choice for you this year! If so, you can start researching which local farm is a good fit by taking a look at our Crow River Area Directory.

National Nutrition Month

— Andrew Doherty, RDN, Crow River Food Council Member

March marks the 30 day, yearly recognition of National Nutrition Month, sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association). The goal of the month long awareness program is to encourage Americans to understand the value of making informed decisions when selecting foods, and to communicate the importance of nutrition’s impact on overall health.

“There is not one specific eating pattern that a person needs to follow, but instead it can be achieved by including a variety of healthy foods from all of the 5 MyPlate food groups.” The simple act of choosing healthier options with the foods we are already buying and preparing at home can make a huge impact. When planning and shopping for food just following these simple guidelines can easily put you on the path to eating healthy in no time, and at no additional cost!

  • Make half your plate vegetables and fruit: Choose fresh whole fruits when able, frozen, dried and canned in 100% juice and/or no salt added will do just fine as well.
  • Choose sides of vegetables in a variety of colors, prepared in a healthful way: steamed, sautéed, roasted or raw.
  • Make half your grains whole grains: Looks for whole grains listed as the first or second ingredient on the ingredients list.
  • Vary your protein foods: mixing in options like seafood, beans, unsalted nuts, eggs, and lean meats and poultry.
  • Move to low-fat or fat-free dairy products: When choosing dairy foods selecting low-fat or fat-free options will still have the same amount of calcium and protein!
  • Eat and drink less sodium, saturated fats, and added sugars: Look at the Nutrition Facts label and ingredients list to limit items high in sodium, saturated fat and added sugar.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

March 2016 imageThink of each of these healthful changes as your own personal “win” on your path to a healthier, nutritious lifestyle. Taking on one win at a time that fits into your lifestyle will lead you to healthy behavior changes overtime.

For more information on how you can plan, shop, and eat your way to a healthy lifestyle visit www.choosemyplate.gov.

The History and Purpose of The Crow River Food Council, in a nutshell.
— Connie Carlson, Executive Director

Early in 2014, a team of interested people from the Crow River region met and formulated a work plan with Wright County Health and Human Services and the MN State Health Improvement Program (SHIP) to fund the formation of the Crow River Food Council (CRFC). Initially, the idea of the council was born out of the recognition that our region—spanning much of Crow River watershed—is rich with agricultural resources. Yet, this bounty is not easily accessible to the residents of this region.

The first step in the formation of the council was conducting interviews with dozens of Crow River citizens—farmers, business leaders, educators, policy makers and others—to determine the food challenges, interests, needs and assets of our region. These interviews helped shape the early strategies of CRFC and informed the creation of our mission statement:

The Crow River Food Council promotes healthy eating that maximizes the use of local, regional, and seasonal food produced with sustainable practices and creates prosperous communities in our region.

We are focusing on strategies that make it easier to purchase fruits and vegetables, support local farms, grow our local food system and address the wide range of challenges and disparities faced when trying to eat a healthy diet.

Jan 2016 Blog Image

But, the Crow River Food Council is more than a communication tool promoting local food. We work, develop and amplify efforts to make it easier for all ages and demographics in our communities to access the food grown here. Our power comes from the people who participate on the council. CRFC is comprised of people from a wide range of professions, expertise and experience. We have business leaders, farmers, health workers, teachers, communication experts, restaurant owners and government employees, each volunteering time every month to talk about our region, discuss our needs and develop strategies and programs that address the unique challenges to our region. Each person brings not only their expertise, but also their networks and connections to build and shape our initiatives.

For example, in 2015, the CRFC launched the Power of Produce (PoP) program with the Monticello Farmers’ Market. This program was intended to encourage the youngest shoppers in our community to explore the farmers’ market every week and get to know the people who grew their fresh raspberries, squash, cucumbers and other favorite foods. Any kid under the age of 12 who visited the market was given a $2 token to shop. The producers made sure they had food to offer at that price and every week, we watched kids and families joyfully walk away with their fresh food. We had over 400 children participate in this event and the producers considered it a resounding success. We are currently reaching out to other Farmers Markets’ in the region to expand our reach a little more in 2016 and hope to bring on one or two more local markets. (You can read more about this program here.)

The CRFC is run on volunteers, but has two part-time employees, the Director and the Administrative Assistant who direct, manage and track the ongoing initiatives and communicate the progress with the community. The council exists to represent the people in our communities and work towards making our region more liveable through better access to healthy food. You can read more about Crow River Food Council mission and council, our plans for 2016 and how you can get involved on our website. Be sure to find us on Facebook and Twitter, too!

Bring your kids to the Monticello Market.  Between July 9 and September 24, all kids ages 4-12 will be able to participate in the Power of Produce Kids Club. (POP Kids Club)

When kids come to the market, they register with the farmers’ market desk. Each child receives a token worth $2 and a reusable shopping bag.  Kids can then wander the market and pick their favorite fruits or vegetables and purchase them with their own money.  Each week families return during the POP Club weeks, kids will receive another token!

This is a win-win-win for families, farmers and our communities.

The Crow River Food Council, the Monticello Farmers Market and LiveWright are partnering to bring this great program to the market.

We are thankful to the Wright County Area United Way and Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electrical Association for financial sponsorship support along with funds provided by the Statewide Health Improvement Program of the MN Department of Health.


Success in 2015 for the Power of Produce Program

BoyPoP_webGirlsPoP_webAfter much preparation and planning, the first season of the PoP at the Monticello Farmers’ Market was a fantastic success. In total, over 400 kids signed up to participate in the program in Monticello. Using their $2 tokens, participants carefully selected everything from raspberries and cucumbers to squash and eggplant. At summer’s end, 1012 tokens were redeemed.

With a successful launch at the Monticello Farmers’ Market, the PoP expanded to the Saturday Market in Delano through the second half of the summer season. At this smaller market, 71 kids signed up and redeemed 185 tokens.

Positive feedback from kid participants, in addition to survey results from both parents and market vendors indicate the need to continue the program in 2016. In doing so, Food Council members will work to secure funding through sponsorships and grants and explore the potential of expanding the program to new markets in the region.

If you are interested in providing funding for the 2016 Power of Produce Program, would like to be involved with the program or have questions for the Food Council, please contact us at connect@crowriverfoodcouncil.org. Be sure to find us on Facebook and Twitter, too!

Long-time organic farmers Greg and Mary Reynolds of Riverbend Farm in Delano, Minn., are the 2015 MOSES Organic Farmers of the Year. This prestigious award recognizes organic farmers who practice outstanding land stewardship, innovation and outreach. The Reynolds received their award at the 2015 MOSES Organic Farming Conference last week.

Dedicated to experimenting with new systems to improve biodiversity and fertility on 30 acres of diversified organic vegetable and small grains production, the Reynolds are well known for their generosity in sharing their knowledge with both other farmers and consumers. Read more.

Nick and Amelia Neaton
Published in MinnPost, February 20, 2015

NEW GERMANY, Minn. — Sometime this spring, on 10 acres of farmland now lying fallow in the February cold, Nick and Amelia Neaton will once again plant vegetables for the people living in the small towns and villages of northwest Carver County.

Eighty “shareholders” will pay the Neatons $560 for a full share (or $330 for a half) of sweet peppers, red slicing tomatoes, Brussels sprouts and an assortment of other produce. A grocery store/restaurant in Minneapolis and a suburban school district are among the other customers that will look to this small plot of land for some of their food. Read more…