— 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.

— Anna Bohanon, Crow River Food Council Member

FarmersMarketsNational Farmers Market Week is coming up August 7th-13th, 2016! In celebration, we are encouraging everyone to get out and visit a farmers market near you.

Monticello Farmers Market is Thursdays from 3:30pm-7pm in the Monticello Library parking lot. On August 11th, they will have live music.

Albertville Farmers Market is Thursdays from 3pm-7pm with live music from 5pm-7pm. On August 11th, there will be a car show as well as the live music.

Why should you visit a farmers market?

Please visit our Farmers Market directory for a full list of Crow River Region Farmers Markets.

— 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.