— 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!

— 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.

— 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.

— 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.

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!

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.