— Colleen Wolbeck, Crow River Food Council Member

Can local living create a culture to support our community? “Shop Local” is a phrase identifying products, food, and businesses rooted in the community. Patrons make a conscious effort to buy from local shops, eat fare grown by local farmers and obtain supplies from artisans in the area. The newest generation uses social media to routinely post about local stores, breweries, wineries and farmer’s markets. If they have started a trend to shop local, can the rest of the population do this also? Let’s find out how.

Which places entice the locals to buy from local shops and markets? The most gracious method to get local products is directly from the farmer or maker. Social media and websites have played a positive role recently to give producers a leg up in the marketplace. Many of these producers will most definitely give buyers a deal just to contact them in person. This feat will benefit the consumer only if they take charge of how they purchase. Subscribing to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share to obtain fresh vegetables and goods weekly during the growing season is the next best thing. Then, you have your neighborhood Farmer’s Market showcasing the locally grown products in the area. In recent years, grocery stores have included homegrown products on their shelves. Discerning shoppers need to read the fine print and ask questions as to “how” local is the product. Grocery store “Local” can mean made in the United States or within the general region, so shoppers should inspect where foodstuffs are actually sourced. Buying as close to the source will get you fresher and better merchandise in the long run.

Collage 2018-10-02 15_37_16Small businesses are a way to support the area’s commerce. Mom and pop shops, antique stores, eateries, food trucks and markets have a magnetism which draws in people. Chefs have started to source local seasonal ingredients from farmers and food producers. Restaurant goers then experience the food scene from the area. Artisans take great pride in expertly crafting their goods, and shoppers reap the benefit when buying local goods. The community of producers are a tight knit group who point consumers toward other producers developing a verbal farmer’s market.

Local living intertwines where we live to the people who create and grow. Marketers enhance the consciousness of local living. Attracting the population to this movement will benefit producers which feeds into the soul of the community. Take this as a call to action, support local! This is the best way to love where you live!

Editors note: we’re working to update our Regional Directory to make it even easier to find local products, food and businesses in the Crow River region. Keep an eye on our social media, newsletter and website for an announcement about it’s completion.

— Stacy Besonen, Crow River Food Council Member. Feature image: The Little Boon Farm, Maple Lake, by Mary Sue Stevens.

Did you know, most Americans don’t know where their food comes from – let alone who grew it or how it was grown? Our connection to food has diminished to nothing more than a quick transaction at the check-out line, with no thought to who is behind the kale in our salads or the chicken on our grills. As a society, we know we are nature deprived. Not enough Vitamin D from the sun, not enough contact with the ground to literally ground us, not enough fresh air to breath deep! This is where Farms and Farmers Markets can play a role in reconnecting!

Farms and Farmers Markets reconnect communities to their food system. They create an opportunity where farmers can simultaneously sell fresh, local food and serve as food educators, revitalizing the way consumers shop and eat. They are places where farmers and neighbors meet to socialize and exchange ideas around cooking, nutrition, and agriculture. What produce is in season? What’s a healthy way to prepare asparagus? How do you raise your chicken? These answers can be found at a farm or farmers market – answers that educate, inform, and build relationships between communities, farmers, and food.

Farms and Farmers Markets reconnect a sense of community among their customers. Not only do patrons shop for farm fresh food, but they also engage in conversation, meet neighbors for lunch, and enjoy the festive atmosphere with family and friends. Research indicates people thrive and are naturally happier when socially connected. Farms and Farmers Markets support emotional health by creating a cheerful space where people come together for laughter, fellowship, food, and fun.

Farms and Farmers Markets reconnect us to healthy lifestyles and diets. Many local area Farmers Markets have the Power of Produce program (POP), where kids receive a $2 weekly token to purchase food themselves. Parents report that their kids, who participate in the program, eat more veggies! Farmers Markets in low-income areas also report increased consumption of vegetables among people within walking distance. To find a Farmers Market close to you, visit: https://minnesotagrown.com/.

baby-potatoes-farm-farming-775707Amelia from Sweet Beet Farm says, “People who visit our farm get to experience the process of small scale organic vegetable production systems. They get to observe the diversity of perennials and annual plants, pollinators, all working together.” Sweet Beet Farm, as well as other local farms, have several events inviting the public to come together to spend time eating, planting or working on big projects. If you want your kids to experience farm life, call a farmer and give your availability and the farmer can put together a work project for your family to get your hands in the dirt! For more information on events at Sweet Beet Farm check out their website at www.sweetbeetfarm.com.

Many local farms welcome visitors at most hours of the day, however, it a good idea to call and set up an appointment before your first visit. To find a farm close to you, visit: https://minnesotagrown.com/.

Farms and Farmers Markets bring people together and improve the health of the community!

— Katie Hansen, Food Council Member

Market Managers meet to connect and share.

Market Managers meet to connect and share.

Who’s ready for Farmers Market Season?! The Crow River Food Council recently hosted a pre-market meeting to connect with the Farmers Markets in the Crow River area. We had a great turnout and were able to connect with several markets! This gave them a chance to share ideas and tips for a successful market this season.

The Food Council will occasionally have booths set up at the markets, too, so be sure to stop by and introduce yourself if you see us out there! We would love to hear from you and your ideas to improve the community’s access to locally produced foods. For a printable list of farmers markets in the Crow River region, click here.

We’re also excited to announce a raffle at the Howard Lake Farmers Market this year. View the flyer here. They have a new location and new time – it will be Thursdays from 3-6 this year at Lion’s Park in Howard Lake. Each time you shop at the market you are eligible to enter a raffle to win a free basket of locally produced goodies! And they aren’t just doing one drawing, you have three chances to win, once each month! And the more times you shop the more times you can enter, happy shopping!

Additionally, the Power of Produce (PoP) Club continues to grow and expand throughout our region. PoP is a farmers market incentive program designed to empower children to make healthful food choices. Each week, kids age 4-12 receive a $2 token to spend on fresh fruits and vegetables and food plants. Find PoP at the following markets this summer:
WC PoP 2018 Social Media

Stay up to date on all things PoP, and where we’re visiting this summer by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.

2017: Meeting our Mission

— Connie Carlson, Executive Director

Over four years ago, the mission of the Crow River Food Council was developed by a group of engaged local community members who wanted to find ways to work together to “promote healthy eating that maximizes the use of local, regional, and seasonal food produced with sustainable practices and creates prosperous communities in our region.”

As I sit back and think about the work we accomplished in 2017, I see very clearly how we continued to live up to that mission. Here is a snapshot of the great work the Crow River Food Council accomplished in 2017!

    1. Expert speakers informed market leaders at our Farmer's Market Workshop

      Expert speakers informed market leaders at our Farmer’s Market Workshop

      Farmers Market Leadership and Networking: The CRFC wrote and received a small grant to fund the development of a Crow River area Farmer’s Market networking group. The first event was held in April, 2017 and brought together leadership from 10 different area farmer’s markets! The CRFC shared information about the PoP program, SNAP/EBT and other opportunities for markets to serve the people in our region. Leaders from the markets also shared their best practices and brainstormed ways to tackle their challenges. The response to this event was so positive that it was decided to host another in the fall after the market season. The CRFC was also able to give away two small scholarships for markets who needed additional funding to start programming.

    2. PoP gives kids purchasing power at Farmer's Markets

      PoP gives kids purchasing power at Farmer’s Markets

      PoP Continues to Explode! The very popular PoP program continued to expand across our region. Maple Lake, Monticello, Albertville and Annandale all hosted PoP programs in 2017. In 2018, Rockford is already planning on starting a program with Delano and Buffalo getting pieces into place.

    3. Slow Cooker Classes: The CRFC partnered with Grace Place in Montrose to launch a new cooking series called Montrose Cooks! Funding was provided through an Allina grant. Originally slated to be one series of 6 classes, the series is now in its third cycle and is connecting with community members of all ages. Grace Place is working on expanding the classes and we hope to see it replicated in more communities in our region. You can read more about this program here.

      Participants work together to recreate the class dish.

      Montrose Cooks! participants work together to recreate the class dish

    4. Making Connections: Connie Carlson and Rod Greder of the CRFC also got funding to host events for farmers and businesses in our region to connect and develop relationships, with the hope that more of our area businesses will purchase from our farmers. Events in 2017 were hosted at Irish Blessings (Maple Lake), Rosewood (Rockford) and Harvest Moon Co-op (Long Lake). In 2018, events are scheduled for The Abundant Kitchen (Buffalo), The Buffalo School District, and Baker-Near-Wilderness Park. In addition, a program is in development to connect headstart programs with CSA farmers. Stay tuned for more great details as this work continues.
    5. Setting the Table: Late in 2017, the CRFC partnered with various regional organizations to host a Farm-to-Table Dinner. Sponsors included The Sustainable Farming Association: Crow River Chapter, Allina Health – Buffalo Hospital FoundationBuffalo Community OrchestraHayes’ Public House, IntegriPrintRandy’s SanitationBuffalo Books and Coffee, and an Anonymous Donor. The dinner was organized by a close team of CRFC board members and community partners and featured produce harvested from farms around our region, including Riverbend Farm, Living Song Farm, Mana Gardens, Sweet Beet Farm and TC Farm. It was a beautiful evening filled with great food and great conversation.

Whew! What an exciting year! Keep watching our Facebook and Twitter accounts for updates on our work and ways for you to get involved. We already have plans in place for great programming in 2018 and we hope you’ll roll up your sleeves and join us.

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.

— 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

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.