— Connie Carlson, Executive Director

Growers need markets for their products.
Chefs and Buyers are eager to buy locally.
Consumers want to eat local food.

Yet, in the Crow River Region, there are only a small number of places where you can order something locally grown off a menu or put it in your shopping cart.

The Crow River Food Council, in partnership with Wright County Extension, has been working to change that and make it easier for farmers to find markets, buyers to find farmers and consumers to enjoy it all.

Local farmers getting a tour of the Buffalo Community Middle School, the event was scheduled by CRFC board member, Sue Spike and included new Food Service Director, Penny Hoops.

Local farmers getting a tour of the Buffalo Community Middle School, the event was scheduled by CRFC board member, Sue Spike and included new Food Service Director, Penny Hoops.

In 2016, Connie Carlson, Executive Director of the Crow River Food Council, and Rod Greder, Wright County Extension Education, submitted and were awarded a grant through the MN Food Charter to bring together producers and buyers. Prior to submitting the grant, Connie and Rod had attempted to host a “Speed Dating” event for local growers and buyers. This event was advertised as an opportunity for attendees to participate in short meet-and-greet sessions to share information about their farms and businesses and spark new market relationships. Unfortunately, Rod and Connie quickly discovered that it was very challenging to get busy farmers and very busy business owners in the same place at the same time.

So, Rod and Connie went back to the drawing board to think through how to bring these two groups together in a way that worked for everyone. They determined their two biggest challenges to getting producers and buyers together were:

  1. Overcoming Mythology: Rod and Connie discovered through conversations and interviews that many small businesses don’t know or believe they can buy produce from local farmers. Licensing and regulations appear to be daunting and confusing and many small business, though interested in buying locally, don’t have the time or energy to figure it all out.
  2. Time is Money: For both growers and buyers, it is challenging to find the time in the day to attend workshops and events. For farmers, this is particularly true during the summer months. Restaurant owners and culinary professionals are equally busy and often have limited to no additional staff to allow them to take time away.

Rod and Connie devised a new plan with these two points in mind. The first part of the plan would be to host a workshop for growers and buyers interested in getting educated on buying local food. Although this didn’t tackle problem of workshops taking up time, the subject matter must’ve struck a cord because the event was very well-attended by growers and businesses.

Producers and businesses attending the Institutional Buying Event, listening to a panel of local food buyers, including the Buffalo Community Middle School.

Producers and businesses attending the Institutional Buying Event, listening to a panel of local food buyers, including the Buffalo Community Middle School.

The second part of the plan was to work with small businesses to arrange a time when they could open their doors to invite producers to visit with them, learn about their business, share information on what they are growing and start developing connections. This was the plan awarded funding by the MN Food Charter grant.

The Institutional Buying Workshop was hosted in May 2017 with approximately 40 producers and small businesses in attendance. Shortly thereafter, businesses such as Irish Blessings (Maple Lake), Rosewood (Rockford) and Harvest Moon Co-op (Long Lake) hosted events. Rod and Connie quickly discovered that summer was definitely NOT the time to host these events if they wanted producers to attend. So, they held off scheduling additional events until the winter months. Events held early in 2018 at The Abundant Kitchen (Buffalo), Buffalo Community Middle School and Baker Wilderness Reserve (Maple Plain) were well attended by farmers who were not busy in their fields.

The events were an hour and a half to stay efficient and respectful of everyone’s time. Each event included time for the business owner to give a tour of their business and talk about what they are doing. Growers were encouraged to bring samples and information on their farms, including contact information, product lists and pricing.

Iron Shoe micro greens at Harvest Moon Co-op.

Iron Shoe micro greens at Harvest Moon Co-op.

The results from these events have been slowly popping up here and there. Harvest Moon Co-op has been the most proactive, seeking garlic, potatoes and micro-greens from various producers who have connected since the event.

The Crow River Food Council is very interested in continuing to facilitate and host future events and are always interested in talking to businesses that want to meet and work with regional farmers. The grant money paid for lunches at the events, provided by the business (which was intended to be another perk–farmers got to try the food!). However, some of the events were hosted in the late afternoon and did not include a lunch, making the events very affordable.

Future work in this area will include hosting additional events, sponsoring produce handling workshops and finalizing a local directory of producers that will be housed on the Crow River Food Council website.

Have a suggestion for a business we should connect with? Know of a business doing great local food work? Send us a note. We’d love to hear from you!

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.