Ground Level: Local Food

Up Close: Local food in Minnesota

November 15, 2010 updated

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Many Minnesota communities are working to bring more locally produced food to residents' tables.

Click on the city names below to see their stories.

Goal: Get students to eat more locally produced food in school

Willmar

  • Community

    City of 18,000 residents in west-central Minnesota. Surrounding farm country focuses on livestock, poultry, corn and soybeans.

  • Challenges

    Keeping price down, finding new suppliers, using foods that need processing between the farm and the school.

  • Point person

    Annette DeRouin, food service director, Willmar Public Schools.

Project

Since the spring of 2005, Willmar has aggressively tried to increase the amount of local food used in the school lunchrooms. The effort started with samples of apples, squash, wild rice and bison. It expanded in later years to include tomatoes, potatoes, whole wheat, corn on the cob, corn meal and other foods.

Food service director Annette DeRouin has become a leading advocate of farm-to-school efforts, helping other school districts establish programs and speaking at forums and conferences to spread the word.

Links: Willmar Public School District

Goal: Create Main Street restaurant that focuses on local foods, educates residents

Wadena

  • Community

    Located in central Minnesota, Wadena is at the intersection of Highways 71, 10 and 29. It boasts a downtown with an art deco hotel. Wadena most recently suffered $64 million in damage from a tornado that heavily damaged the west side of town, where Wadena-Deek Creek high school, the community center and fairgrounds are located.

  • Challenges

    The challenge is to serve as much locally grown and raised food as possible. That means convincing residents to get used to the changing, seasonal aspect of the menus and to pay more than at other local restaurants.

  • Point people

    Dave Evert and Shari and Derek Olson, who run the Harvest Thyme Bistro.

Project

The Harvest Thyme Bistro is a restaurant located in Wadena on Highway 71 across from the Ben Franklin. It is in a building co-owned by Dave Evert, who is the founder of the nonprofit Stimulating Economic Progress.

That organization seeks grants for sustainable food projects. It just completed its first year in business. It has developed relationships with local producers and is active in educating people about cooking with local produce.

Links: Harvest Thyme Bistro

Goal: Expand use of local foods in area restaurants

Brainerd

  • Community

    The Brainerd Lakes area is popular with tourists, especially in the summer time. There are dozens of resorts on the lakes, including some with on site restaurants.

  • Challenges

    The group led by Linda Ulland from the University of Minnesota's Central Regional Partnership thought the main challenge was to distribute food from farmer to restaurant.

    But they also discovered that restaurants were too busy to take the time to order a variety of ingredients from several different partners. Local Dirt's online ordering system helped, but it depended on both farmers and restaurants getting used to keeping track of available food and orders.

  • Point people

    Linda Ulland, executive director Central Regional Partnership. Bob and Arlene Jones from The Farm on St. Mathias, Tom Kavanaugh, chef consultant. Chef Matt Annand from Prairie Bay in Brainerd.

Project

Beginning in the spring of 2010 and working with the website Local Dirt, a group of five resort restaurants and 10 to 15 producers tried to provide locally raised food to the restaurants. The idea is to try to provide more of a market for local producers and well as encourage restaurants to think of their neighboring farms as an important source of ingredients.

Links: The Farm on St. Mathias, University of Minnesota Central Regional Partnership, Prairie Bay Grill

Goal: Teach those new and old to farming how to use sustainable growing practices and develop markets for products

Fergus Falls

  • Community

    Students come mostly from the area around Fergus Falls, a couple commute from the Twin Cities. All attend Minnesota State Community and Technical College-Fergus Falls.

  • Challenges

    To teach the value of artisan food and how to make a living growing and producing it.

  • Point people

    Sue Wika, PhD. Coordinator, Sustainable Food Production Program, M State-Fergus Falls.

Project

The M State Sustainable Food Production program teaches the value of artisan food and how to make a living by growing and producing it. Coordinator Sue Wika says her class is an eclectic mix of students, young farmers and middle-aged career changers.

The program offers courses in marketing and farm ecology and even such skills as building electric fences to contain grass-fed livestock. Course instructors are farmers who grow vegetables and sells through CSA and direct marketing or raise grass-fed livestock.

Links: M State Sustainable Food Production

Goal: Track how much local food a restaurant uses

Minneapolis

  • Community

    Restaurants in the Twin Cities and elsewhere are increasing touting the local food they include on their menus.

  • Challenges

    To be accountable by providing measurement to customers seeking local food sources.

  • Point people

    Danny Schwarzman, owner of Common Roots.

Project

Common Roots Cafť has for four years been recording supply invoices in spreadsheets, categorizing all purchases by their source. Owner Danny Schwarzman breaks his purchases among a number of categories: "Local" is defined as grown within 250 miles, for example.

He has another category for food processed within 250 miles and another for "organic but not local." There's a category for sustainable seafood and then a sum of "total good food."

Links: Common Roots Café

Goal: Act as a middleman serving local producers and local food retailers in an effort to bring efficiency to the growing local food movement

St. Paul

  • Community

    What started as a collection of retail food cooperatives interested in local and organic food has grown to include more retailers and now institutions like schools and hospitals.

  • Challenges

    Although many people hold dear the idea of local and organic food, those ideals run into the reality of the costs involved in producing it, says business development director Lori Zeitima.

  • Point people

    Lori Zeitima, business development manager for Co-op Partners Warehouse.

Project

Co-op Partners Warehouse is an 11-year-old creature of the Wedge retail food co-op in Minneapolis. It started as a means of broadening the number of food suppliers for the Wedge but it has grown to become one of the prime suppliers of organic food to retail cooperatives throughout the Twin Cities.

About 40 percent of the what it distributes in the summer is locally produced. It has added a "drop ship" service for producers who cut their own deals with retailers but don't want to do the delivery themselves, a common need among producers starting to scale up their operations.

Links: Co-op Partners Warehouse

Goal: To create a system to distribute the food produced by small, local farmers using sustainable methods

Milan

  • Community

    Milan has a population of 320. Garden Goddess Enterprises is based in the town and there are nearly two dozen local farmers in a twenty-five mile radius.

  • Challenges

    Seeking resources to buy and maintain a facility.

  • Point people

    Chuck Waibel and Carol Ford, Garden Goddess Enterprises.

Project

Garden Goddess Greenhouse opened in 2004 and grows vegetables all year long. It now produces 11 shares of produce that is divided among 20 families. The operators hope now that they can buy a facility in town and use it to expand their greenhouse and also act as a crop aggregator for other local farmers.

Links: Garden Goddess Enterprises

Goal: To help immigrant and minority farmers put their operations on a sound business footing and reach broader markets

Marine on St. Croix

  • Community

    Marine on St. Croix is home to the Minnesota Food Association, which operates a 160-member Community Supported Agriculture farm and training program.

  • Challenges

    Overcoming cultural challenges Ė- language, new climate and growing seasons, record keeping demands, new business models to learn.

  • Point people

    Glen Hill, executive director, Minnesota Food Association.

Project

Minnesota Food Association uses its 160-member CSA farm as a training ground for immigrant and minority farmers, encouraging organic production and good business practices and helping them find ways to market their produce. A good example of a success was two brothers from Mexico who now farm near Turtle Lake, Wis., who after going through the Minnesot Food Association training, took over a wholesale relationship with the restaurant chain Chipotle.

Goal: To supply vegetables across a variety of local markets, assuring consumers of food safety

Apple Valley

  • Community

    Apple Valley is a third-ring suburb south of St. Paul, still home to some vegetable production.

  • Challenges

    Pahlís is GAP certified (Good Agricultural Practices, a food safety audit program run the USDA). Gary Pahl believes that most producers, mid-size and small should be GAP-certified. He suggests a standard that all farms could adhere to that would allow produce to be traced back to the field where it was raised.

  • Point people

    Gary Pahl, co-owner of Pahl Farm with his brother, Brian. Heís a fifth-generation farmer in the Twin Cities south metro.

Project

Gary Pahl, operates Pahl Farms, selling sweet corn, beans, pumpkins to retail stores Target, Lunds & Byerlyís, Walmart and Cub Foods. He also runs Pahlís Market as a retail garden center, open year round.

Links: Pahlís Farm

Goal: To find the right balance between retail and wholesale

Northfield

  • Community

    Northfield lies 40 miles south of the Twin Cities, but produce customers are at farmers markets in the Twin Cities and retail stores, including Lunds, Byerlyís and Kowalskiís.

  • Challenges

    Lorenceís has to work closely with buyers to make sure that they donít order too much product to sell while the crop is at its freshest. Lorence also needs to get a fair price for its produce to keep wages fair for employees. The retail pick-your own and farm stand business keeps the Lorences closer to home with young children. The wholesale side of the business stabilizes the farmís income.

  • Point people

    Sean Lorence.

Project

Lorenceís Berry Farm sells asparagus, raspberries and strawberries. Sean Lorence has tried to sell strawberries wholesale but had to pull back because of wet weather. Asparagus is challenging because 60 percent of the crop is ready in the first two weeks of its season. And raspberries are best sold within 2 days of picking.

Links: Pahlís Farm

Goal: Sustainably raise lettuces, basil, tilapia and catfish. Follow organic practices and adhere to Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) to maintain certification.

Baldwin, Wis.

  • Community

    Baldwin, Wis., just east of the Twin Cities. Customers are in the Twin Cities and include Lunds & Byerlyís.

  • Challenges

    Future Farm hopes to power the greenhouse using methane from the dairy. Future Farm hopes to cut costs by finding markets for whole fish. The tilapia and catfish goes to Prairie Star Farm for processing before market.

  • Point people

    Steve Meyer, co owner and operations director, Future Farm Food and Fuel.

Project

Future Farm Food and Fuel operates a half-acre greenhouse across the county road from the Emerald Dairy in rural western Wisconsin.

Links: MPR Feature — Retail grocers compete for customers - and local food

Goal: Sell local produce and other locally made goods and create a way for people to know what their neighbors grow.

Stillwater

  • Community

    Located in the St. Croix Valley.

  • Challenges

    Raise awareness, increase demand and encourage buyers to seek more locally grown food to put on store shelves. Last spring River Market held an event for farmers and area restaurants to meet and exchange information. The co-op also is a CSA drop/ pickup place.

  • Point people

    Mead Stone, general manager at River Market.

Project

River Market Community Co-Op started a system where local food and other goods were given a special bar code. Receipts carry percentages of how much local food was purchased.

Links: MPR Feature — Retail grocers compete for customers - and local food

Goal: Involve more Hispanic and Latino farmers as owners rather than laborers.

SE Minnesota

  • Community

    Northfield and SE Minnesota.

  • Challenges

    In December, the Hillside Farmerís Co-op received a USDA grant of $113,000 to raise more poultry for direct sale to the public and to retail and wholesale markets and school districts. The farm model is to start small with free-range chickens raised in solar-heated buildings. The chickens provide the fertilizer to perennial crops like hazelnuts. Eventually the co-op will raise a variety of vegetables. The goal is to reduce energy and input costs, grow organic or sustainable crops and livestock.

  • Point person

    Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, director of the Rural Enterprise Center.

Project

Rural Enterprise Center and its co-op, the Hillside Farmerís Co-op.