Project aims to spread locally grown produce in Minnesota

Published 7:30 pm Sunday, June 24, 2018

CLINTON — A pilot project in Minnesota hopes to bring more locally grown food to the state.

The project is being led by Kathy Draeger, the statewide director for the University of Minnesota regional sustainable development partnerships.

Draeger works to support local projects in rural parts of the state and had been thinking about farm-to-market obstacles for years. Funded by a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, trucks will distribute locally grown produce to small-town grocers across the state.

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“What we’re hoping to do is re-engage the rural grocery stores,” Draeger said.

Bonnie’s Hometown Grocery will be the project’s hub and Big Stone County farmer Russ Swenson will provide garlic for the pilot project later this summer.

“Rural grocery stores are at the end, they’re the last place lettuce from California goes in the nation. Same with garlic. It’s not high-quality food,” said Draeger. “And here’s a chance to get high-quality food into these small-town stores.”

Mason Brothers is the Wadena grocery wholesaler participating in the project. Duke Harrison oversees transportation and warehouse operations for the wholesaler. He said the project’s main challenge will be convincing grocers and consumers that a quality product is worth the higher price.

“I think the only way we could get to that point is telling a story and creating an emotional attachment to these products,” Harrison said. “So, it kind of comes back to connecting people and trying to build that trust and loyalty to these local grocery stores so they keep their lights on.”

Draeger said she hopes to eventually expand to offer other crops, such as potatoes and strawberries.