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Southern Minnesota local food producer sustainability project launched

A new local foods initiative has been launched to support food producers in southern Minnesota, according to a press release. The local food producer sustainability project is a partnership between Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association, Renewing the Countryside, Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation and Sustainable Farming Association. Together, the organizations have a vision for a bustling food system that provides communities with more economic opportunity, a greater connection to the environment and increased financial resilience among local food producers.

This three-year endeavor kicked off in November and is focused on removing barriers for food producers who live in SMIF’s 20-county region. Small, local food producers often face unique challenges in financing their operation, marketing their product and developing a resilient business model. In this first year, the project aims to assess the current state of the local food system and learn how small producers, cottage makers and others in this industry can be better supported. Overall, the project will impact an estimated 300 farmers, local food makers and people of limited means who need access to fresh, local food, institutions buying local food, wholesalers and farmers’ markets.

The project is led by James Harren, the local foods economic development VISTA hosted by SMIF. Harren, who graduated from Carleton College in 2019 with a degree in environmental studies, is serving in the role through the AmeriCorps VISTA program. VISTA, which stands for Volunteer in Service to America, is a national service, professional leadership opportunity designed to help build the capacity of organizations dedicated to providing economic opportunities to citizens in low-income or poverty circumstances.

“I am excited to learn more about the local food system in southern Minnesota and how producers, and the system at large, could be better positioned to thrive,” Harren said.

Harren is recruiting an advisory committee to help lead the project and guide efforts to learn more about the state of the local food system in the region. Committee members should have expertise in the local food system, whether that be through research, nonprofit or industry supporters of local food, and producers themselves. Committee members will advise project leaders and offer their wealth of expertise and knowledge on southern Minnesota’s local food system. If interested in serving on this committee, contact Harren at jamesh@smifoundation.org or 507-214-2014.

“We are honored to be the host site for the AmeriCorps VISTA position and look forward to seeing how this project will benefit our region, the local food economy and the state of Minnesota at large,” said Pam Bishop, vice president of economic development at SMIF.

“A vibrant and sustainable food system is vital in maintaining a strong rural community,” said Jan Joannides, executive director and co-founder of Renewing the Countryside. “I’m excited to collaborate on this project and even more thrilled to see how we can support rural entrepreneurs.”

The four partners are also recruiting a second VISTA position to join the project team. The Farmers’ Market Economic Opportunity VISTA will support the development of farmers markets throughout southern Minnesota. For information on this position or to apply, contact Barbara Gunderson, SMIF’s AmeriCorps director, at barbarag@smifoundation.org or 507-456-0353.