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Citizen initiatives stregthen social and economic bonds

Fri, Apr 6th, 2001
Posted in

Monday, April 9, 2001

The report, Finding Food in Farm Country, profiles four organizations that are committed to a regional food system.

Root River Market

In response to the closing of Houston, Minnesota's only grocery store in 1998, citizens of the town formed a locally owned cooperative grocery business, the Root River Market, which opened November 7, 2000. "The grocery store in most towns is the center of the business community," said Tony Denstad, manager of the Market. "If there is no grocery store, that hurts all the other businesses." The Market aims to become a full-service cooperative, eventually offering healthier foods and featuring local produce.

Rebekah’s Restaurant

Rebekah's Restaurant in Plainview, Minnesota, owned by Paula Wheeler and Diane Lutzke, buys food from 13 local producers and cooks all meals from scratch, changing the menus daily according to the available harvest.

"People think it is more difficult to buy from local farms since you have to deal with so many more businesses," says Wheeler. "You can't just place one single order and have it delivered. To us, that is the fun part. We see our neighbors on a regular basis. We know how they raise the food. We support the growers and they support us . Lots of our customers agree that organic food tastes better and is more nutritious."
Earthen Path Organic Farm

Steve Schwen is the proprietor of Earthen Path Organic Farm, a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm at Oak Center, near Plainview. He also coordinates a marketing cooperative, Full Circle Cooperative, that takes the organic produce from 14 local growers to Twin City cooperative food stores. "We sell an average of $800-$1,000 of produce each week during the season," Schwen says. He would like to add to his client list more restaurants and institutional buyers from the Southeast region.

"We have been able to show to our buyers that what we have is not just excellent quality produce," says Schwen, "but that we're different in how we approach the buyer. We're not just another entity marketing food. We are committed to building a sustainable region."

Sunflower Fields Farm

On Sunflower Fields Farm CSA in Northeast Iowa, Michael and Linda Nash raise organic produce for their immediate rural neighbors and have recruited neighboring farmers to join them in creating a multi-producer CSA. Michael Nash says, "We don't grow vegetables as much as we grow our soil. We develop relationships with our neighbors that we might call a market, but which are actually close personal bonds." The group has close to 160 shareholders who pay from $150 to $250 for their annual food shares.

When institutions, such as nursing homes, schools and restaurants began to express interest in buying fresh organic produce, the Nashes and neighboring farmers formed GROWN Locally, a producer's cooperative that sells to larger clients. The coop currently raises vegetables on 17 to 20 acres, with each member earning from $500 to $1,000 per year. The group plans to grow slowly, perhaps planting 20 to 30 acres in five more years.

By Nancy Overcott

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