ok, ok, ok...Top 10 lists are so last decade...
Or... the 80's called they want their top 10 list back. (actually, I hear the 80's are hip with the kids now :)
But we can't help ourselves - we just have to share how we have been working to foster a more just, sustainable, and vibrant countryside. Here are just a few highlights of that work.
And just a note - we come to you with an end of year ask for donations. If you read below something that inspires you - please make a donation to help us continue to do this work.
Bookending the year 2022 are two stories of widely cherished farms in Minnesota - 1. Singing Hills Dairy and 2. Hoch Orchard. In the first case the transition from Lynne Reeck to the Lohr family has been finalized and it could not have happened without the extreme generosity of readers like you. This beautiful piece of land is forever protected from development and will stay in agriculture. The Lohr family had been renting land for decades and often found that their landlords would ask them to move which sent them scrambling for a new place to farm. And, buying a farm was cost prohibitive. Lynne had a loyal and motivated customer base - but she had decided that she needed to transition out of cheese making. Here's where Renewing the Countryside and the American Farmland Trust came in. Together we raised $150,000 to purchase an agricultural easement to buy down the cost for the Lohr family and provide Lynne a fair market value for her farm. You, gentle reader, benefit from a reliable source of healthy local food and protecting precious farmland from development.
Win- Win - Win!
The Hoch Orchard transition is just getting started - we are getting the word out to potential next generation farmers. We are also figuring out how to place an easement on the land so the new farmer has a better shot at making the operation cash flow and forever protect the gem of a farm perched on top of a hill in the Driftless area of SEMN from development.
Our director often quips that there are plenty of people out there to teach you how to drive a car - but few who can guide you through purchasing one. This is analogous to farming. Farmland Access Navigators have been coaching and working alongside beginning farmers who know "how to farm" on "how to access land tenure," helping with everything from crafting fair and durable leasing agreements to navigating financing options for farmland purchase. Along the way writing business plans, assessing land suitability, and honing land search skills. There are dozens of examples in MN, WI and IA of beginning farmers who are better able to bring great local foods to your plate because of the work we've done together.
They say old habits are hard to break - so that's why we are trying to create good food eaters while they're young! Renewing the Countryside has been partnering with the Hmong American Farmers Association to provide weekly boxes of food to early care facilities in St Paul, MN. Along with providing suggested activities, games and recipes related to produce found in the boxes we also have hosted story times at community garden sites.
We have been creating opportunities for local farmers to sell direct to restaurants, schools and institutions for many years. And the demand for local foods have really taken off in some sectors - especially the "chef-driven" style restaurant and cafes. Why not so much at schools or hospitals or other larger institutions? It's not because they don't want local foods - it is more of a logistic nightmare for them. The school can not show up at the farmers' market on Saturday morning and they don't have a petty-cash box in the office to buy apples from a farmer at the back door. Renewing the Countryside has cracked that nut! We have instituted an online ordering system in 9 regions of the state where buyers can order food from multiple farmers, take delivery at their business and receive an invoice payable usually NET 30 days! And it's WORKING! And we are expanding to other markets in the state.
What is the fastest growing demographic in local foods farming - yup, women. Why design projects dedicated to women farmers? Because - you know - "the old boys network!" How many women farmers can relate to the feed truck showing up in the farm yard only to have the driver ask where the "husband" is - and answer "why do you want to talk to him? he doesn't know anything about farming!" Projects like Soil Sisters and WiWiC (Wisconsin Women in Conservation) bring cohorts of women together to network, share farming strategies and techniques, and learn about best practices for sustainable farming and farm business management. Across all demographics - we know - people learn best from people who have a shared experience - so that's why.
Farmers are notorious for being a "jack of all trades" but that doesn't make them clone-able - nor does it apply to every aspect of running a farm. Sometimes a farmer just needs an extra pair (or a few pairs) of hands to get a big project done. Sometimes it's a "new to them" project that if someone who had done it before could come help figure it out - that would save countless hours and money. Farm Buds have arranged small groups of farm helpers to tackle everything from small farmstead clean up projects to piecing together the puzzle of erecting a high tunnel greenhouse!
The Great Minnesota Get Together! And Renewing the Countryside has been bringing local foods for 15 years! With a yearly exhibit on food and farming related issues (this year was Farm to Early Care) to local foods sampling (we even sampled crickets - YES CRICKETS!) and a crowd favorite is always the cooking demos(12 Chefs - 3 times a day!). After a smaller fair last year it seemed there was a lot of pent-up appetite for getting together. And we're happy to fill the void with great kids activities and tasty local foods.
The United States Department of Agriculture has some really amazing resources for farmers. From information on how to farm with the best environmental practices to farm loans that are below the market rate. But where do you go to learn what is even out there to help? It takes a pretty special kind of person to waltz down to a government building, poke your head in a door and say "hey - what do you folks have for me?" And the USDA knows it. So they are working with Renewing the Countryside to get the word out to what is termed "Underserved" populations. Women, BIPOC, recent immigrants, refugees and veterans have not traditionally taken advantage of these resources - we are working on getting these groups information about USDA programs and resources so they can be better and more profitable farmers.
Come and Get It! Part 2. A few years ago we developed a tool kit and hosted a number of information sessions on local farms for how to serve food on your farm. It was a tremendous success! Many "pizza farms" and other on-farm food service businesses have been launched in the past few years as a result. Now we are working on a tool kit for how to host an on farm food festival! We will work with the UMN Tourism Center to provide a course to several people around the state teaching how to obtain permits, best practices for ticketing, marketing, bookkeeping etc... Teams will then kick off their own festivals in partnership with neighboring farms - together providing a local foods experience to their region.
Did you make it to Rochester for FEAST! this year? Seemed like everyone was there. We sold out every booth, attendance was back to normal (you know, like pre-COVID,) and there were record breaking sales. It probably helped that we moved up the date to November - less chance of snow ruining everything. And, we obtained a license to sample distilled spirits for the first time. WHEEE!!! There was one change that you probably wouldn't know about - we also split off the wholesale only Tradeshow to its own date in March. This was at the request of many wholesale buyers who said that the fall event didn't mesh nicely with their calendars for ordering new items for the next year. So we changed the date and boy was that a good move. Wholesale buyers came and made connections to local food makers - you probably have even seen some of those new foods on the shelves at your favorite local grocery store. If not - go give a gentle nudge to the store manager to come to Feast! Tradeshow in March in Cannon Falls, MN.
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