July 2020 enewsletter


July 2020

Have you taken the LOCAL FOOD IS ESSENTIAL pledge? A coalition of organizations, including RTC, is seizing upon the groundswell of support for local foods to ensure that the lessons learned this year will be here to stay—that our commitment to local farms is steadfast so that their presence is sustained for years to come, rather than fading after COVID. 

If you're able, consider donating to the Local Emergency Assistance Farm Fund (LEAFF) to help farmers, particularly BIPOC and emerging farmers, whose businesses have been impacted by COVID-19.

In these troubling times, we're so glad to be doing work that instills hope for our food system and the people that are so dedicated to caring for the land and our communities. Keep reading for some of the other things we have going on!

—the team at Renewing the Countryside


Farmland Access

Mhonpaj Lee recently joined our team of Farmland Access Navigators, via our partnership with MOSES, to help beginning farmers find and access secure land tenure to support their farm businesses. Mhonpaj brings a wealth of specialized skills to this role as a realtor, farmer, activist, interpreter, and so much more.  

“It’s happened for me naturally,” she said during our conversation about her role as a Farmland Access Navigator working with Hmong populations. “Being at the farmers market, these topics come up.” With her experience as a realtor and a farmer, she was already working with some longtime farmers who didn’t have secure land tenure to navigate the complex system.  “If you don't have a lease or own, opportunities are limited - you can't get into the farmers market, or access Minnesota Grown.”  She was excited to learn that there was a program, a system to help farmers, and that there was a position she could fill professionally to help others. It might also allow her to rebalance some of the other many roles she holds in her family and businesses.

We’re excited to have Mhonpaj join our growing team of Farmland Access Navigators and expand the partnerships' ability to serve more land seekers and land owners! Want to learn more? Visit renewingthecountryside.org/farmlandaccess

Artisan Grains

To better spread the understanding of why small grains are good for our regional lands, farms, and economies, we have been involved in developing a graphic Grains Glossary series along with our partner organization, the Artisan Grain Collaborative (AGC). The first five need-to-know grain terms were recently debuted, and we look forward to expanding the list in the coming months. To see the sound-bite definitions with the coordinating background images (compiled to show examples and cite farms walking this talk), check out AGC's Facebook and Instagram, and feel free to suggest additional terms you'd like to see defined! 

The beautiful image above is from farmer Jeff Hake of Funks Grove Heritage Fruits & Grains in Illinois.

FEAST! Local Foods Network 

University of Minnesota graduate student Emily Reno embarked on a regional market analysis in February for Agua Gorda, a farming cooperative in Long Prairie, MN, at a time when wholesale markets were hit hard by the pandemic.

One of Emily’s conclusions from working with brothers Javier and Jose Garcia—two of the farm’s four workers—is that a language barrier can make traditional assistance resources unattainable. Farm owner Javier is part of the Shared Ground Co-op of farmers, which includes other Spanish speakers, but more resources in Spanish are needed to close the gap. 

Agua Gorda, like all farms, seeks to find strong relationships with buyers. In their case, they have chosen wholesale markets for their tomatillos, jalapeños, cilantro, zucchini and other produce. That means instead of selling to individual customers at a farmers’ market, they seek to sell bulk amounts by the bin or truckload to buyers like schools, restaurants, or others that serve prepared food. They’ve seen disruption in those sales due to COVID, but it has also created opportunities for word of mouth cooperation at the regional level.

Farms trying to sell high quality, organic produce to large buyers must demonstrate the ripple effect of purchasing from a smaller producer—the economic benefits of keeping money in the community. Things like creating a website to share information about farming practices, job creation and giving back to the community all take time—difficult for a farmer to do on top of the actual work of farming.

Learn more from the links below, and keep an eye out for restaurants and cafeterias that buy from local farms!

Agua Gorda Cooperative website 

Read the full article and get Emily's report

Read more from the FEAST! Local Foods Scoop e-newsletter 

Farm to School & Early Care

We're busy with a number of projects that connect healthy, local food with children, schools, early care sites, and families. We're lucky to expand on that work this summer with an exciting new crew of faces, skills, and energy. Meet our Farm to Early Care summer staff below, helping with outreach and education—and getting creative with the even-more-virtual world that 2020 has brought!

Isaiah Agnew

Isaiah is a student at Macalester College in Saint Paul where he is majoring in American Studies. Experiences as an educator have been central to his careers in both academia and music, providing him with the means to bring new educational tools to the program. His childhood was filled with CSA boxes and backyard gardens, and he now practices nutrition as the bedrock of physical and mental wellbeing.


Jessica Jurcek

Jessica is an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities studying Environmental Sciences, Policy, & Management and Journalism. Jessica grew up on a grass-fed beef farm in Wisconsin and is passionate about local foods and sustainable agriculture. She loves the outdoors and enjoys running and hiking, and is excited to help children in early care better connect to their food and where it comes from.


Liz Meyer

Liz is an educator, excited to bring her Early Childhood knowledge and experience to the discussion table. Liz anticipates a lot of time spent this summer in her & her husband's vegetable garden (see picture!) and flower beds, where she can actively contemplate her work with RTC. She also expects this will bear "fruit" by cultivating hands-on and practical ideas to meet the needs of the Farm to Early Care program and community. Liz and her husband reside on a hobby farm near Richmond, MN.

Check out our Facebook page and Farm to Early Care blog to see what they've been up to and learn more about ways that families with young children and child care providers can engage the children they care for, even in these strange times. 

DON'T FORGET: Rapid Response Grant Deadline August 12

There are a couple of weeks left to apply for Minnesota Department of Agriculture's AGRI Rapid Response funding to respond to the disruptions COVID-19 has caused in Farm to School markets via two categories: one for schools and one for farmers/vendors. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis through August 12. 

Women in Ag

When you think of the word “hospitality,” what image comes to mind?  Maybe a vision of mom’s china set that only came out for special occasions?  It’s easy to fall into the expected, often obligatory aspects of hospitality like dinner parties and required house cleaning. 

But today, let’s cook up a broader definition of hospitality to create a spirit of welcome that enables us to authentically invite and include a greater number and diversity of people at the table. Whether we’re shaking up the system from our literal kitchen table or a broader virtual convening, we—as women committed to sustainable agriculture and land stewardship—can actively invite more voices in. Especially as we navigate a new COVID-19 world with evolving norms of social gatherings, how can we keep warm hospitality at the forefront?

“Hospitality is how someone makes you feel, accommodation is where you lay your head,” shares Ash Bruxvoort, who runs Thistle’s Summit, a bed and breakfast in Mount Vernon, Iowa, with their partner, Marti Payseur.  As members of the LBGTQ community, Ash and Marti blend their activist mission with lodging by thoughtfully and authentically curating such a welcoming space for all.

Below are some perspectives on generating such hospitality from Bruxvoort and other women who have created such unique and enduring spaces of welcome:

1. Create a land connection

“When you come through the gate here, I'm always saying ‘welcome home’ to everyone,” shares Venice Williams, Executive Director of Alice’s Garden and Urban Farm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (pictured at right). William’s vision of hospitality and to “welcome back home” means to celebrate, honor and to be in union with the land.

“We help folks understand that no matter where you are, even in this urban context that has so many negative connotations, that here is a place of peace and growth. Here is a place where you can explore so many different parts of you.”

2. Prepare and ask



Thank you for your support of time, energy, funds, and enthusiasm! 

We continue to invite you to donate and to consider becoming a sustaining donor if you haven't already. Your generosity makes a big difference in the sustainable finances of a small non-profit organization like RTC!

Are you interested in helping guide RTC as a board member? We're currently accepting applications here. See our current board here.  

Renewing the Countryside is a non-profit organization that strengthens rural areas and small towns by championing and supporting farmers, artists, entrepreneurs, educators, activists, and others who are revitalizing the countryside through innovative endeavors.
We build awareness and support for these initiatives by collecting and sharing stories of rural renewal, providing practical assistance and networking opportunities for those working to improve rural America, and fostering connections between urban and rural people.

Renewing the Countryside


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