Summer busy-ness abounds! Whether it’s attending little league games, potlucks or farmers markets, or taking much-needed vacations, we hope you’re taking it all in.
Below are some updates on our programs and activities, including changes on our board and staff, happy news on the Lor Family Farm, great connections in Farm to School, fun happenings with Soil Sisters, and the developing plans for the Minnesota State Fair.
Reminder that if you live near the Twin Cities, you can support our programs when you shop at Lakewinds Food Co-op, thanks to their Community Giving Round Up. Lakewinds is a true leader in making a difference in our food system, and by shopping there you not only support their good work, but also support many local farmers and foodmakers - and organizations like ours. It’s these kinds of programs that are helping us get this work done—thank you!
Welcome, new board members!
As a nonprofit, Renewing the Countryside's work benefits greatly from the guidance and oversight of its Board of Directors. We're excited to welcome two new supporters to serve three-year terms. Elected at the June board meeting, Kristian Braekkan and Bethany Paul began their tenure by joining current board members for an engaging board retreat July 10th at the organization’s Hammond, MN office. Welcome, Kristian and Bethany! The RTC Board now has nine members, with profiles shown here.
Kristian Braekkan is the Economic Development Director for the Region Nine Development Commission based in Mankato, MN. As an economist, he’s especially interested in systems changes to the economic bases of societies/economies/communities, and views food production as the heart of these changes.
Bethany Paul lives in Saint Paul, MN and brings a strong background of nonprofit fundraising to the RTC board. She currently works as Events Manager for Como Friends, the non the non-profit fundraising partner for Como Park Zoo & Conservatory. She brings extensive experience in non-profit board management, major gift solicitation, grant writing and prospecting, corporate sponsorships and donor stewardship to the board.
If you’ve been reading our newsletter for a while, you know that we’ve been working with many organizations who are part of the Upper Midwest Farmland Access Hub—which has nodes in MN, WI, and IA. While most of our work has been focused on beginning farmers who are looking for secure and affordable access to farmland (thanks to funders who are supporting that work), we also are regularly contacted about people who own farmland who are looking to either lease or sell it to a beginning farmer.
While on the surface this all seems straightforward, the reality is that it is far from straightforward. Because of the steep escalation of farmland prices, and the reality that “food” farmers have very low margins, most of these farmers—unless they are independently wealthy or have wealthy relatives or friends who are willing to invest in them—are stuck in insecure lease arrangements.
The Upper Midwest Farmland Access Hub has a couple of working groups trying to address these issues. One, in MN, is looking at policy. All are looking at how to reach farmland owners who may have both the values and means to help shift the current dynamic. While this may seem optimistic, we do get inquiries from landowners who really want their land to remain in sustainable/regenerative farming and because of their circumstances are able to help make this happen.
If any of this has you curious or interested, please reach out to Jan at [email protected] or 612.251.7304.
Pause for celebration
Happy news for the Lor Family: they're now working their own land!
Farm to School
SNAP educators had a blast at Maple Ridge Produce in Aitkin, MN learning how to support farmers and food service directors in making Farm to School a reality.
Many small- and mid-sized farms commonly engaging in Farm to School in MN are owned and operated by new and emerging farmers. SNAP-Ed staff and SHIP Coordinators have been meeting up and learning about the significant impact these farmers have on the MN Farm to School system.
Working with the MN Institute for Sustainable Agriculture and the University of MN, along with Renewing the Countryside and others, these service providers are gaining an understanding of barriers to farmers' success, such as language, lack of capacity in markets, or lack of connection to opportunity, and will be part of the learning that enhances the eventual ability of SNAP-Ed Staff to build or facilitate relationships in their communities.
|Incubator Farm: a place where people are given temporary, affordable access to small plots of land and infrastructure, and often training, for the purpose of honing skills and launching farm businesses. Community gardens allow for gardening/farming space for individuals within a community that do not have access to land.|
Building relationships with community stakeholders is the key to farm to school success and sustainability. Fundamental and complex human dynamics exist when building farm to school programming, and the training we're providing can play a crucial role in building and nurturing relationships among local farmers, school nutrition directors, educators, school wellness committees, key community stakeholders (those passionate about farm to institution), and complementary roles such as SHIP coordinators.
Up next: a training focused on land access where we will be visiting an incubator farm, a community garden, and The Good Acre Food Hub. We are very excited about this collaboration and the learning that is coming with it! To learn more about Farm to School, reach out to [email protected] she would be happy to help.
Food Justice Champion
RTC staffers Melvin and Vanessa joined a Slow Food group at Frogtown Farm to celebrate and welcome Jim Embry, visiting the Twin Cities on his Joy and Justice Journey at the end of June.
Community activist and founder of the Sustainable Communities Network, Jim Embry visited the Peace Garden (855 Aurora Ave. in St. Paul) with Melvin Giles and Vanessa Apira, followed by a dinner sponsored by RTC and provided by West Indies Soul Food, and also a talk at Frogtown Farm, which is available to watch here. Additional highlights of his trip included visiting George Floyd Square, Meseret Ethiopian restaurant, Rondo, and the Seward Co-op, where he also gave an interview to Food Freedom Radio's Laura Hedlund. Listen to that broadcast here.
RTC was happy to be a small part of the warm reception Jim received in the Cities!
Kim Sin of The Village Agricultural Cooperative in Rochester, talking with FSA staff about the cultures of the individuals farming at the community gardens.
Farmer Cosmas Nyatwori (right) shared his joy for Tongue of Fire beans with staffer Sara and Kathleen, RTC’s Vista Volunteer, as he was preparing to plant them. He worked joyfully while others around were watering their plants and teaching their children how to sow seeds.
RTC is helping to offer a training on cottage foods regulations for the Cambodian community at The Village, along with Minnesota Farmers Market Association and Olmsted County Public Health.
Minnesota Cottage Food Training
Saturday, July 23
Noon - 3 PM CDT
Rochester Covenant Church
Meanwhile, field days are continuing! Renewing the Countryside “connectors” are farmers, trained to connect others to resources that are available through the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS).
At these events farmers learn from their trusted peers, as well as learn about resources and programs.
Another field day is set for next Wednesday, July 27:
Introduction to NRCS Resources & Programs
Wednesday, July 27
6 - 8 PM CDT
Farmers Market Food Hub
The magic of the Farmers Market Food Hub is that it allows farmers to sell bulk amounts to large-scale foodservice buyers, along with the individual sales to casual market-goers.
Many of our Farmers Market Hubs Statewide are recruiting participants for a brand new program called Veggie Rx. Veggie Rx aims to increase access to fruits and vegetables for residents of their local Community and surrounding areas. The start-up costs of the program are from sponsorships from various organizations including SHIP, local hospitals, local community grant programs and more.
Veggie Rx gives participants $20 per week over the course of 8-10 weeks, depending on the market, to spend on produce at the Farmers’ Market. Over the course of the program, participants will receive educational materials, recipes, and cooking tips for fresh produce. Our Farmers Market Hubs have online sales platforms that allow participants to easily select their own produce. The online platform is also accessible to all residents in these communities, not just those participating in Veggie Rx. You can find the market’s online platforms at farmersmarkethub.org.
Staffer Sara George says, “This is an amazing opportunity for the Community to get behind an initiative that not only supports local families and local farmers, but that can also have a direct impact on the health and wellness of our community.” If you have any questions about Veggie Rx, please contact Sara!
Women in Ag
WiWiC team members at last week's field day, L-R: Noemy Serrano (SE region), Kriss Marion (communications), Harriet Behar (conservation coach), Sara George (WC region), Elena Byrne (SW region), Rebecca Christoffel (evaluation specialist).
Summer field days kicked off with a fantastic deep dive into cover crops and organically-managed prairie at Sweet Springs Farm with farmer, host, and Conservation Coach Harriet Behar, along with RTC staffer Elena Byrne, coordinator for the Southwest Region. The West Central region's field day with Sara George will be August 12th at Together Farms with Conservation Coach Stephanie Schneider. Registration and details are available at wiwic.org.
Back by popular demand, Wisconsin Women in Conservation is hosting their monthly conservation "summer camp" sessions online. It's a great way to gather expert advice, resources and opportunities from like-minded folks! Thursday, July 28 the topic is Managing Your Woodlands, and will feature Lauren Larsen, Natural Resources Educator in Forestry, UW Extension along with Professor Adena Rissman, as well as a landowner share from Margaret Parsons, Wildflower Woods, Women of WWOA.
Contact RTC staffers Sara George or Elena Byrne with questions.
Did you catch the Soil Sisters episode of Around the Farm Table?
It's so fun to see how the show blends together different site visits, talking with different farmers and hearing how important community has been for this supportive group—including our own friend, partner, and Soil Sisters co-founder Lisa Kivirist.
It all culminates with a fantastic potluck at host Inga Witcher's farm, with this great crowd shown below. Check it out!
Don't miss Soil Sisters Weekend, Aug 5-7!
Join Soil Sisters, a project of WiWiC partner Renewing the Countryside, for their award-winning weekend Aug. 5-7 filled with on-farm workshops and culinary events led by women farmers committed to conservation and community! Choose from over 20 workshops including longer intensives on everything from organic gardening to food preservation.
The weekend kicks off on Fri. Aug. 5 with a special all-day session specifically for women interested in starting farms: Soil Sisters Share: A Buffet of Resources, Ideas and Inspiration for Women Farmers. Full-day workshop just $25 including lunch with scholarships available.
See the full schedule and farms map here. All Soil Sisters weekend events will be held outside.
Local Food +
Minnesota State Fair
It's that time of year again!
On the docket for sampling with us in the Eco Experience building this year are some great makers, including The Bee Shed, Sailor Mercy (elderberry goodness), Flavor in a Jar, K-Mama, Mostly Made, and 3 Cricketeers (yes, it's crickets!).
Meanwhile, on the chef stage, we’re looking forward to creations from Mateo Mackbee (Krewe), Tammy Wong (Rainbow), Lachelle Cunningham (The Good Acre, pictured above), Beth Dooley, Patrice Johnson and more! And of course, our theme this year is the tremendously important and valuable work of Farm to School and Early Care programs—which includes connecting farms to markets, as well as connecting kids to the people who grow their food. Win-win!
Are you a food business that would like to be a part of this year's Healthy Local Food Exhibit?
Are you a local food advocate that would like to volunteer?
Learn more and get the links to sign up HERE.
You're invited to join us and our partners for an engaging evening of conversation, learning, and tasting brought to you by the Culinary Breeding Network, Seed to Kitchen Collaborative, and Artisan Grain Collaborative.
This public event in Madison, WI will bring together breeders, farmers, chefs, bakers, and beverage manufacturers to discuss and demonstrate the benefits of participatory plant breeding. The evening will provide the opportunity for researchers, growers, and end-users to play an essential role in guiding the development of new crop varieties.
This year's iteration of "Farm to Flavor" will have a special emphasis on culinary grains including wheat, rye, oats, barley, and corn. Come learn, taste, and engage!
This event is organized by University of Wisconsin, Oregon State University, Artisan Grain Collaborative and Cornell University. Funding from the USDA-OREI-NIFA project Value-Added Grains for Local and Regional Food Systems II.
Get tickets here for $25 if purchased by July 21 and $35 thereafter.
We’d like to wish a very happy retirement to Lynne Bishop, our finance manager since forever!
Asked for a few words about her time with RTC, Lynne said, “As ‘Chief Bean Counter,’ I’m accustomed to working in the background and not having a spotlight on me.”
Lynne’s words are so indicative of her humbleness. She is so much more than a bean counter. She took this organization, which was barely holding on through the recession, through a period of substantial growth. While she worked in the background, we were so lucky to have there.
Lynne notes, "When I started at RTC, I didn't have any grandchildren; now I have TEN! I can't think of anything else to say, except what a wonderful staff we have, and how very much I have enjoyed my work here.”
And we don’t even know what to say. Lynne has been integral to RTC. She (and Ruby, pictured here), and her husband Bill, have been part of our family. While we’ll stay in touch, it won’t be the same. Our accounts won’t be reconciled to the penny, and we’ll miss Lynne’s sharp eye on everything financial. We’re comforted in knowing she will have more time to spend with those 10 grandkids and we’ll live vicariously through the travelogues she’s promised to send us as she and Bill explore the world!
Indigenous Food and Art Market
This Saturday, July 23 at Central Hillside Community Center’s parking lot (12 East 4th Street, Duluth, MN) from 11 am - 2 pm. Featured: 23 established and emerging American Indian and BIPOC food producers and artists, with a class on making maple syrup taps led by Ron Willis. The UMD Medical School American Indian students will host a fun educational activity tent on nutrition.
Entrepreneurs will be selling items such as garden grown produce, frozen meats, smoked white fish, wild rice, fermented foods, Indigenous teas, maple syrup, jams and jellies, herbs, honey, wild rice cupcakes, salves, CBD products, as well as artwork featuring fine art, prints, apparel, beadwork, jewelry and so much more!
Anamakaageg! Everyone is welcome. Open to the public. AICHO’s Food & Art Markets are funded by the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership of Minnesota, Hunger Solutions, Essentia Health, Duluth LISC, McKnight Foundation, and Minnesota Department of Human Services Behavioral Health Division.
Tuesday, August 2 - Thursday, August 4, Farmfest 2022 agribusiness showcase features products, services and technologies through demonstrations, educational sessions, and fun activities to celebrate farming and rural life. A special Women in Ag ceremony the morning of August 4 will include the presentation of the Farmfest Woman Farmer of the Year Award.
On Saturday, August 13, 10am to 5pm at the McLeod County Fairgrounds in Hutchinson, you'll find foods, celebrity chefs, music, artisans, games and lots of garlic. Visit mngarlicfest.com for more.
Did you know?
Garlic Fest volunteers get a special VIP parking pass, free admission, and a bright red staff t-shirt. And what could be better than hanging out with a bunch of other like minded stinkers? It's like having a backstage pass for the best event of the summer. Volunteer sign-up here.
Our friends at Marbleseed (formerly MOSES) are looking for a Farmer Network Specialist to coordinate and create content regarding organic, sustainable, and regenerative farming practices across the upper Midwest, including lead responsibility for maintaining the Ag Solidarity Network online platform. Multi-language skills or membership in a historically underserved farmer community will enable this position to have broader impact in building a representative farmer network.
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!
We build awareness and support for these initiatives by collecting & sharing stories of rural renewal, providing practical assistance & networking opportunities for those working to improve rural America, and fostering connections between urban & rural people.