March 2023 News


March 2023

Happy spring!

Sprouting bits of green in the ground bring all the potential of a new growing season, as we wrap up winter conferences and dive into April. Check out our recent and coming attractions below.

Thanks for helping create a more robust local food system!

—the team at Renewing the Countryside

RTC at Expo West

Putting the “fun” in functional fruit—a special report from Brett Olson

RTC's Brett Olson (center) journeyed to Anaheim, CA with Peter Robertson and Sarah Larson of the Food Finance Institute to attend Natural Products Expo West

When it comes to food expositions, there may never be a rival to Terra Madre and the Salone del Gusto in Turin, Italy...followed closely by our own Feast! Local Foods Marketplace, of course.

I now have a new contender for one of the remaining top 5 spots - Natural Products Expo West. What it lacks in numbers of prosciutto style ham producers, or local ingredient sourcing, it makes up for with sheer massiveness: 65,000 attendees, 3,000 brands and more protein-rich snack foods than you could imagine. Like seriously - EVERYTHING seemed to have added protein… drinks, chips, granola bars, vegetable based meat substitutes, etc.

But I didn’t travel to Southern California to see how many probiotic, regenerative, or adaptogen (yeah, I had to look that up, too) products I could find. No, I went to do a little research on “functional fruits”—things like elderberries, black currants, and aronia. Specifically, I was asking ingredient manufacturers and food companies where they are sourcing their fruit from (often overseas), why they choose those products (it's complicated), and if a North American source existed, would they buy from them? Answer: maybe.

So you may be asking: why would Renewing the Countryside be spending time researching that? Well, it has been said that “Eating is an agricultural act.” And these particular functional fruit crops are well suited for planting in riparian or highly erodible areas on a farm. It follows, if we want farmers to protect our waterways and soil health, we need to offer alternative crops for them to grow on those lands. If possible, profitable crops.

Woody agriculture is a part of a healthy ecosystem for farms and we are beginning to understand what the barriers are to a vibrant functional fruit industry in the United States. There is still much to learn - but I’d be lying if I pretended that eating my way to a solution (even if it was snack size bites) didn’t sound appealing. While growing these fruits is not terribly difficult, getting them into a format that the industry wants as ingredients will be tricky! (Think juice and powdered berries vs. whole fruit or frozen.)

So that's the challenge, because it determines what type of equipment to invest in. We’ll keep you posted as we move this project forward in collaboration with our partners at the Food Finance Institute and Midwest Elderberry Cooperative.

For more background, check out “The Mighty Elderberry,” Local FEAST! Vol 5.


Farmland Access

Farmland Transition Event—Spring Valley, WI—Saturday, April 8, 2023

The Farmland Access Hub and Renewing the Countryside, along with our partners Marbleseed and Land Stewardship Project (LSP), are planning a series of regional Landowner/Landseeker Meet ‘n Greet events in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa, beginning Saturday, April 8, from 1:30-4:30 pm at Spring Valley High School, Spring Valley, Wisc., followed by a farm tour or downtown meetup.

Primary goals:

  • Bring attention to farmland becoming available to emerging farmers;
  • Clarify how the Farmland Access Hub and the Farmland Access Navigator program can assist;
  • Explain farmland transition techniques, such as alternative models of transition, easements, and other farmland preservation models;
  • Offer technical support for both landowners and landseekers entering transition agreements;
  • Provide technical and financial education by engaging with service professionals, such as loan officers from Compeer and Farm Service Agency (FSA), real estate attorneys, and agents from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

We'll gather in the school’s library for the educational and networking session. Following that, participants will be invited to tour a local farm that is interested in making land available to emerging farmers OR continue the conversation at a local establishment in charming downtown Spring Valley.

This event is free and open to farmland owners looking to lease or transition off of their land and farmers interested in leasing or purchasing farmland. Please RSVP by emailing or calling Bonnie Warndahl: [email protected] / 612.462.9311.


Cottage Food Conference

Last call for the Home-based Food Entrepreneur Virtual National Conference, coming April 10-13.

Join cottage food operators, food activists, educators, and leaders fighting for the freedom to build businesses around cottage food products.

Each day of the virtual (online) conference kicks off with a different keynote followed by three practical workshops with live Q&A sessions. That's 16 sessions and over nine hours of content—all on the Whova conference platform, which provides great opportunities to engage with others.


Photo: John Ivanko Photography


Local Foods

At left: Rick and Karola Dalen of Northern Harvest Farm, new co-owners of the Spirit Creek Farm brand with their partner farm, Uffda Organics. At right: Jenny Quiner of Dogpatch Urban Gardens

An amazing convergence of 57 regional food businesses and 67 wholesale buyers took place in Cannon Falls last week for the FEAST! Local Foods Tradeshow. RTC coordinates the annual B2B event with Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation and Minnesota Department of Agriculture, (among others) to encourage local vendors and get more of their products on tables.

Among the many wonderful food and farm businesses, we presented three FEAST awards:

  • Tim Penny of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation presented the FEAST! Innovative Local Sourcing Award to Spirit Creek Farm in recognition of their dedication to continuing the brand after the founders—who had been sourcing ingredients from them all along—decided to close the business.
  • Jan Joannides of Renewing the Countryside presented the FEAST! Inspiring Social Benefit Award to Dogpatch Urban Gardens in recognition of their contributions to building community in a variety of ways, including a new food shelf. (Read more about them in Local FEAST! Vol. 5.)
  • Elena Byrne and Marlene Petersen presented the FEAST! Local Food Champion Award to Kowalski's Market, in recognition of them bringing in 7 out of 34 brands that exhibited at last year's 2022 tradeshow.
  • Watch award presentations here

For questions about FEAST! Local Foods Network programs, contact Elena at 608.712.8340 or [email protected].

Women in Ag

RTC Partners with WFAN Stewardship Ambassadors

Renewing the Countryside is thrilled to partner with our friends at the Women, Food & Agriculture Network (WFAN) on their new Stewardship Ambassador program, an NRCS project designed to amplify the voices of women in conservation through public speaking training and support.

As the Wisconsin partner in this multi-state initiative, RTC supports a team of three inspiring, fresh voices in outreach: Heather Lynch, Michelle Harrigan and Alicia Gasaway. The trio will be speaking at various functions throughout the year, from tours on their farms to the Wisconsin Garden Club Federation state conference. Lynch was a featured speaker this month at the Women in the Environment series at the Morton Arboretum.

Learn more about the Stewardship Ambassadors project here.

Wisconsin Women in Conservation

WiWiC's 2023 calendar—a whopping 34 different in-person and online events—kicks off this week with the spring learning circle "Digging into Soil" workshops. Southwest Region Coordinator Elena Byrne is co-hosting with Conservation Coach Bree Breckel of B&E's Trees, near Cashton, WI.

It's an opportunity to learn from other women landowners and conservation experts, which includes a deep dive into what we can learn from soil texture, with Vernon County NRCS soil conservationist Laura Bybee. The April 7th workshop also features a tour of the maple syrup farm and sugar house.

Learn more and register here.

Farm to School & Early Care

Farm to School in Minnesota is gaining momentum! Now is a great time for farms and food businesses to get involved. Thanks to support from the USDA’s Local Food for Schools program, the MDA has awarded more than $4 million in grant funding to K-12 schools to buy Minnesota grown and raised foods over the next year—this is a great year to connect with new potential customers!

The goals of these Farm to School Grants are to increase the amount of Minnesota grown and raised foods used in school meals, and support market development for socially disadvantaged farmers and small businesses. Purchasing local meat has been a large part of AGRI Farm to School grants – nearly half of purchases in the 2021 school year were for locally-produced proteins! Foodservice staff can learn all about considerations for purchasing local meat on this upcoming webinar:

Buying Local Meat

Wednesday, April 19, 2:30-3:30

Panelists/Presenters: Sara George, farmer and Renewing the Countryside staffer, and Jane Jewett, farmer and director of the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA).

Farmers Market Food Hubs

Introducing Isabel McNally, the new Wabasha Farmer Market Hub Coordinator!

Isabel McNally, (above, right) with Lisa Klein of Hidden Stream Farm

Farmers Market Food Hubs Program Coordinator Sara George of Renewing the Countryside is excited to add Isabel to the core team of statewide hub managers that meet weekly. "Isabel is eager to learn and has already begun making connections here in the community with farmers, schools, Institutional buyers, healthcare staff, SHIP staff and the Wabasha Food Access Network.

Isabel says, "I am so excited to continue to build connections and relationships with the members of our community through food in my role as the Hub manager. Sara George, the founder of the Wabasha Hub market and proponent of them across the state, has been such a fantastic guide for helping me be successful in this role. Tina Moen, the Wabasha County SHIP coordinator has also been instrumental in the success of our Hub site!"

Read the full article here


Staff Moment

Renewing the Countryside staff came together for a retreat last week, laughing, eating and putting our minds together to discover new ways to serve RTC's farmers, food businesses, partners and eaters.

Not pictured: Lisa Kivirist, Maeve Mallozzi-Kelly, and Bonne Warndahl

Learn more on our staff page


Community Happenings

There are so many great things going on—this is just a sampler!

Field to Fermentation: A panel discussion

Tues., April 4, 5-6:15pm CST

How Breeders & Bakers Partner for Regional Grains Development: Plant breeders regularly work with bakers for feedback on how new grain varieties perform in the bakery, helping determine which varieties are developed for commercial scale.

Join this free webinar from the Bread Bakers Guild of America along with Artisan Grain Collaborative members Julie Dawson (UW-Madison), Halee Wepking (Meadowlark Organics), and Kirk Smock (ORIGIN Breads). Register here


CPG Resource Roundup

April 13, 2:30 - 5:00 pm

The Good Acre is bringing together local food entrepreneurs and talented resource providers for this one-of-a-kind networking opportunity at Scout Workshop. See the list of participating resource experts and register here.

New Farmer U


Boost your farm business skills!

April 28- 29 in Rosholt, WI

New Farmer U covers farm financial and business management for intermediate beginning farmers—3-6 years of farming experience—or anyone who is ready to plan for future success.

Space is limited. Registration is open until April 13, and scholarships are available. Learn more here.


Angel Fest

May 4, 2023

Groove Capital offers this immersive one-day conference empowering and connecting angel investors from Minnesota, and beyond. Angel Fest is the region’s marquee annual investor conference.

Learn more and register here



University of Minnesota Extension's latest Small Farms Newsletter is a wonderful wrap-up of events.

Find dates and info on a wide range of topics from creating wildlife habitat to learning about avian influenza, composting, foraging wild edibles, and more.

Read it here


*Read past issues of the RTC Rooster on our blog*
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Renewing the Countryside is a non-profit organization that strengthens rural areas and small towns by championing & 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 & sharing stories of rural renewal, providing practical assistance & networking opportunities for those working to improve rural America, and fostering connections between urban & rural people.

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