Kandiyohi County Food Assessment: A Case Study

by Szilvia Hosser-Cox

Kandiyohi County is an agriculturally critical region for Minnesota with a current population of over 40,000. In 2007, citizens came together to explore how they could develop an economically viable, environmentally friendly, socially just, safe, accessible, nutritious. To support and promote the growth of their local food system, county residents together undertook a community food assessment, investigating challenges and opportunities, identifying gaps and developing strategies for improvement. Their goals included strengthening the local economy and enhancing local foods culture. Furthermore, they wanted to increase the capacity of local farmers and entrepreneurs in sustainable agricultural practices, diversified farming operations, and potential for local foods-related businesses.

To fulfill these goals, citizens in Kandiyohi County would need to improve production and consumption of healthy, local and organic food and establish policies that incentivize would incentivize this transition. They partnered with a diverse group of organizations including federal, state and regional agencies and educational institutions. The team realized that a largely industrialized food system – where the control of production, processing, and distribution is concentrated in the hands of a few corporations – has replaced small-scale family farmers in the county.

According to their report – unlike transnational corporations who take their profits out of local communities, small scale farmers are generally better stewards of the land and spend their agricultural dollars in the local community. Over several decades the number of family farms in Kandiyohi County declined significantly, as large-scale farming operations increased substantially. This led to numerous social, economic and environmental problems for the residents. The assessment found that west central Minnesota’s economy, where only 271 farms sell directly to consumers, loses nearly $1 million annually through its citizens purchasing non-local foods. The study suggests that if only 15 % of food was grown locally and purchased directly from farmers, it would create $28 million in new income for the region.

Given the findings of the study, the team developed a series of recommendations designed to fulfill the overall aim of rebuilding a more localized food system that is economically, socially and ecologically sustainable. These recommendations touched on education and training, policy, public involvement, enterprise and new technology development, and the establishment of cultural institutions. A public education initiative will involve civic events like panels and film festivals, with individuals who can speak to these various issues from diverse perspectives. The intent of these events is to inform citizens and thus galvanize public action.

Moreover, the report suggests the development of local policies for grocers and restaurants to stock two percent of their merchandise with locally grown foods. They plan to establish new micro-enterprises based on local foods, create a year-round farmers’ market, and seek grant funding to facilitate the opening of a local dairy. Furthermore, they have set a goal to train new farmers and establish five new small-scale, diversified farms; implement a local foods procurement policy; and a region-wide organic tax rebate policy to supplement support in the Farm Bill. They would like to support sustainable environmental goals by expanding the number and size of community gardens and greenhouses, establish a farmers’ marketing association and build a bio-digestor and composing facilities.

Nutrition, health, social justice, cultural diversity were also regarded as very important by the team. They propose to incorporate food and health issues into the school curriculum, sponsor community educational events to inform the public on the costs and risks of unhealthy eating, and partner with the hospitals to purchase local foods for patient menus. On the issue of social justice, they would like to establish a policy for local foods procurement by food distribution agencies, locate a current vacant building for food distribution, and create children’s gardens.

Supporting the start-up of new farms managed or owned by representatives of diverse ethnic groups and promoting more ethnic foods in school lunches are ways of enhancing cultural diversity. The rise in Latino and Somali residents in Kandiyohi County have increased the demand for goat meat, thereby justifying the need for a new small-scale goat meat processing plant; this is included as a report recommendation as well. Moreover, they will obtain economic development funds for a facility and equipment for a tortilla factory/kitchen facility, with supplemental access to the necessary raw materials by supporting the local production of organic, non-GMO corn.

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