Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Rutabaga Project receives grant for new initiatives

E.M. Schultz
Posted 1/16/20

REGIONAL – A local foods effort, known as the Rutabaga Project, has been named as one of forty-nine programs throughout the country to receive a $300,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) …

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Rutabaga Project receives grant for new initiatives

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REGIONAL – A local foods effort, known as the Rutabaga Project, has been named as one of forty-nine programs throughout the country to receive a $300,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farmers Market Promotion Program grant.
According to Project Manager Kelsey Gantzer, the money will go toward market analysis and outreach, recruitment and training, and support for farmers and farmers markets. The end goal is to establish lasting relationships between local producers and consumer markets, such as restaurants, school districts, and grocery stores.
Those involved with the project plan to accomplish those goals through four key objectives, including:
 Conducting market analysis, which means meeting with restaurants, schools, and grocery stores to find new opportunities for incorporating local products into these establishments, as well as to identify challenges that may exist in doing so. It also means meeting with local farmers to discover the opportunities and challenges they face when it comes to increasing sales and production. Representatives of the project also plan to create a food council to complete an economics of local food systems toolkit.
 Recruiting six new farmers. These farmers, along with those who are already involved in the project, will be trained to grow for and sell through the new outlets that will be established through the first objective. This will include individual business planning for each farm, a new aggregated CSA, and a business-to-business event.
Implementing outreach and promotion to help expand the sale of locally-grown food in restaurants, farmers’markets, and grocery stores. This will include taste -testing and other promotional events and heavy promotion of the Arrowhead Grown brand, as well as marketing training for the four farmers’ markets that are involved with the project.
Increasing the presence of locally-grown food in area school districts. At Mesabi East, where there is already a farm-to-school program, the Rutabaga Project will focus on recruiting more farmers. They will also attempt to establish a farm-to-school program through the Eveleth-Gilbert-Virginia school district merger.
Along with the four objectives set by the new grant, the group is also planning multiple upcoming events and opportunities for farmers and others to learn more about food, meet like-minded individuals, and get a jump-start on growing. One such opportunity is the new Farmer Microgrant program at Natural Harvest Food Co-op in Virginia. The co-op will be awarding two $1,000 grants to local farmers who provide produce, meats, or eggs to the co-op, to help them produce more high-quality, sustainably-grown food.
Applications must be received by Feb. 28. To learn more or apply for the grant, visit https://naturalharvest.coop/community/microgrant-program/.
Other opportunities for farmers and non-farmers alike include a SEEDY class that will teach attendees about plant families, flower and seed anatomy, seed selection, drying and processing seed considerations, and more. The class takes place on Saturday, Jan. 11 from 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. at the Clair Nelson Center in Finland and costs $5. There will also be a Northern Growers and Marketers Conference in St. Cloud on Jan. 16 and 17.
Visit https://www.mfvga.org/ to learn more and register for the event. For those who can’t make it to that conference or would like to attend another, an Emerging Farmers Conference will take place at the University of Minnesota Continuing Education and Conference Center in St. Paul on Jan. 24 and 25. To learn more or register, head to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/15th-emerging-farmers-conference-strength-and-creativity-in-farming-registration-76505926285.
The Rutabaga Project was formed in December 2015 as a shared initiative between Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency (AEOA), the Iron Range Partnership for Sustainability (IRPS), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAPEd), Essentia Health, Healthy Northland and numerous other community organizations, local food producers and residents. Since it began, it has helped provide access to quality produce through the establishment of farmers markets, community gardens, and Community Supported Agricultural (CSA) shares.
To learn more, follow the Rutabaga Project on Facebook or contact Kelsey Gantzer at kelsey.gantzer@aeoa.org.

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