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Green and Local Food in Red Wing

December 31, 2008 By Lee Egerstrom, Economic Development Fellow

Closing out 2008, most Minnesotans have been forced to look at both public and private responses to the bad economy by pondering what can be cut, what can we do without, and how we, to use a frontier expression, might "circle the wagons."

There are folks in the Mississippi River communities around Red Wing, however, who are taking a different approach to 2009 and the economic problems we are inheriting in the new year. They are pondering what they might do differently, what they might to better, and how what they do in the coming year might be of greater benefit to their community.

This latter approach will take a giant step forward on Jan. 9 at the first of five sessions planned at the Anderson Center at Red Wing. The purpose is to explore ways to develop an integrated community food system that would tie local food producers together with consumers, and most likely cooperating local merchants, into a community-based sustainable agriculture system.

The sessions, called a Gathering at the Anderson Center Farmhouse, are cosponsored by Riverbend Market Cooperative at Red Wing, the Anderson Center itself and the University of Minnesota Southeast Regional Partnership/ERC. Riverbend is a newly incorporated food cooperative that is still in development stage, said Clarence Bischoff, a nearby Welch farmer who has been leading the development process.

Yes, there is a connection between the national and statewide economic mess and local efforts in the Red Wing area, said Bischoff, although he admits it didn't start out that way. At the risk of uttering a cliché, he said, "It is time everyone should step back and look at what we're doing and see if the opportunity to do things better."

That is especially so for food, Bischoff insists. After 35 years working with Hennepin County's social programs, Bischoff sees a more comprehensive community food system as a natural build out from the successful Red Wing Farmers Market. Two keys to these plans involve support for sustainable agriculture and the health and well being of the community.

With that in mind, Margaret Adamek and Annalisa Hultberg will speak at the first Jan. 9 gathering on Public Health, Social and Environmental Benefits. Adamek is a research fellow in local foods, sustainability and wellness for the University's Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, and Hultberg is a program assistant with the Minnesota Project.

Ken Meter, president of Crossroads Resource Center in Minneapolis who formed a regional investment fund after his study, "Finding Food in Farm Country," will speak on Economic and Environment Benefits at the Jan. 23 session.

Sessions three and four will look at nuts and bolts issues for organizing an integrated food system. Winona farmer James riddle, who is the University of Minnesota's organic outreach coordinator and a former chair of USDA's National Organic Standards Board, will speak Feb. 6 on Local Producers, Processors, Distributors and Retail Businesses. And this writer (Lee Egerstrom from Minnesota 2020) will speak on Cooperatives for Market Correction on Feb. 20.

The five-part series ends March 6 with Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, assistant professor of justice and peace studies at the University of St. Thomas and former director of hunger and justice programs for Lutheran Church bodies and the Clergy & Laity Concerned organization. His speech is entitled The Heart and Soul of Sustainability.

Bischoff said Riverbend will launch membership drives and define what it might do, and determine how comprehensive it wants its food system to be during the initial phase of programs. Information about the series and the development-stage cooperative can be found at

This is a ground-up, entrepreneurial response to creating a community food system, Bischoff said. At the same time, he added, there is a public policy aspect to the Red Wing community's plans that shouldn't be overlooked: The community is drawing intellectual support from University of Minnesota programs and talent that may be vulnerable to budget axes in the state's current economic environment.

The warning about being "penny wise and pound foolish" applies to research and academic programs just as assuredly as it does to locally produced tomatoes, apples, sweet corn and dairy products.  It's time we all take a lead from these innovative ideas.

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