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Extension > Family Matters > Finding Local Foods

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Finding Local Foods

There is generally no wrong way to source local foods. Depending on your needs, you may:
  • Purchase locally from a distributor.
  • Locate and purchase directly from a farmer.
  • Use school garden produce.
  • Purchase at a farmers market.
  • Use a “forager.” This is someone who works with the farmer and foodservice staff to make sure everyone’s needs are met.
  • Enter into a “growing contract” with a farmer.
The Land Stewardship Project developed a tool that contains questions to help school foodservice and others prioritize who you buy from and how: Things to Consider as you BUY LOCAL!

The 2012 change in nutrition standards for school food provides an increase in the amount of produce served to students, and diversifies the array of products. Use this fact sheet to communicate with your regional growers: Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act: What Farmers Should Know (512 K PDF).

Farmers

  • Minnesota Grown Wholesale Directory — Lists Minnesota farmers interested in selling their products to schools. You can search by product type and by region.
  • Finding Just Food — The Land Stewardship Project publishes a Stewardship Farm Directory for schools looking to purchase sustainably raised foods.
  • Food Alliance Midwest — A national organization that certifies farmers who follow sustainable farming practices. Contact Bob Olson, the director of Food Alliance Midwest, for assistance in finding farmers: 651-265-3682.


Distributors

  • Bergin Fruit and Nut Company logoBergin Fruit & Nut Company, founded in 1951, is a family owned company based in St. Paul, Minnesota. They manufacture and distribute a wide range of locally grown, high quality food products. Bergins offers fresh produce, fresh cut produce, and an extensive assortment of nuts, grains, flour, dried fruits, and custom snack mixes. They participate in the Minnesota Grown program and feature items in our Nut Division from more than a dozen Midwest suppliers. Bergins delivers in the Twin Cities Metro and throughout the five state area.
  • Bergin Fruit and Nut Company logoBix Produce Company, LLC was founded in 1930 and offers one of the longest-running and largest local food programs in the area. Based in St. Paul, Bix serves customers in and across Minnesota and portions of neighboring states. They offer nearly 30 local fruits and vegetables in season and purchases from approximately 15 farmers, primarily in Minnesota and Western Wisconsin. Bix also offers sustainably-grown produce from local farmers certified by Food Alliance Midwest. They have an extensive processing capacity and offer a full array of local, pre-cut items. Bix also offers a variety of pre-cut blends featuring locally grown products. Items are clearly identified on their website and invoices as “local,” which Bix defines as products grown in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Eastern North Dakota, eastern South Dakota, and northern Iowa. The company also offers a variety of other local items include cheese, milk, and flour. Bix puts together a weekly sheet alerting its customers about local products in stock as well as the farmers providing the products.
  • CPW LogoCo-op Partners Warehouse (CPW) distributes produce, fresh and frozen grocery items, and other quality perishables. Based in Minneapolis, CPW specializes in organic and locally-sourced goods from small farms. Many regional producers use CPW’s unique drop-ship program to efficiently deliver their product via CPW trucks while maintaining the direct farmer-to-consumer relationship. Their local product offerings include natural and organic beef, pork, eggs, and poultry; fresh organic produce; milk, cheese and yogurt; maple syrup; and select prepared foods such as pizza and chili. CPW defines “local” as the five state region of MN, IA, WI and the Dakotas.
  • Fresh Connect Food Hub — Lakes Country Service Cooperative — Food hubs act as aggregators and distributors of regionally-grown produce from small and medium-sized growers. Food hubs specialize in connecting growers with customers and assisting with the delivery and marketing of their products. Food hubs are emerging around the country as an answer to the need for infrastructure that can support the logistics of bringing food from the family farm to the plate, especially for schools and other organizations that feed students and residents. Fresh Connect Food Hub will begin its pilot year serving primarily schools, and will expand in the future to include other institutions such as hospitals, nursing homes, child care centers, correctional facilities, higher education, and senior meal sites. Services provided by Fresh Connect include coordination of the institution's produce needs, food safety training for producers, marketing, packaging, and delivery of produce to institutional customers.
  • Minnesota Valley Action Council Food Hub — MVAC Food Hub is Southern Minnesota's first local foods distributor, dedicated to developing new markets for locally grown foods. MVAC Food Hub purchases fresh vegetables from local farmers and then we wash, pack and process the fresh veggies for a variety of consumers in our area. We're working with many small-farm families to make fresh, healthy, locally grown food readily available across southern Minnesota.
  • Reinhart Foods LogoReinhart Foodservice has a facility located in LaCrosse, WI (LAX) and services accounts in Southeast Minnesota. They offer a wide variety of locally grown produce items, primarily from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. Reinhart LAX purchases local items from other produce distributors or processors and they offer local product both in whole and pre-cut form. On request, they can provide husked sweet corn and blends of locally grown pre-cut items. In Fall 2009, Reinhart LAX plans to introduce a new feature in their on-line catalog that will identify products grown in the three state region. The Reinhart facility in Rogers, MN does not currently have a local food program.
  • Russ Davis Wholesale — Russ Davis Wholesale is a fresh produce wholesale distributor to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, South Dakota and North Dakota. They get food from a number of local producers and sell foods whole or processed to schools.
  • Sprout MN — Sprout’s mission is to promote the health, economy, and self-reliance of Central Minnesota by facilitating the availability of locally produced food, products, and art in the region.
  • Upper Lakes Foods, Inc. is a family-owned, broadline foodservice distributor. Based in Cloquet, MN, Upper Lakes’ offerings include approximately ten types of locally grown fruits and vegetables in season. Most is sourced from farmers in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

  • US Foodservice (USF) is a broadline distributor with its Minnesota office located in Plymouth, Minnesota. USF offers a wide range of local produce items grown by approximately six farms in Minnesota and western Wisconsin. They procure local produce both directly and through a re-distributor and can provide delivery of whole and pre-cut products to customers throughout Minnesota and into neighboring states.

What is a Forager?

A forager is someone who works with the farmer and foodservice staff to make sure everyone’s needs are met.
Annette Derouin, of Willmar Public Schools, believes that the help of a forager (Lynn Mader) was critical to the success of Willmar's farm to school program.
If possible, find yourself a forager or two. Your local public health agency, through support of the Statewide Health Improvement Program, may be able to help fund a forager in your community. You may also advertise for a forager among your students, because a student in your district may have a parent or relative who could fill this need. Lastly, you can contact farmer organizations in your area and ask them to recommend someone who could be a forager.
Interested in connecting with past and current Minnesota foragers?

Minnesota Moments

Lyn Halvorson of Winona Area Public Schools didn't need to be convinced of the benefits of farm to school, citing a desire to help grow the local economy and educate students about real foods grown close to home. Lyn attended a local farmer-chef networking event in 2008, organized by Renewing the Countryside, and began developing farmer partnerships for Winona's farm to school effort.
Tina Wheeler of Little Falls Community Schools worked with the Whole Farm Coop in Long Prairie which supplies product from 30 local farmers. Tina noted this was one of her “most fortunate discoveries.”
At the Rosemount, Eagan, Apple Valley School District, Wendy Knight, Coordinator of Food and Nutrition Services continues to work through Upper Lakes Foods to source locally grown produce, honey, wild rice, cheese, etc. Wendy said, “With 30 sites and our volume, we have found this works best using our distributor.”
Marleen Webb, Food Service Coordinator of Bemidji Area Schools has used school produce from their 50 ft x 65 ft school garden at Solway Elementary. They grew lettuce, spinach, radishes, cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, purple and green beans, potatoes, and squash. Marleen and her staff used fresh garden produce in her summer foodservice program and in all the district’s schools in the fall. Marleen shared, “Watching the students actually pull carrots and cucumbers and dig potatoes for their lunch was amazing!” From their garden experience and the local media coverage, Bemidji had many gardeners and small farmers offer the district excess produce, many of who attended the Farm to Cafeteria workshop in McIntosh in March 2010.
Moorhead, Dover-Eyota and Alexandria are just three of the Minnesota school districts who have planted apple trees on their school grounds. Moorhead Public Schools received farm to school pilot funds through the MN legislature and put the funds to good use by planting 100 apple trees in 7 different varieties at 6 different schools throughout the district.

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