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  Friday January 30th, 2015    

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  (ARCHIVES)Back to Current
Putting ‘local’ into our food (09/19/2007)
We live in a beautiful but demanding landscape. Our bluffs and valleys, marked erratically by the underground channels of karst geology, require a dose a caution amidst their careful management. The region's slopes give us visual texture and a real workout, but they also can be a conduit for soil and chemicals on the run. Whether cows or corn, grass or grain, farmers' management decisions come to bear on the trout streams, wildlife, and shops that help to explain why we live here.

In a recently updated report, the 15-county region including Winona County is seeing an impressive growth in the number and value of organic and direct food sales - 13% more farms from 1997 to 2002 and a 37% increase in direct sales. It also generated a third each of the state's overall milk and hog sales, and raised a quarter of the state's soybeans and almost 30% of the state's corn - on just 18% of the state's cropland.

That's a lot of corn on our hillsides, so it is a hopeful change in direction to see the growing percentage of organic farmers, many of whom are grass-based. It's an important change because soil, water, and wildlife conditions are improved when steeply sloped ground has vegetative cover on it year-round.

It's also important because we don't eat most of the row-cropped corn but we can and do eat the pastured livestock, dairy, and poultry products of those slopes. This distinction should be viewed as progress in a county whose Economic Development Authority (EDA) wants to promote local food as an economic driver.

Winona County residents spend some $60 million just on food eaten at home and some of those dollars clearly arrive in Winona every Wednesday and Saturday at the Winona Farmers Market during market season. "Market season" started 20 years ago when area farmers started the Winona Farmers Market with some assistance from the University of Minnesota Extension Service and the Chamber of Commerce.

In honor of this benchmark and of the fresh food grown within 50 miles of Winona, a Harvest Feast is being served this Sunday, the 23rd, at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse. Owners and chief cooks Colleen and Larry Wolner have been putting "local" into their menus for years. Organized by the Local Foods subcommittee of the EDA, the Feast will be prepared by the Wolners - who, appropriately, aren't giving out the menu until they see what's fresh at the market the day before.

Minneapolis Chef Lucia Watson (of Lucia's Restaurant fame) will be doing a cooking demo at the market at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and then speak at the Harvest Feast. Feast tickets are available until Friday at the Blue Heron and at Bluff Country Co-op. All proceeds benefit the market as it launches its next 20 years of bringing the season's best - and lots of weekly visitors - to town. There is nothing like a farmers market to make you happy to live in farm country. This is our regional economy at work, and this time of year, it is delicious!

Caroline van Shaik coordinates the Community Based Food Systems and Economic Development Program in Southeast Minnesota for the Land Stewardship Project.



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