Growing the local foods economy

This time of year, the farmers’ markets are rich with local vegetables, berries, meats, breads and jams. It’s a visual testament to the abundance of our region and the ever-growing local foods economy that is sustained by consumers who want to buy directly from area farmers. At Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), we have been supporting the local foods economy in our 20-county region through a variety of initiatives over the years.

In 2013 the FEAST! Local Foods Network was launched with the purpose of supporting local food producers and food-makers by boosting access to financing, resources and peer-to-peer learning opportunities. The network, which started with a partnership between SMIF and Renewing the Countryside, is comprised of more than 60 organizations, businesses, and individuals committed to growing a sustainable, local and regional food system.

One of the outcomes of this network is the Grow a Farmer Fund. The fund, which was supported by more than 250 generous donors and is managed by SMIF, offers low interest loans of up to $15,000 to help small scale farmers in SMIF’s region purchase the equipment and supplies they need to be successful. EJ Mushrooms in Kasota used the loan to convert a detached garage into a year-round mushroom farm. Hare and Tortoise Farm in Zumbro Falls used the loan to scale up their operations by installing a waterway and purchasing a root washer for their vegetable farm. Other Grow a Farmer loan clients include Antonia Navarro (a chicken farmer in Faribault) and two additional vegetable farms – My Sweet Greens MN in Zumbrota and Pearson Organics in Oronoco. SMIF also participates in support of another fund, the Minnesota Good Food Access Fund, which provides grants, technical assistance and loans to enterprises working to increase access to healthy and affordable food.

The FEAST! Local Foods Network also supports farm and food entrepreneurs through technical assistance. Each month, a Local Foods Peer Group meets to discuss business challenges and successes, learning from each other in order to grow their businesses. A program called FEAST! Smart Start Initiative provides customized coaching for business owners. In 2018, SMIF provided grants to Region Nine Development Commission and the Sustainable Farming Association of MN (SFA), Cannon River Chapter to expand this program. Region Nine worked with entrepreneurs over a seven-month period to support them in building a network of relationships that will help grow their businesses and expand operations. The SFA Chapter used the grant to launch a regional brand, Cannon Valley Grown, which identifies food produced in the Cannon River watershed.

SMIF Press Release.

Effects of Del Monte closing ripple through Sleepy Eye

SLEEPY EYE — The announcement Tuesday that Del Monte would shutter its sweet corn and pea canning plant in Sleepy Eye is reverberating throughout the community.

“We had no idea it was coming. It was just a real unpleasant surprise,” said Kurk Kramer, economic development coordinator for the city.

“There’s going to be a big ripple effect. The employees, the farmers contracting thousands of acres to grow for them, the truckers, the silage company that took the waste, the school district, it just goes on and on.”


The California-based company announced the closure will take place in late October, eliminating all 69 full-time jobs and 294 seasonal positions.

Del Monte is also closing its plant in Mendota, Illinois, and selling its facilities in Cambria, Wisconsin, and Crystal City, Texas, consolidating production at its other facilities.

Kramer said Del Monte is one of the top employers in the area. Calendar producer BIC Graphics is the largest employer, with pork companies Chirstensen Farms and Schwartz Farms the other major businesses.

Kramer said things happened so fast there isn’t yet a plan to help employees or figure out how to move forward. He had a conference call Tuesday with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Region Nine Development Commission and the federal EDA.

“We will get together again and develop a plan,” Kramer said.

Continue reading the Free Press article.

August E-Newsletter

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Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities honors area leaders

Eagle Lake’s city administrator and the executive director of Region Nine Development Commission were among the Greater Minnesota leaders who received recognition during a July 25 conference in Bemidji.

City Administrator Jennifer Bromeland was presented with the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities’ annual Excellence in Service Award.


The annual award is given by the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization to city leaders who demonstrate knowledge, leadership and active participation in CGMC program.

Bromeland has been active in seeking solutions to the child care shortage in rural communities.

Region Nine’s Nicole Griensewic Mickleson is the recipient of a Friend of the CGMC award, in recognition of her efforts to help advance the coalition’s priorities and her contributions to Greater Minnesota.


For the past two years, Griensewic Mickleson has served as president of the Greater Minnesota Partnership, CGMC’s economic development-focused sister organization.

State Rep. Jeff Brand, of St. Peter, was presented the coalition’s First-Term Legislator of the Year Award.

View the Free Press article.

Region 9, Sleepy Eye awarded grant initiative

SLEEPY EYE, Minn. (KEYC) – Region Nine is awarded a $200,000 grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation.

The grant will be put into a two year project, which will work with two different communities starting with the city of Sleepy Eye.

Representatives say, Sleepy Eye was chosen for reasons including its strong and supportive school district and Economic Development Administration (EDA) along with its diverse population.

“Sleepy Eye is a fantastic community, because of the vibrancy and their changing demographics, but as well as the partnerships like the school district, community education, and especially the EDA at the city level.”

Bukata Hayes from Greater Mankato Growth says this grant allows for site–based efforts to be made, but will rely heavily on the involvement of the community.

“So in Sleepy Eye that’s one of the first things we will do, we’ll ask community member who are a part of this effort. ‘What do you want to see changed?’ ‘How can Sleepy Eye become more equitable?’ The program will be catered to reach that end and so our hope is that as we begin to work in Sleepy Eye is that we see community member of all colors, breeds and races connected,” Hayes said.

Region 9 was one of 10 selected recipients in a pool of 200.

View the KEYC video.

Nicole Griensewic Mickelson receives ‘Friend of the CGMC’ award

Region Nine Development Commission Executive Director Nicole Griensewic Mickelson received the “Friend of the CGMC” Award from the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC) July 25 during the Coalition’s three-day summer conference in Bemidji. The Friend of the CGMC Award recognizes individuals and organizations that have helped advance the interests of Greater Minnesota.

In addition to her role in helping to foster business and job growth in southern Minnesota through Region Nine, for the past two years Griensewic Mickelson has served as president of the Greater Minnesota Partnership (GMNP), the CGMC’s economic development-focused sister organization. She has proven to be a strong and effective leader on many issues that impact Greater Minnesota, including broadband expansion, workforce development and seeking out solutions to the child care crisis.

During the 2019 legislative session, she visited the State Capitol on numerous occasions to meet with legislators and testify at committee hearings on several issues, most notably in support of legislation aimed at obtaining state funding to help provide business training and assistance to child care providers in Greater Minnesota. Her efforts helped secure $1.5 million for child care initiatives this session.

“Nicole is a dedicated and savvy champion for Greater Minnesota economic development,” said Ron Johnson, a member of the Bemidji City Council and president of the CGMC. “She knows the ins and outs of the Legislature and works tremendously hard to garner support for initiatives that aim to bring job growth and economic opportunities to rural communities.”

CGMC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization representing 97 cities outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. The Coalition educates legislators about issues important to Greater Minnesota.

View the St. Peter Herald article.