Homegrown Minneapolis: Five Observations

Homegrown Minneapolis is designed as “an initiative to develop recommendations for the City of Minneapolis to improve sales, distribution and consumption of fresh, locally grown foods.” The project is confusing, ambitious, and has the potential to be tremendously important.

Structured as a series of advisory committees working in concert with Mayor R.T. Rybak’s office, the group has four main points of focus: Small Enterprise Urban Agriculture, Commercial Use of Locally Grown Food, Farmers’ Markets and Community, School and Backyard Gardens.

The group’s stakeholders met today for more than an hour at the Sabathani Center in South Minneapolis. Much food for thought.

1. The breadth of stakeholder involvement in this program is pretty awesome to behold. At the meeting were people from community gardens, farmers’ markets, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the mayor’s office, restaurants (Danny Schwartzman from Common Roots and Mike Phillips from Craftsman), various health and agriculture departments and Mayor Rybak’s office.

2. The people who didn’t seem to be there, based on a visual once-over of the room and the direction of the conversation: South Asians or Latinos. Having only two African American attendees out of 50 or so people in the room might also be a cause for concern. South Asians, Latinos and African Americans are three groups with deep, rich heritages of small-scale and urban agriculture, and seem like natural community partners for a program like this.

3. The group has a limited time to turn the abstract into the concrete. If the Homegrown Minneapolis initiative is to succeed, it must avoid a freewheeling discussion of policy, theory and regulations to the exclusion of concrete proposals that will help put food on tables, in gardens, and on menus. The process has a way to go (June seems to be the deadline for a final report), but there is much focusing to be done.

Flying around the room in one 90-minute meeting were mentions of rooftop gardens, state agricultural subsidy programs, co-operative distribution networks, farmers’ markets, fair trade, soil toxicity, informal education, sustainable ag practices, health regulations, land acquisition and management… you get the picture. Homegrown Minneapolis isn’t merely trying to wrestle a dozen monkeys into a barrel; it’s working on several hundred.

4. The group has a serious communication problem. It was refreshing to enter the room and realize that nobody had a PDA or cellphone out, and no-one was using a laptop or iPhone. And then, the implications of that: an almost Web-blind organization, to say nothing of social media. The group’s website has an gargantuan URL, lacks email contacts for committee chairs until you start digging through past meeting minutes, and doesn’t have future/current meeting agendas posted. (When communications were mentioned, one woman said: “Not everybody has access to the Internet.” This is true, but it’s still critical to reach the many, many people who do.)

5. If Homegrown Minneapolis is to succeed at a time where budgets are shrinking in both the public and private sectors, it must do precisely what one observant stakeholder suggests: demonstrate the return of investment that taxpayers and supporting foundations would experience. That means better public health from healthier diets, a broader tax base from successful local businesses such as restaurants and farmers’ markets, and a richer cultural identity. What Alice Waters helped accomplish for San Francisco’s Bay Area could be done locally, if Minneapolis makes a serious financial and cultural effort to connect with urban agriculture and locally sourced food.

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

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3 Comments

  1. Wonderful to read this great overview of the meeting, and you have some very good suggestions. My wife Megan O’Hara, one of the cochairs of the group, has been keeping me posted and we are both very excited about the progress.

    I agree with the observation that in this period of time we have to do all we can to justify the economic return on projects. But that is not required of a project that first and most important is about tapping into the energy already out there for local food.

    Megan and I spend a good part of our free time in the summer going from one farmer’s market to the other, and we have met so many people on the cusp of this movement. What we are trying to do here to give them all a place to come together, and say that the city government can play a role in making something happen.

    Remember that the connection between food and the urban market is exactly why Minneapolis was here in the first place. Food came from the rural markets into the city and, among other things, that helped turn this into the Milling Capital of the World. Eventually that led to companies like Pillsbury and General Mills, which is a lot of the reason why we have the standard of living we have today. So what we are doing is just doing that again…a unity of farm and city, grower and market, in a new environment that finally places a premium on what is grown close to home.

    We aren’t sure what will come of this but already we have a lot of people thinking differently….and I’m confident we can make some progress.

    Thanks for an outstanding review. Hope you keep following this.

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  1. […] Market this Saturday will be Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak, who is expected to talk about Homegrown Minneapolis and/or finding a permanent spot for the market. Ward 9 Councilmember Gary Schiff is also expected […]

  2. […] of RT Rybak’s Homegrown Minneapolis initiative is ready for comment. (For reference: some thoughts on the initiative as it was being formulated.) var addthis_pub = “heavytable”; var […]

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