Locally grown food moving mainstream in northeast MinnesotaThe region’s largest medical system has pledged to buy 20 percent of its food -- hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth each year -- from local sources by 2020, another sign of a growing local food movement taking hold across northeast Minnesota and northern Wisconsin.
By: John Myers, Forum News Service
DULUTH -- The region’s largest medical system has pledged to buy 20 percent of its food -- hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth each year -- from local sources by 2020, another sign of a growing local food movement taking hold across northeast Minnesota and northern Wisconsin.
Essentia Health Systems announced the move last week and joined St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth as the only two in Minnesota pledged to buy locally grown food.
St. Luke’s Hospital’s food budget is $1.2 million per year. Essentia’s is even larger. The health systems join schools, businesses, churches, restaurants and local consumers in a growing movement toward buying local food.
Local foodies note that the benefits of buying locally grown food goes far beyond the local jobs it creates for farmers, ranchers, orchard and fruit growers and other providers. Because the food is local, it requires far less shipping, which cuts down on fossil fuel use and global warming emissions. And because it’s often organic, it cuts down on processing and makes for healthier residents.
“Our region’s leadership in the new food and health economy is creating a model for Minnesota and the country,’’ said Jamie Harvie, executive director of the Institute for a Sustainable Future and member of the Good Food Network Steering Committee. “Investments in the local food economy and promotion of healthy food … are reaping significant rewards in terms of jobs, food access, health and the environment.”
A recent report by the institute documented that the Duluth Grill in Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood is already purchasing 26 percent of its food from within the region, spurring a $1.2 million local economic impact that otherwise would go elsewhere.
University of Minnesota Duluth researchers found a potential economic benefit for the region of more than $1 billion if the “buy local” food effort reaches its full potential. They concluded that farmers and growers in the 15 counties that wrap around the western end of Lake Superior in Minnesota and Wisconsin have enough acres and the potential to supply all of the food needed by residents who live here. Like using local energy, that would be a step toward regional sustainability, supporters say.
“Supporting local food production fits with our mission of making a healthy difference in people’s lives,” said John Vidmar, Essentia Health’s director of nutrition services, in announcing its pledge to buy local. “We’re not alone in believing local food is healthy food. The concept has also received support from the American Medical Association, the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians and the American Nursing Association.”
Essentia has gone even further than agreeing to buy from local producers. It will take part in the “community-based’’ agriculture model, whereby members pay in the spring for food that doesn’t come until summer or fall. That lets farmers set their rates based on their costs for planting, supplies and a living wage for the year -- not on what they can sell at harvest.
“Most farms run on tight margins and limited cash flow; their commitment to partnering in this way is an indication that they're serious about local purchasing,’’ said Janaki Fisher-Merritt, co-owner of the sustainable Food Farm in Wrenshall.
Essentia’s announcement coincided with the Lake Superior Good Food Network’s Good Food Summit on Friday and Saturday at the University of Minnesota Duluth. The network is made up of farmers, gardeners, anti-hunger advocates, consumers, nutritionists, policymakers and others who support local food production.
Meanwhile, local foodies announced last week the creation of a new Minnesota Grown/Superior Grown logo that local restaurants and stores can display to give consumers a quick-reference sign that what they are buying for their customers is indeed locally grown or raised. That effort is a collaborative effort of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Minnesota Grown Program and the Lake Superior Chapter of the Sustainable Farming Association.
For more information, visit www.goodfoodnetwork.org.