A five-year local food plan will bring together resources in Clay, Becker, Otter Tail and Wilkin counties to focus on local food systems.
Primary goals include increasing local food production, expanding access to healthy food and improving communication about about local food.
“We believe our role is to be connectors and educators because everybody's working in their own silos and they don't know what is out there,” said PartnerSHIP 4 Health manager Jason Bergstrand. “They don't realize that 40 miles down the road, there's somebody that has some expertise or a resource that they could tap that would make a big difference.”
Organizers say the goal is to lay the foundation for a strong local food system and start to break down barriers to expanding local food production.
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Limited access to land and capital often keeps small farmers on the sideline.
"Especially in the Fargo-Moorhead area there's a large immigrant community,” said Bergstrand. “And so many of those folks have come to our country with great skills in this area. But how would they get going if they don't have the capital?"
The initiative will help connect growers with federal and state resources and work at the community level to remove barriers such as land access.
“We've been in conversation with landowners to be able to say, ‘Hey, would you carve out a small section of land, two to three acres, to help someone get started?” said Bergstrand. “And that's kind of where we're starting.”
Bergstrand said expanding markets for local food will be critical to the success of small farm operators in the four counties.
The plan also includes ideas to lower the cost of healthy local food and reduce food waste.
Patrick Hollister with PartnerSHIP 4 Health believes local food can have a range of community impacts.
"It's human physical health, it's environmental health, and it's economic health,” he said. “All three of those are enhanced and supported, the more we can strengthen the local food system."
A regional food council will oversee the work of the four county initiative.
The plan was funded by the Fergus Falls based West Central Initiative.