RSDP Happenings - Spotlight: Diane Booth
Northeast RSDP Board member Diane Booth.
by Caryn Mohr
In the tip of Minnesota’s Arrowhead Region, Cook County spans 1,452 scenic square miles of land that traverse portions of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the north shore of Lake Superior. The county also has the second-lowest population density of any Minnesota county, with 3.6 people per square mile compared to a statewide average of 66.6 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 Census). According to Northeast Regional Sustainable Development Partnership (NERSDP) board member Diane Booth, addressing shared goals takes on added complexity in a sparsely populated region where less than 10 percent of the land is privately owned.
“For those of us who are a bit isolated here, the Partnerships have really helped us make some crucial connections with U of M resources,” Booth said.
Booth serves as the Cook County Community Center and Extension Director, overseeing the community center where the county Extension office is located. A goal of her professional work as well as her citizen involvement with NERSDP is to foster collaboration within and across Northeastern Minnesota counties. In fact, the need to actively facilitate collaboration in a sparsely populated region is what drew her to become involved with the Regional Partnerships.
“For me I think it was learning what’s happening throughout the Arrowhead Region, making connections, and collaborating with other folks throughout the Arrowhead Region to bring ideas and projects to Cook County,” Booth said.
Like Regional Partnership board and work group members across the state, Booth brings resources available through the Partnerships to citizens in her region through face-to-face, grassroots-level interactions. “For example, I was in a meeting with a group [that was interested] in doing a series on sustainability, and encouraged them to apply for [resources] through RSDP to highlight some of the projects going on all along the north shore of Lake Superior,” Booth said. “I’m always talking to groups about possible opportunities to utilize U of M resources for local projects. I try to make those connections wherever I can.”
One project that received initial funding from NERSDP is delineating the short- and long-term impacts of international workers in Cook County’s economy. This study is being led by a Cook County-Blandin Foundation leadership team and Cook County Extension. Results from the two-year study are expected to be shared with Cook County stakeholders in approximately six months.
Booth is also in a unique position to facilitate regional conversations about gardening and local foods issues as the co-host of the Northern Gardening radio show, which airs the second Thursday of the month from 7-8 p.m. on WTIP 90.7 FM and is rebroadcast the following Saturdays at 6 a.m. Asked about the show’s origins, Booth, who has been a Minnesota Extension Master Gardener for 30 years, explained, “We started the show as a way to share information about gardening here because we have a lot of different microclimates along the big lake. If you’re growing vegetables or perennials along Lake Superior, that’s a very different climate than if you are trying to grow those same vegetables or perennials on the other side of the Sawtooth Mountain Range.”
The program also provides a powerful means of sharing information across a dispersed population about Cook County Extension services and the Northwoods Food Project, a nonprofit Booth helped start to increase involvement in addressing local foods issues. According to Booth, a recent project that involved the Northwoods Food Project, Cook County Extension, and a student from the University of Minnesota Center for Urban and Regional Affairs Community Assistance Program (CURA CAP) identified that approximately 38 percent of Cook County’s gross sales are for food, and yet less than 1 percent of food sold in the county is produced locally. This research can be used by small growers to increase their local food production and highlight the important role that food plays in Cook County’s economy.
Northeast RSDP board members Wayne Johnson, Diane Booth, and David Wilsey (past member).
Booth’s involvement with NERSDP has also provided an important vehicle for her to work on local foods issues as recent chair of the local foods and sustainable agriculture workgroup. “As chair of the NERSDP food group, Diane not only connected the local needs for the International Worker Program Impacts Study with U of M resources, but also supported food projects such as the Duluth Seed Library, Grand Portage Community Agriculture Strategic Planning, and Local Foods on the North Shore of Lake Superior,” said NERSDP Executive Director Okey Ukaga.
Beyond facilitating connections, Booth said she also appreciates supporting the Regional Partnerships’ role in seeding change. Attracting initial funding for a new idea can be difficult, Booth said, but once an initial funder is onboard additional dollars can be leveraged.
“I think that the Northeast Regional Sustainable Development Partnership is in a unique position to do two things. They can provide resources for these collaborative projects through knowledge, through networks, and they can also provide that small piece of funding that will maybe allow an initial project to move forward or to provide that seed funding that will enable them to get [other funders or foundations moving forward],” Booth said. “I think that’s a really important combination.”
Ukaga sees how Booth’s contributions to the NERSDP have exemplified exactly that combination. “It is pleasing to observe how the projects that Diane and her team have helped seed are, among other things, assuring that it is ‘easy’ to save seeds, offering seed-saving classes, providing books and handouts about best gardening practices, increasing the production of regional healthy foods, reducing roadblocks to beginning farms/farmers, supporting marketing of local foods, and connecting the U of M North Central Research and Outreach Center (NCROC) in Grand Rapids to community local foods needs by providing access to NCROC garden plots and education resources,” Ukaga said. “They are also producing audio features and accompanying videos that highlight local agriculture and food systems work in our area, and bringing together various partners in the Grand Portage community to create a five-year strategic plan for agricultural development.”