RSDP Happenings - Focus: Central Region
SPROUT MN's converted biodiesel refrigerated truck will replace the pickup truck used by Arlene Jones to haul produce for local growers.
Truckin' local foods with biofuel
A one-ton refrigeration truck will soon be motoring along the rural roads of central Minnesota, providing a valuable service to local farmers but also serving as a constant reminder of the importance of sustainable agriculture, local foods and biofuels.
The truck, a 1997 Ford F350 with a refrigerated box, is a collaboration between the University of Minnesota Extension's Regional Sustainable Development Partnership (RSDP), Central Lakes College in Staples and SPROUT MN, a Brainerd-based local food hub.
The truck will be used to collect raw produce from farmers around the Staples, Wadena and Brainerd areas and will deliver it to locations for processing. SPROUT MN picks up processed food and delivers it to institutions for consumption.
What people will learn about the truck is that it runs on biodiesel made from locally grown canola oil - the same kind of canola oil you use for cooking. The college's Agricultural and Energy Center grows the canola, harvests it, extracts the oil from the seeds and then converts it to biodiesel using its own portable biodiesel plant. Director Bob Schafer said the center has 1,200 gallons of canola oil from last year's harvest set aside to make into biofuel. Its goal is to produce 10,000 gallons of oil this year from 200 acres of canola and camelina that the center farms.
Schafer, who chairs the Central RSDP's Board of Directors, understands the need for sustainable agriculture and local food hubs like SPROUT MN. RSDP's mission is to build partnerships that strengthen and support Minnesota's small towns by addressing needs in agriculture, natural resources, tourism and energy.
SPROUT MN's truck is a shining example of how RSDP is meeting its mission. For Schafer, it's a small project within a much larger effort, which involves making the ag center's 800-acre farm an all-renewable energy farm by this fall. Most of the farm equipment, for example, is running on oil from crops grown by the center and processed into biofuel.
"The farm is the only one in the Minnesota State Colleges and University system and is financially self-sustaining," Schafer said. "In addition to canola and camelina, we grow malting barley for companies like Miller Brewing and kidney beans for Wendy's chili, as well as soy beans and corn. It's a great example of what RSDP is all about."
Once the truck hits the roads later this summer, it'll be busy as the number of local foods farmers increases and the demand for local foods rises. There are currently about 75 local growers in the Staples, Wadena and Brainerd areas who raise everything from tomatoes, lettuce and kale to squash, green beans and carrots. The SPROUT MN truck will visit local farms and pick up fresh produce, dropping it off at either Brainerd Senior High School or Central Lakes College's Staples campus. The college has a commercial kitchen that can be used by growers to process and package their produce, such as dicing carrots, cooking sauces, or chopping and mixing cole slaw.
Brainerd's high school processes the produce for its school lunches. Last year, the school used 18,000 pounds of local foods. Lakewood Health Systems in Staples is another major user of local foods, buying produce from growers and using it for meals in the hospital.
With an increasing number of growers using green houses to grow produce during the winter months, Schafer expects the refrigeration truck to be busy year round as the local foods movement continues to gain momentum in central Minnesota.
RSDP Central Highlights
Unmanaged woodland grazing by domesticated animals can cause environmental degradation such as soil erosion, leading to water quality problems for the entire ecosystem. The RSDP and the University of Minnesota's Dr. Diomy Zamora are helping local livestock producers integrate silvopasture sites that include trees and sustainable forage sites into their practices to increase profits and help the environment. Learn more...
Teens' understanding of how food goes from field to fork is key in any sustainable local foods revolution. The Wadena-Deer Creek School turned to RSDP for support in developing a solar-powered demonstration greenhouse at the school's Horticultural Center, which serves as an instructional tool and provides fresh produce for lunch plates. Learn more...
Central Minnesota residents made history last year with the region's first-ever master plan for comprehensive environmental and economic sustainability with the Central Minnesota Sustainable Development Project. Learn how RSDP and partner organizations are implementing the project's recommendations with guidance from residents
Drying agricultural crops is one of the most energy intensive operations of grain farming. RSDP is working with regional farmers on solar thermal alternatives that could significantly reduce the amount of electricity needed to prep grain for storage. Learn more...
The RSDP is sponsoring a project at the Central Lakes College Agricultural and Energy Center focused on growing winter-hardy grapes in north-central climates. John Thull, University of Minnesota Arboretum vineyard manager, is advising and sharing grapevine breeding techniques. Overseen by viticulturist Dennis Emslie Drummond, the vineyard serves as a test site and an outdoor classroom for high schools, colleges, gardening clubs and industry. Learn more...
Bush Foundation Fellowships
If you care deeply about your community and are committed to making it a better place, a Bush Foundation Fellowship could be just what you need to take your leadership to the next level in the service of your community. Learn more...
RSDP Statewide Meeting
The RSDP's next Statewide Coordinating Committee meeting will be held in Pine River on Aug. 7 and will highlight the work of the Central RSDP and its project partners this year. Learn more about the Central Regional Sustainable Development Partnership.