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RSDP Happenings - Focus: Rural Grocery Stores

June 2014

By Greg Schweser, Associate Director Sustainable Local Foods, Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP)

Bus trip participants from Minnesota who attended the
Rural Grocery Summit IV. Click photo to view larger.

On June 8, 19 rural grocery store owners, farmers, Extension educators, economic development specialists, and local food advocates from Minnesota got on a bus to Manhattan, Kansas for the Rural Grocery Summit held on the next two days. With financial support from Minnesota Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, RSDP organized the charter bus, picking up riders in Brainerd, Willmar, and Jackson.

The bus trip to the summit was part of RSDP's focus on local foods and sustainable agriculture, and on giving people in Greater Minnesota access to the capabilities of the University of Minnesota and its peer institutions in order to meet local challenges.

The bus accommodated a wide variety of people with different ideas and feelings about operating rural grocery stores, from co-ops to chain stores and everything in between. Participants shared ideas and strategies, and a good time was had by all.

Every other year, the Kansas State Rural Grocery Initiative hosts the summit to highlight the important role rural grocery stores play in providing access to healthy food for rural residents and the vital economic and social benefits they provide to rural areas. With some rural areas experiencing aging or dwindling populations, rural grocery stores often struggle to thrive or even remain open, especially with the rise of often distant regional super-centers that can undercut their prices. At the Rural Grocery Summit, grocers and advocates networked, shared stories, and learned from current research about effective strategies for remaining competitive in the face of adversity.

Production and distribution of local food was a big topic, on the bus and at the summit. Rural grocery stores and local farmers have the opportunity to work together to strengthen the markets and viability of each. Rural grocers on the bus shared with each other their strategies and challenges supplying locally grown products. Some of those stories were incorporated into a summit session on myths, opportunities, and challenges for selling locally grown products in rural grocery stores led by RSDP staff Kathy Draeger and me. The session dispelled common misconceptions about local food procurement, and

Our presentation was followed up by a representative of Kansas Department of Agriculture's marketing program "From the Land of Kansas" that provided further insight on how to move locally grown products into rural grocery stores, using the experience of Kansas producers and sellers.

The next bus trip to Manhattan, Kansas is planned for June of 2016. Look for more information in the future about how to sign up for the bus. For more information about RSDP's continuing work on local food and sustainable agriculture, including rural grocery stores, please feel free to contact Greg Schweser.

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