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NWRSDP Happenings - Coming Together to Feed the Hungry

December 2014

Bemidji Community Food Shelf - Designed to Feed Members and the Community

By Josh Larson

This story is one from a series of stories collected during NWRSDP's Most Significant Change evaluation project.

I was involved in the initial conversations with Jack Judkins and Bill Beyer of the Bemidji Community Food Shelf when they decided to grow food to support the food shelf. I knew that they had moved to a new location which had more land so I asked Jack and Bill to meet with me to explain more of what they wanted to do. They said that it is always a challenge to provide food for people but that challenge had been increasing. They wanted to provide an opportunity for their clients to help produce the food that they needed and had ideas about selling extra produce to help support the food shelf. Jack and Bill had so many ideas; it occurred to me that offering a small mini-grant to start the garden was probably not the best option. I thought that I should talk with Linda Kingery to find out how we (Statewide Health Improvement Program and NWRSDP) could support this project in a more impactful way.

After Linda became involved we visited the location and got a tour of their space and Linda suggested that we seek the expertise of a design team at the U of M- College of Design. Linda explained that the team could take all of the ideas and potential opportunities and develop an approach to making this project a reality. It was a wonderful first step and exactly what this project needed. The most significant aspect of this project was the decision to use a design team from the U of M. They did a wonderful job gathering input and creating different stages of development for the program with budgets tied to each stage/project. It gave the group direction and a vision that everyone could see. It also made the project manageable. For some it would have been very easy to get discouraged because there is so much opportunity that will take a lot of money and work to finish the entire design. However, designing the project with smaller projects built in made it easier to stay focused and positive about the overall project. In my world there is so much talk about sustainability-it seems to me that nothing is sustainable without sustained dedication from individuals (and sustained financial support) or profits.

We have helped create gardens, farmers' markets, and have supported several projects. This project has very dedicated individuals but the major significance or difference is that instead of focusing on how to sustain this project, we focused on a project that we hoped would help sustain something greater-the food shelf. When we decided to support this project, it was the first time that we had supported something with this thought so clearly in mind, and I believe that is the most significant thing we could have done. This project will succeed because it has dedicated people and a great plan, but more importantly the Bemidji Community Food Shelf will succeed because they had the vision to see that they had to help support themselves with this food production project. This project helped me understand that supporting projects with inherent motivation for sustainability can be more successful than projects blessed solely with financial sustainability. This is a great project and it wouldn't have happened without many partners; one of them being the NWRSDP and the expertise and resources that Linda Kingery provides. Thank you!

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