RSDP Happenings - Focus on Local Foods College
By Ronnie Schwenn
Eric Sannerud with Mighty Axe Hops (inset) presents at the March 3 Local Foods College, titled "Farm to Bottle", which highlighted local vinegars, beers and spirits. The recorded Local Foods College sessions are available for viewing online.
RSDP's Local Foods College (LFC) has been bringing aspiring food producers together with agricultural experts for the past four years. LFC is an eight-week class that features weekly lectures on a variety of agricultural topics designed to help small-scale farmers in Minnesota learn about new growing practices and small business management. The 2015 LFC ran on Tuesday nights from January 13 through March3, and topics included food hubs, deep winter greenhouses, business planning, pollination and vegetable production. Recordings of each class are available to view here, and classes from earlier years can be accessed here.
What began in northwestern Minnesota as a regional effort soon attracted statewide attention, however, and demand for the program began cropping up in central and southern Minnesota as well. Linda Kingery, executive director of the Northwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnership (NWRSDP), was LFC's original organizer. In 2011, Kingery said, participants looking to attend the LFC had to go to a designated viewing location. The expert presenter for the night would be at one of these locations, and his talk would be broadcasted live at the others for viewers there to see. Once demand grew in other parts of the state for the LFC, Kingery and other program coordinators began looking at ways to make the weekly lectures more accessible.
Today, LFC has evolved and is broadcast using the University's new web conferencing system so that participants have the option of watching lectures without going to a community site (those sites are still available). These changes led to a significant boost in the numbers of people viewing the LFC lectures. Between 50-70 people tuned in for each class, and even more attended community viewing rooms across the state. "We had some people tuning in with their cell phones this year, which is really exciting to see," said RSDP Coordinator Karen Korslund. "There are young farmers in Minnesota who like having the option to use multiple technologies to access the information provided by the Local Foods College."
As LFC has grown, RSDP has been pleased to share the role of facilitator with other Extension educators and agricultural partners across the state. "This allowed many more faces, voices and names to be associated with the Local Foods College. It also made it easier to cover all the bases of the program by sharing responsibilities," she said. Lectures have also expanded from northwest MN experts to local food practitioners across the state.
LFC has helped Minnesotans move from hobbyists to entrepreneurs. Joseph Pickle attended the first LFC viewing sessions in Moorhead, MN with his father and brother. The family had been gardening for as long as he could remember, but they were now looking for information on how to turn their hobby into a small business. They were interested in learning more about simple greenhouses called high tunnels to extend the growing season and were able to construct a 20x60 foot one out of PVC pipe after learning about them at the LFC. Joseph recalls some of the new growing methods he and his family learned at the LFC, saying, "It's very informative and we've really enjoyed it. There was one session about composting, and after that we went out and layered the crops, and it got pretty hot, pretty quick!"
Organizers are now planning for next winter's LFC and its growing statewide audience. "It's exciting to be part of the growing local food movement," said Korslund, "And we are fortunate to be able to access the resources of the University of Minnesota as well as the explosion of knowledge that has come from more and more Minnesotans getting back in touch with food production."