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Extension > Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships > Statewide > Rural Grocery Stores

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Rural Grocery Stores

instructor in front of store owners looking at a store produce display case full of a variety of produce

Small-town grocery stores are the heart of rural communities, yet many struggle due to issues like shrinking customer base, competition from larger chain stores, and changing customer demands for fresh produce and greater variety. The University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP) support rural grocers affected by these issues through a number of rural grocery resources and projects. These include fresh produce handling guides for small retailers; information on how to work with farmers to sell locally grown produce; and in-store produce handling training and education. These projects address needs identified in the 2015 Rural Grocery Survey and through face-to-face conversations with rural grocery owners throughout Minnesota.

Farm to Rural Grocery to Wholesale Backhaul Project

RSDP is currently working on a grant titled "Connecting Small and Medium-Sized Farms to Existing Wholesale Markets through Backhauling from Rural Grocery Stores," engaging stakeholders from across the food supply chain, including producers, grocers, wholesalers, regulators, and University of Minnesota research and Extension.

Over the next two years, the pilot project will test the idea, starting with three crops: garlic, organic potatoes and strawberries. Once tested, this model has the potential for replication in rural areas throughout the country.

fresh unpeeled garlic with sign with storing instructions

Farm to Rural Grocery to Wholesale Project Information (PDF)

Research engaging stakeholders from across the food supply chain.
This project aims to develop, and pilots the feasibility of, a new model for small and medium-sized crop producers to access wholesale markets.

Project partners include:

  • Lisa Baker - Baker’s Acres
  • Connie Carlson - New Crops, RSDP
  • Kathy Draeger - Statewide Director, RSDP
  • Chris Fields - Director of Processing & Compliance, Russ Davis
  • Duke Harrison - Warehouse Operations, Mason Brothers
  • Annalisa Hultberg - Extension Educator, On Farm Safety
  • Pat Miller - Vice President, Russ Davis
  • Naomi Olive - Project Manager, Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems, RSDP
  • Les Olson - Owner, Big Stone Garlic
  • Dojin Park - Granduate Research Assistant
  • Ryan Pesch - Extension Educator, Community Economics
  • Hikaru Peterson - UMN Professor of Applied Economics
  • Greg Schweser - Director, Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems, RSDP
  • Cindy Tong - Professor & Extension Postharvest Horticulturist
  • Molly Zins - Executive Director, Central RSDP

Fresh Produce Toolkit

Storing, handling, and marketing fresh produce can be difficult in a small grocery setting. Information on how to overcome these challenges and on how to incorporate locally grown fresh produce are available in the resources below. One resource, the Example Grocery Store Policy and Vendor Application, is an editable document that can be used to create a store-specific purchasing policy and application for locally-grown, fresh produce. (Project funding was provided by a Minnesota Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant).

Farm to Rural Grocery

Small farms located near rural grocery stores have the potential to be an additional source of healthy and tasty fresh produce. Potential benefits to stores of working with a local farmer include securing very fresh product, meeting customer interest in "locally grown" options, supporting another business in the community, and more. Potential benefits to farmers include increased marketing opportunities, enhancing their ability to provide nutritious foods to the community, and other benefits. Food hubs may also be a good fit for local farmers to supply rural grocery stores in their region. See the case studies below for more information on successes and challenges of the Farm-to-Grocery model from a farmer, grocer, and food hub perspective.

 

logo from Grampa G's Farm

Grampa G's Farm (PDF)

Research conducted for the University of Minnesota - Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships
This case study explores barriers and opportunities faced by Grampa G’s Farm in selling their products to local independently-owned rural grocery stores. It also provides a summary of the benefits of these farm to rural grocery store supply chains.

logo for Local Harvest Market Food Hub a drawing with a barm, cow, sun, trees and garden

Local Harvest Market Food Hub (PDF)

Research conducted for the University of Minnesota - Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships
This case study explores barriers and opportunities faced by the Local Harvest Market (LHM) food hub in selling locally grown foods to independently-owned rural grocery stores. It also provides a summary of the benefits of farm to food hub to grocery store supply chains.

logo from Gosch's Grocery, drawing of old truck with produce in the back

Gosch's Grocery (PDF)

Research conducted for the University of Minnesota - Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships
Gosch’s Grocery is an independently owned rural grocery store located in Randall, MN. This case study explores barriers and opportunities faced by Gosch’s in selling locally grown and/or processed foods.

photo of store front TJ's Country Corner building with windows

TJ's Country Corner Grocery and Farm/Street Market (PDF)

Research conducted for the University of Minnesota - Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships
TJ's Country Corner is an independently owned rural grocery store located in Mahtowa, MN. This case study explores the ways in which the Bislows have involved the community through store events, including the successes and challenges of hosting a farmers' market next to the store.

2015 Rural Grocery Survey

The 2015 Rural Grocery Store Survey was produce display case with grapes, strawberries and oranges conducted by the Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships to understand the needs and concerns of rural grocery store owners in Minnesota. This project was funded by AgCountry Farm Credit Services, AgriBank, AgStar Financial Services, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and United FCS. Many organizations and individuals provided feedback on the design, including Extension Community Economics, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, the Wilder Foundation, the Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Grocery Access Task Force's Finance Subcommittee, Minnesota Food Charter, Clean Energy Resource Teams, the Center for Rural Policy and Development, and two grocery wholesale businesses. Results are being analyzed throughout spring of 2016 and will be posted on this page as they become available. For more information, please feel free to contact Karen Lanthier at korsl001@umn.edu.

 

image of a graph

Rural Grocery Store Survey: At-a-Glance - Rural Grocery Energy Use (PDF)
University of Minnesota - Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships
This is the third in a series of fact sheets sharing "at-a-glance" findings from questions related to what it is like to run a grocery store in rural Minnesota.

image of a graph

Rural Grocery Store Survey: At-a-Glance - Fresh Produce and Farm to Rural Grocery (PDF)
University of Minnesota - Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships
This is the second in a series of fact sheets sharing "at-a-glance" findings from questions related to what it is like to run a grocery store in rural Minnesota.

image of a graph

Rural Grocery Store Survey: At-a-Glance - Business Characteristics and Environment (PDF)
University of Minnesota - Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships
This is the first in a series of fact sheets sharing "at-a-glance" findings from questions related to what it is like to run a grocery store in rural Minnesota.

Rural Energy for America Program

The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) from the USDA Office of Rural Development is a great opportunity for rural grocers and small businesses to save energy dollars with efficient equipment or add renewable energy systems. This competitive grant and loan program is directed specifically at rural communities in Minnesota and throughout the Midwest.

Grants can cover up to 25% of eligible project costs, and loans can cover up to 75% of eligible project costs. Applications are scored competitively in batches. The first round of applications for 2016 is due May 2. The second round is due October 31. Projects requesting grants of up to $20,000 ($80,000 or less total project size) can fill out a short form application. The short form application accepts energy savings estimates quoted by equipment vendors to streamline the application.

If you are thinking of equipment upgrades, such as new refrigeration, compressors, lighting, cooler doors, or even solar panels, please consider this program. For more case studies, cheat sheets, and resources on how to apply, check out Clean Energy Resource Team resources at www.mncerts.org/greatrenewables. You can also contact Fritz Ebinger, Rural Energy Program Manager at (612) 626-1028 to discuss program eligibility, project details, and receive assistance with the application.

Resources

produce cooler with glass doors show oranges and apples

Online Presentation Recording - Good Food Access Program grant opportunities through Minnesota Department of Agriculture
Minnesota Department of Agriculture
On March 28, 2017 RSDP hosted a presentation by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture on the new Good Food Access Program grants available to grocers and other food retailers for equipment and physical improvements. A recording of the presentation is linked above and the presentation slides are accessible here. These grants are available for improvements that can increase access to affordable, nutritious, and culturally appropriate foods by underserved communities in low and moderate income areas. See the presentation and Request for Proposals (RFP) for more details. Questions posed at the end of this webinar are listed in the FAQs Page.

presentation slide with words

Produce Handling, Storage, and Marketing Presentation
Presented by Ryan Pesch (University of Minnesota) and Matt Olson (Mississippi Market)
Presentation given for rural grocers and farmers highlighting best practices for handling, storing, and marketing fresh produce as well as locally-grown fresh produce.

presentation slide with words

Pierz Eats Produce Campaign
Molly Zins
Project summary of a collaboration between UMN Extension Central Regional Sustainable Development Partnership and Pierz Foods. Store owners, Jill and Allen Dahmen wanted to help their community eat more healthfully by purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables.

people in grocery store in front of produce cooler

Stocking Freshness and Abundance
University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships
Project report for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture Rural Grocery Store Produce Handling Education Specialty Crop Block Grant.

grocery store produce display case

Kansas State Rural Grocery Initiative's Rural Grocery Toolkit
Kansas State University
Kansas State University has developed resources for rural grocers around assessing the market, business management, financing, marketing, and more.

upright enclosed with glass doors new produce case full of fruits and vegetables

Rural Grocery Challenges and Best Practices
Kansas State University Rural Grocery Initiative resources
Resources to trouble shoot issues such as working with chain grocery stores, meeting minimum buying requirements, dealing with high energy costs, and more.

people sitting at a table as a panel of rural grocery store owners

Southwest RSDP Food Network Gathering Summary (PDF)
Key themes and discussions from a panel with four rural grocery owners held at the Southwest RSDP Food Network Gathering on October 1, 2014.

charter bus with large group of people attending summit standing in a group in front of the side of the bus

Rural Grocery Summit 2014 Highlights
This page covers highlights of the 2014 Rural Grocery Summit in Manhattan, Kansas. The next Rural Grocery Summit will occur on June 6th and 7th in Wichita, Kansas. Information will be posted as it becomes available.

Minnesota Grocers Association logo

Minnesota Grocers Association
Trade association focused on advancing the common interests and providing resources to those involved in supermarkets, superstores, convenience stores, food wholesale, food manufacturing, and food brokerage.

Contact Kathryn Draeger | Contact RSDP

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