Cross Pollinating Agricultural and Health Sectors Grows a Resilient Region
“It’s about creating local jobs. It’s a 22nd Century Evolution where farms can be brought back!” exclaimed local farmer Barry Thoele, at a Farmer’s Market on a windy, September afternoon. Beyond farmer’s markets, Barry is one of an increasing number of farmers who is getting his locally grown, healthy foods out to more of the regions residents through Sprout’s Growers and Makers Marketplace, a regional local food hub that houses an aggregation & distribution site, a processing kitchen, a demonstration kitchen and an indoor marketplace for retail sales. Sprout has grown from a seed of thought in 2009 with only a few growers and institutional buyers, to now more than 70 local growers supplying locally grown commodities and new markets to sell their goods.
Sprout is the outgrowth of the citizen-led Resilient Region plan facilitated by Region Five Development Commission (R5DC) from 2009 – 2011, focusing on stimulating growth of local foods, farming and arts to address regional critical issues such as out-migration, poverty, diet related disease and quality of life in our rural region. In 2010, HUD awarded R5DC a regional planning grant of $825,000 who facilitated inclusive conversations with over 600 diverse people and later served by over 50 regional champions to implement the plan. The team deployed the Distributed Leadership model and later evolved the local foods value chain through the WealthWorks framework to build upon regional assets. R5DC Executive Director Cheryal Hills explained that employing a wealth creation framework “took us from intuition to intention.”
Sprout’s founding farmer and manager Arlene Jones said recently that Sprout serves seven school districts (15,000 students), four hospital systems, and restaurants, retail and food service accounts in the region. Its 2016 revenue is on target to exceed 2015 by 48%. Most of that goes to the growers, she said, “Seventy percent of our total revenue is cost of goods sold, which equates to direct funds back to our growers and their family incomes.”
One of the flagship programs created by R5DC and Sprout is “Choose Health”. This program broke down the silos of economic development; our Agriculture community and our health care institutions and public health professionals. A unique Doctor prescribed “CSA food prescription” that in its first year addressed the needs of 50 low – income food insecure families. The program provides healthy foods, recipes, food demonstrations and education to local families who have been identified by physicians at Lakewood Health System as food insecure to receive locally grown and raised commodities bi-weekly from Sprout’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Participants go through pre and post health care screenings, receive nutrition education and recipes from the University of Minnesota Extension, and ongoing community referral and support from Todd County Public Health.
Today, the Choose Health model is being replicated in other regional hospitals such as St. Gabriel’s Hospital in Little Falls and CentraCare in Long Prairie. A local non-profit “Happy Dancing Turtle” is working with one physician in Pine River to replicate Choose Health with a consortium of new partners.
NADO awarded Choose Health in 2014 with their annual “Innovation Award.” In 2015, Choose Health was awarded The Minnesota Hospital Association and a Health Partners Innovation Award (Small Hospital Category). The Bush Foundation Innovation Award, $500,000, was received to expand the Choose Health Program and other initiatives directly related to local food production.