Executive Director, Crow River Food Council
For Connie Carlson, relationships are everything. As Executive Director of the Crow River Food Council (Wright County region), President of the Crow River Chapter of the Sustainable Farming Association, and a natural community organizer—she builds connections between people, ideas, and resources every day.
Community connections are especially important for the Crow River Food Council (CRFC). Formed in 2014, the council is already creating better access to healthy foods by connecting people around food issues and systems.
For example, early in their tenure, the CRFC launched the Power of Produce program, a program that allocates $2 tokens to children visiting farmers markets. The children can spend their tokens on produce or save them up to spend later. The program helps kids try new healthy foods while stretching families’ limited food budget at the same time. In their first year, 400 kids participated at two markets, the attendance more than doubled the following year and they are on track to far exceed that this year. This year, a CRFC board member partnered with a statewide team to develop a Power of Produce toolkit for farmers markets around Minnesota to use to launch the program.
Another initiative Carlson is excited about is repurposing an underutilized greenhouse at Wright Technical Center—a high school for technical and alternative education that serves eight school districts in Wright and Sherburne counties. When school leaders asked Carlson if she knew of anyone who could use it, she immediately thought of a few farmers who were looking for a space to help grow their produce and give back to the community.
In the second season of using the greenhouse, farmers connected with students to teach them all about planting, growing, and harvesting food. “These were students who had never grown anything or cooked their own food before,” Carlson said. “What’s also fun is that the plants there have made it into community gardens, food shelves, and low-income housing because the farmers have offered their extra produce,” she explained.
The Crow River Food Council supported the greenhouse effort through promotion, grant writing, and volunteer services. Its location at a district school makes it a useful community platform for local and regional food work.
Leveraging Grassroots Energy
Carlson says there is tremendous grassroots energy in her community around creating new ways to share and nurture efforts to eat healthier and locally and boost the local agricultural economy.
Recently, the council partnered with a local non-profit to develop a class for low-income residents to learn how to make nutritious meals with a slow cooker. The funding to support the classes was provided by the local hospital system. The idea was the brain-child of a local chef who sits on the council who recognized that good slow cooker recipes could be a way to help families and individuals to improve their cooking skills. Many of the supplies for the class were donated, including slow cookers, local produce, and even knives to learn knife skills. The first series of 6 classes proved to be so popular that another session is planned for the fall.
The Crow River Food Council is growing out of this energy. It is a council populated with individuals who bring their passion, expertise, and commitment to making the region more livable for everyone. Carlson believes deeply in the power individuals have to make the world a better place. She says, “I really believe in the ripple effect each individual has.”