Last week, the Minnesota Food Charter joined Minnesota Food Funders Network members to visit three farms that practice sustainable agriculture and reflect several Food Charter strategies. The Cannon River Watershed Partnership, Main Street Project, and Hmong American Farmers Association all led important conversations with tour participants on food access, water quality, cover crops, regenerative agriculture, and rural economic prosperity.
Cannon River Watershed Partnership (CRWP) works to improve soil health on agricultural fields across
the Cannon River watershed, with a current focus on increasing the use of cover crops. Cover crops are plant varieties grown between cash crop seasons to keep living cover on the landscape. We walked through the corn fields to see the red clover and rye cover crops and learned:
- The Cannon River watershed is 80% agricultural land, but less than 1% of of this land base includes use of cover crops.
- This year, CRWP partners with 11 farmers on 600 acres to use cover crops in this watershed.
- Two main benefits of cover crops include: protecting water quality by reducing erosion and trapping excess nitrogen and promoting soil health by increasing organic matter.
The Main Street Project works to introduce a new small-scale, sustainable poultry-based system that is
accessible and economically viable for aspiring Latino and other immigrant farmers. We explored the poultry paddocks and learned:
- The star players at the Main Street Project are chickens. Not only does a poultry-based system supply meat and eggs for consumers, it is also energy efficient, highly productive, and scalable.
- The paddocks are built to mimic the chicken’s natural jungle-like habitat, with perennial hazelnut and elderberry plants as the foundation.
- Main Street Project has trained more than 70 aspiring farmers from a curriculum that is taught in Spanish or English and is accessible for students with low literacy levels.
The Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) advances the prosperity of Hmong farmers through
cooperative endeavors, capacity building, and advocacy. We toured the farm and produce processing center, learning that:
- HAFA is based on a 155-acre farm in Vermillion Township where 60 Hmong farmers grow 130 varieties of produce for more than 200,000 people each year.
- The HAFA farm is considered an incubator farm, where farmers can get a secure start, making money while increasing their knowledge about farming practices and the financial and market systems they need to tap into.
- Hmong farmers contribute more than $13 million to the Minnesota economy, growing more than half of the produce sold at the Minneapolis and St. Paul farmers markets.
These exciting efforts across Minnesota’s farm country reflect numerous Food Charter strategies. Funder-members of the Minnesota Food Funders Network have a critical role to play in supporting important initiatives like these and in ensuring the long-term impact of the Food Charter. We’re proud to have the Funders Network as a member of the Minnesota Food Charter Network. Together, we can create healthier food environments and a healthy food infrastructure that supports the health and prosperity of all Minnesota communities.