Food & the St. Croix River

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The area is being loved to death with growing numbers of people living and playing there.

St. Croix County in Wisconsin and Washington County in Minnesota face each other across the St. Croix River, and both are among the fastest growing counties in their respective states.

Large numbers of residents from these counties travel Interstate Highway 94 to their jobs in Minneapolis and St. Paul every day.

Workers living in Chisago and Polk, the next counties north along the river, use Interstate 35 for their commute into the Twin Cities, although some from Wisconsin cross the St. Croix in Stillwater and enter the cities on Highway 36.

The migration is often reversed on weekends as city tourists head to the St. Croix River Valley to browse the antique shops in charming historic towns or celebrate anniversaries with romantic dining in riverside restaurants and overnights in Victorian B & B’s.

Buy Fresh Buy Local in Minnesota
The St. Croix River Valley is the second Buy Fresh Buy Local (BFBL) campaign that the Land Stewardship Project has helped initiate. In 2001, LSP collaborated with several other community organizations and agencies in west central Minnesota to organize Pride of the Prairie. These groups identified over 100 farmers in the region doing some kind of direct marketing and published their first Local Foods Guide in 2002. The national Food Routes Network was organized in 2003 by 10 regional organizations, including LSP, under a Kellogg Foundation Grant. Pride of the Prairie was one of the first groups to take advantage of Food Routes’ market research and to use the special Buy Fresh Buy Local logo.

The 2006 Local Food Guide published by Pride of the Prairie identifies farmers who are direct marketing meat, produce, flowers and other products in the Upper Minnesota River Valley. It also lists retailers who carry local food products in their grocery stores and restaurants.

The Local Food Guide available in western Minnesota businesses and at LSP’s Montevideo office (320-269-2105).

It can also be found at www.pride oftheprairie.com.

LSP has agreed to serve as the Minnesota regional chapter affiliate of Food Routes for the coming year. The national Food Routes Network is managed by an executive director and governed by a steering committee. It licenses regional nonprofit organizations like LSP to help local groups form local chapters and develop BFBL campaigns. Iowa, Pennsylvania and California each have four to nine local campaigns, and Minnesota has the potential for several more, in addition to Pride of the Prairie in west central Minnesota and the St. Croix River Valley chapter. A local foods initiative in northwest Minnesota is currently forming a Red River Valley BFBL chapter. Any Minnesota group interested in starting a new local BFBL campaign must be licensed by LSP. Contact Dana Jackson in the White Bear Lake LSP office at 651-653-0618 or danaj@landstewardshipproject.org to start the process.

City folks escape to camp, fish, hike and ski in Afton and William O’Brien state parks in Minnesota, the Kinnikinnick and Willow rivers in Wisconsin, and a bit upriver, the Interstate Parks across from each other in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

On summer days, the St. Croix National Scenic River hosts thousands of boaters, offering quiet paddling upstream, sailing on Lake St. Croix, and cruises by yachts downstream from Hudson to the Mississippi.

The area is in danger of being loved to death.

More and more people want to recreate there, and they want to live there.

The number of residents in the whole watershed is expected to increase 39 percent by 2020, and much of the population growth will be within commuting distance of the Twin Cities.

Small rural towns along the river want prosperity, yet they don’t want to lose their cultural heritage and the blessings bestowed by the beautiful St. Croix River on private land outside the parks. But new streets and parking lots will mean more surface runoff carrying contaminants into the river.

City, township and county governments in the valley are starting to work on updating their comprehensive, long-range plans. Each unit of government has its own vision for the future of the area within its boundaries. Some planning commissions see their role as the developers of orderly annexation plans for the inevitable growth of residences and businesses. Some also pay attention to how growth will impact water quality and scenic beauty along the St. Croix River or how cultural and historic traditions can be preserved. Other communities are working to lure huge condominium developments close to the river and big box stores to the outskirts of town.

Economic development is necessary for all communities if they are to provide jobs, community services and amenities for residents. A diverse economic base is widely recognized as more resilient and secure than one dependent upon one or two industries. Yet the history of European settlement along the St. Croix River shows the economic base shifting from one industry to another: fur trading to logging, then wheat farming to dairying, then tourism and recreation, and now urban development. Land speculation was always a strong factor in the economy, but up until the 1950s agricultural land values were fairly compatible with farming opportunities. Today, most people who want to start new crop and livestock farms can’t afford to buy land But there is some unconventional agriculture in the St. Croix River Valley, unconventional in the sense that farmers are not in the business of growing commodity crops dependent upon federal subsidies, and unconventional in the sense that farmers need fewer acres than those in the past. They grow apples, berries, vegetables, flowers, herbs, wine grapes and Christmas trees.

They produce honey and maple syrup. Farmers add value by making jams and jellies, cheese and wine.

Some traditional crop farms of larger acreage have transitioned to grass farms, using rotational grazing to raise beef cattle, lamb and pork, and produce organic milk. Such land uses are generally compatible with wildlife habitat, open space and protection of the river’s water quality. But communities and local governments pay little attention to these enterprises, ignoring cultural and economic assets that could contribute much more to their economic base.

Building a community based food system in the St. Croix

The Land Stewardship Project has begun an effort in the St. Croix Valley to encourage unconventional agriculture and build community-based food systems. Our goals are to expand local markets for local growers, increase the consumption of fresh, healthful food in the St. Croix River Valley, diversify the economic base, and protect ecological and scenic resources in the region by reconnecting food systems with ecosystems.

This project is guided by a steering committee that includes staff from the Minnesota Food Association, Women’s Environmental Institute, University of Wisconsin Extension and the West Wisconsin Land Trust. A Community Supported Agriculture farmer and an independent organizational development specialist are donating time to the steering committee, and an advisory committee of farmers, chefs and community activists has agreed to help shape the project.

The steering committee has worked since November 2006 to organize the St. Croix River Valley Buy Fresh Buy Local (BFBL) chapter of the Food Routes Network. During the summer and fall of 2007, the St. Croix River Valley chapter will be inviting growers, processors, retail groceries, restaurants, tourist agencies, arts organizations and other community groups to become BFBL partners and support the larger movement to develop sustainable local food systems in the St. Croix River Valley.

Through outreach, advertising and point of purchase materials, Buy Fresh Buy Local makes it easy for consumers to buy fresh, local food from farmers they can know and trust. Through the Food Routes Network, LSP has access to a toolbox of thoroughly tested, professionally designed, low-cost materials that are being used in approximately 40 campaigns across the U.S. to promote local food to consumers.

The key messages and graphic designs in the toolbox are based on extensive market research in diverse regions to appeal to a broad audience. Each campaign works with the same company, Design for Social Impact, to adapt the basic background to the region’s character and depict foods widely available in River Valley design will be available to market partners during the 2007 growing season for point of sale signs and cards, brochures, banners and other promotional tools.

To become a market partner and receive a set of services, including use of the logo, a grower, farmers’ market, processor or retail business will pay a small partnership fee to the St. Croix local BFBL chapter. All chapters and their partners are required to follow specific guidelines in using the trademarked materials that have been developed by the Food Routes Network to keep the brand consistently recognizable by the public.

The BFBL campaign will become more visible in the St. Croix River Valley this summer as it begins promoting local food and its contribution to regional economic development through newspaper stories, special events at food co-ops and meetings with many organizations.

BFBL will assist farmers’ market partners that want to add vendors and/or a greater variety of products and attract more customers through special events and publicity.

The St. Croix River Valley BFBL Chapter will support other projects that promote local foods, such as Minnesota new local food distribution service, and efforts at the Women’s Environmental Institute to explore the establishment of a processing facility on its property near Wild River State Park. It will help distribute the West Wisconsin Food Atlas and publicize other directories to food in the St. Croix Valley, with a future goal of producing an extensive online food guide to Wisconsin and Minnesota growers and retail establishments selling local products in 2008. A major goal is to collaborate with many other groups and add value to the work they are doing to create regional food systems and economic development.

We invite LSP members and friends living in the St. Croix River Valley to participate in the Buy Fresh Buy Local campaign. In addition to partner growers and businesses, an individual can support the campaign by becoming a “Vocal Local.”

Dana Jackson coordinates the St. Croix River Valley Buy Fresh Buy Local campaign out of LSP’s White Bear Lake office. For more information or to get involved, contact her at 651-653-0618 or danaj@landstewardshipproject.org. On the Web, see www.landstewardship project.org/foodfarm-main.html.