Local foods heavy-hitters come together on St. Paul commission


Fourteen leaders on local food issues will be working together on a new joint Saint Paul-Ramsey County commission on food and nutrition. The commission is tasked with creating an action plan for a sustainable system that increases production, distribution and consumption of healthy, local food.

Helene Murray, director of the University of Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) and one of seven appointees from the City of St. Paul, says she is “really excited” to be participating in the commission.

More than anything, Murray seems excited about the opportunity for new collaborations. No stranger to partnerships herself, Murray’s current position at MISA has her working with the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, the University of Minnesota Extension, and a coalition of five food and agriculture-focused non-profits.

Murray says the commission’s dual focus on city and county, urban and rural, has brought a lot of resources to the table. “The cross-section of knowledge [represented] will make it a very robust commission,” she says. “I think we can accomplish a lot for local foods.”

For Hai Truong, another of St. Paul’s appointees and proprietor of Ngon Vietnamese Bistro, the connection that matters is to his community.

“I live in the Frogtown neighborhood, my restaurant is in Frogtown, and lots of people here think that to eat healthy food, you have to have money,” said Truong.

One of the access points for local foods that Truong would like to see strengthened is one his business currently epitomizes: ethnic restaurants. “It’s about getting more access to the food,” Truong says, “and giving it to everyone.”

In addition to Murray and Truong other members appointed by the City of Saint Paul are:

  • Metric Giles, an urban gardener and member of the Rondo community;

  • Bernie Hesse, a union organizer for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 789.

  • Becky Meyer, a community developer focusing on food issues with the East Side Neighborhood Development Company;

  • Lynne Rossetto Kasper, host of public radio’s “The Splendid Table,” cooking teacher, and cookbook author; and

  • Leonard Russo, proprietor of Heartland Restaurant.

The members appointed by Ramsey County are:

  • Diane Dodge, founding member of the Minnesota Food and Justice Alliance and Growing Food and Justice;

  • Nadja Berneche, an urban farmer and community service learning coordinator for Metropolitan State University;

  • Linda Litrell, founding member of the Sustainable Agriculture Study Group at the University of Minnesota;

  • Katie Koecher, a scientific relations professional for the University of Minnesota’s Food Science and Nutrition department;

  • Seth Kuhl-Stennes, a volunteer with the Minnesota Project’s Fruit of the City program, Celeste’s Dream Community Garden, and Gardening Matters;

  • Colleen Schlieper, an urban farmer focusing on vegetable and egg production; and

  • Robert Schuneman, Chief Operating Officer for Swanson Meats, Inc

Commission meetings will be open to the public; information about meeting times and location will be available on the Ramsey County website.