Teamwork, policy put local foods at center stage in this Minnesota community
31 Aug 2023
Business, News, Economic Development, Agriculture, Community
LITTLE FALLS, Minn. — When leaders of Sprout, MN heard about the USDA’s Community Food Projects Competitive Grant Program, they knew they had something in mind with the potential to hit all the key goals of the program.
The program awarded nearly $10 million in 2022. Its goal was to fund projects that meet food needs of low-income individuals; increase self-reliance of communities in providing food needs of the community; and promote comprehensive response to local food access, farm and nutrition issues. Among those awarded was the Sprout plan.
The program awarded Sprout, MN $233,803 to support a planned community owned grocery store (The Purple Carrot), permanent infrastructure for the Little Falls Farmers Market and utilization of Sprout food hub assets to reach more families in need with healthy food, according to Sprout executive director Arlene Jones. It’s three separate entities working to build the local foods scene as one big team.
The Little Falls Farmers Market has been a standard in the community since the late 1800s. Early on it was a place to sell pigs, according to farmers market organizer Brad Pederson. He was managing the market on Wednesday, Aug. 23, in front of the Boys and Girls Club. As the market has grown back from just a small contingent, they are now looking for a permanent infrastructure that will allow them to share their wares out of the elements, yet still in an open air environment. Market president Birdie Pederson, wife of Brad, said they have big dreams for the market.
“We have one goal, bringing local produce to the consumer,” Birdie said of the collaboration of the trio including Sprout, Purple Carrot and the Little Falls Farmers Market.
Birdie explained that the farmers market is happy where they are, on a major roadway in town with ample parking, but they lack the infrastructure to store things it takes to run a market. They’d like to have items on scene to avoid having to haul everything by truck or trailer each time they set up, twice a week through the growing season. And refrigeration options would help avoid food waste.
“Our hope is to expand and grow and continue bringing our local produce, fruits and vegetables directly to the consumer,” Birdie said.
Construction of the permanent market was anticipated for April 2025, according to the group's application. It has goals of advancing access to low-income individuals by increasing market diversity and supportive programming to draw in low-income individuals.
The Purple Carrot Market — a community owned food cooperative, currently has over 730 community owners. That includes farmers and non-farmers who have given a one-time gift of at least $200. The Purple Carrot board has a goal of having 800 owners before they start their major capital campaign to raise the remaining funds for revamping the century old Victor Mall in downtown Little Falls into a food cooperative market largely sourced with local foods. It would be a year round market that organizers believe will fill food needs for the downtown community as well as be a tourism draw for the city.
Funds awarded for the Purple Carrot project allowed the hiring of a project coordinator in spring of 2023 to refine project costs and construction details. This coordinator works as a liaison between the community, the Purple Carrot board of directors and its owners. This startup food co-op is a significant piece of this latest fund cycle and an example of the level of support that local foods have from this community.
“There was a huge need for downtown access for people who don’t have the transportation to travel to the edge of the city to these larger stores and such,” Sprout food systems and outreach coordinator Cynthia Johnson said.