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Farm ingenuity needed in food security planning, panel says

On a panel titled "Fighting Food Insecurity With Local Foods," at the 40th annual Agweek Farm Show in Rochester, Minnesota, on Wednesday, March 9, three community leaders in Olmsted County discussed filling the gaps in food production and distribution.

Three panelists share a stage at the Agweek Farm Show.
Anna Oldenburg, right, of Olmsted County Public Health Service, discusses food security during a panel discussion at the Agweek Farm Show in Rochester, Minnesota, on Wednesday, March 9, 2022. Also on the panel were Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick, left, and Amanda Nigon-Crowley.
Jeff Beach / Agweek

ROCHESTER, Minn. — Calling farmers "the ultimate engineers," a panel discussion looked to farmers to help find solutions to hunger at the local level.

In a panel titled "Fighting Food Insecurity With Local Foods," at the 40th annual Agweek Farm Show in Rochester on Wednesday, March 9, three community leaders in Minnesota's Olmsted County discussed filling the gaps in food production and distribution.

The Olmsted County Food Security Coalition formed in 2021 and is sorting through the issues in the county, which includes a growing metro area in Rochester, rich agricultural history and a burgeoning immigrant population.

"Olmsted County is so rich," said Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick, a Rochester City Council member who helped lead a 2021 food security assessment for the county. "It's time to realize that and get food in people's bellies."

She emphasized using existing farmland for food production "instead of for subdivisions or big buildings."

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Also on the panel were Amanda Nigon-Crowley, who runs The Village Agriculture Cooperative, which connects immigrant populations with land to grow food, and Anna Oldenburg, with Olmsted County Public Health Services, who is working with a grant to improve health through better nutrition and food access.

Oldenburg said it is not always food supply issue but a supply chain issue, and has worked with small convenience stores that would like to provide fresh food but need to do so in small quantities. She is working on making connections with farmers to solve those logistics issues.

Kirkpatrick and others praised the work of Channel One, the local food pantry, but said the location and limited hours of operation keep it from being as effective as it could be.

While Kirkpatrick lamented Rochester's suburban sprawl, Nigon-Crowley suggested that perhaps new apartment complex developments could come with space for gardens and that renters of homes could have permission from landlords for gardens to at least supply for their own families.

Nigon-Crowley said Olmsted County has a large Asian community with an agrarian background who know how to grow food but lack access to land.

"Our mission has become finding land for them, finding resources, finding ways for them to become professional farmers," she said.

Recent immigrants also want to grow "culturally appropriate foods," she said.

"Part of our mission is to help them keep their culture and their heritage alive by being able to grow specific food for their communities," Nigon-Crowley said.

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As the Olmsted County Food Security Coalition takes shape, Oldenburg said "we would love to see more rural involvement."

"This isn't just a Rochester coalition, this is an Olmsted County coalition," she said.

Kirkpatrick said farmers are essential to helping the coalition solve food security issues.

"There's nothing like a farmer to be creative, innovative, diligent, loyal, disciplined. They're talented, they're the ultimate engineers. If anybody's going to have a good idea to how we can add some bullet points to what we're going to look like in a year, it's a farmer."

Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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