Green Eating and Vacationing in Minnesota: Eat and Play to Support Sustainable Agriculture

Final Report for LNC04-246

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2004: $150,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Jan Joannides
Renewing the Countryside
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Project Information


The goal of this project was to increase sales for sustainable farmers by growing the demand for their products from individuals, eateries and institutions. We influenced demand through a multi-faceted public education campaign that included high profile educational events, telling stories of cafés and restaurants committed to buying sustainably-produced ingredients from local farmers, and a green travel initiative–branded Green Routes. We estimate that the public education campaign reached at least 750,000 people and have anecdotal evidence that a number of these people changed their behavior as a result. Furthermore, our SARE grant enabled us to leverage additional funds to strengthen our work in this area.


This project was undertaken to build on the momentum that was underway in Minnesota for developing a sustainable, local food system. It set out to conduct a public education campaign that would launch Minnesota to the next level in supporting sustainable agriculture and rural communities.

Building on other Renewing the Countryside campaigns that successfully highlight sustainable farmers (and others) through a website, book and media coverage, we proposed a plan that would capture the attention of new audiences and give people easy, concrete ways to act to support their local food system. The heart of the campaign was showcasing eating establishments across the state that buy from local farmers and the farmers that supply them. These profiles were the anchor for a broad and ambitious initiative which included the production of a book and website, the development of a green travel initiative, high profile educational events, and an aggressive media campaign.

Project Objectives:

Collect and showcase profiles of farmer/eatery relationships across Minnesota. Present these stories, along with recipes, in publications that have mass market appeal and that will garner the public’s attention.

Develop easy-to-use, regional Green Routes guides that will lead people to patronize enterprises that support local foods and sustainable agriculture.

Implement a statewide, local foods festival that will serve as a platform to bring attention to the issues.

Conduct an extensive media campaign that will build on the above three components of the project.


Materials and methods:

A key component to this project was working collaboratively with other organizations and individuals in the state who had also been working on these issues. A dozen individuals--both farmers and organizational representatives--served on the advisory committee for the project. Many other individuals participated in various aspects of the initiative.

Research results and discussion:
Collect and Showcase Profiles

In partnership with Food Alliance Midwest and Minnesota Farmers Union, we collected 54 farmer/chef profiles that were showcased in the 2005, 2006 and 2007 Minnesota Cooks, 18-month calendars. We distributed 45,000 of these calendars, 15,000 each year.

Thirty-one profiles of farmers and chefs, plus recipes from the chefs, have been collected and submitted to Voyageur Press. The book with these profiles, entitled Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook, will be released in April 2008. Garrison Keillor has written a wonderful foreword for the publication. We advocated for the book to be published in the Fall of 2007, but the publisher opted to move the publication date to Spring of 2008.

Develop Easy-to-use, Regional Green Routes Guides

Seven Green Routes glove-box maps, featuring 180 destinations, were developed and printed in conjunction with regional partners. Nearly 28,000 glove-box maps were distributed.

An innovative and engaging website , which uses Google mapping capabilities, was developed to promote Green Routes, educate travelers and help them find green destinations online.

In 2007, 350 people signed up to take the Green Routes challenge, committing to visiting at least five Green Routes destinations within a year. We also launched the monthly Green Routes e-newsletter in the summer of 2007.

Implement a Statewide, Local Foods Festival

Our goal with this objective was to educate a broad audience about local, sustainably grown foods. Rather than create a new event, we choose to forge partnerships with others in order to reach the broadest audience.

We joined Minnesota Farmers Union and Food Alliance Midwest in producing and promoting the Minnesota Cooks events. Over the life of this grant, the Minnesota Cooks event was produced three times at the State Fair and twice at the Twin Cities Food and Wine Expo. Combined, the events included 40 shows that featured cooking demonstrations by local chefs and discussions with sustainable farmers and local celebrities.

Conduct an Extensive Media Campaign

The media efforts were conducted in conjunction with the above events and with the launch of Green Routes. The EcoExperience alone received 50 million media impressions in 2007. A list of media coverage for the EcoExperience can be found at

To garner media coverage of Green Routes, we held a familiarization tour for media and policymakers. We distributed over 100 press packets to media, policymakers and other leaders prior to the tour introducing them to Green Routes and inviting them to join the day long tour. Over 20 people signed up for the bus tour, which included presentations on the concepts behind Green Routes and visits to Green Routes destinations in the Upper Minnesota River Valley. Following is a partial list of articles on Green Routes that were printed in newspapers and magazines over the course of the grant:

• April 2006, Article entitled “Green Routes,” in the Living Green insert in Minnesota Monthly Magazine.
• September-October 2006, article by Kelly Westhoff in The Mix newspaper entitled “Green Routes Charts a Sustainable Course through Outstate Minnesota.”
• June 4, 2006, article by Elizabeth Noll in the Minnesota Women’s Press newspaper entitled, “Into the Wild Green Yonder by Minnesota Women’s Press.”
• February 2007, Article by Rachel Hutton in Minnesota Monthly Magazine entitled “Tread Lightly.”
• March 14, 2007, article by Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy in the Republican Leader entitled “Green Routes are one form of sustainable tourism.”
• May 9, 2007, article by Oona Patterson entitled “Green Routes” in Stress Free Living Magazine.
• May 18, 2007, article by Tim King in The Land newspaper entitled “Plot your own ‘green route’ around Minnesota.”
• November 6, 2007, article by on entitled “Minnesota Eco Tourism Initiatives.”
• February 2008, an article by Jay Walljasper in Ode Magazine entitled “Slow Travel” mentions Green Routes and quotes RTC staffer Brett Olson.
• A writer, inspired by Green Routes, wrote an article on green travel for Conde Naste Traveler that features Green Routes. We have been informed that the article will be published in the Spring of 2008.

We are preparing for another round of media coverage to coincide with the release of the Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook in spring 2008.

Finally, a local radio station, 950 AM KTNF, approached Renewing the Countryside and asked us to implement a radio show on local foods. We launched this show, called Local Food Hero, in February 2008. It airs weekly in the Twin Cities metropolitan area and podcasts are available through the website at

Research conclusions:
Outcome 1: Increasing Understanding

In 2005, 2006 and 2007, we used a series of events and publications to raise awareness and increase understanding of local, sustainably grown food.

Over the course of this grant, the Minnesota Cooks event was implemented three times at the Minnesota State Fair and two times at the Twin Cities Food and Wine Expo. Combined, the events reached a minimum of 4,000 people who attended at least one 45-minute show featuring cooking demonstrations with local foods and conversations with sustainable farmers. An editorial written by the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2007 said of the event, "In promoting the purchase and consumption of Minnesota-grown foodstuffs by Minnesota eaters and eateries, they [MN Farmers Union, Food Alliance Midwest and Renewing the Countryside] have a winner.” (The Star Tribune has a circulation of nearly 400,000.)

Minnesota Cooks calendars were created in 2005, 2006 and 2007, each profiling 18 farmer/chef partnerships. Along with our partners, we distributed 45,000 of these calendars.

We implemented the Healthy Local Foods exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair’s EcoExperience in 2006 and 2007. Attendance at the 12-day long event was over 350,000 people each year who had an opportunity to sample local, sustainably produced foods, see cooking demonstrations, and talk with sustainable farmers. We distributed over 4000 decks of Local Food Hero playing cards as well as other information on healthy, local foods. In 2007, the event received over 50 million media impressions (i.e. number of people who would have seen or heard a story about the EcoExperience), and each night of the fair Channel 5 news featured a piece on what local foods were being sampled that day.

We used a variety of ways to increase understanding of sustainable tourism and how it can support sustainable, rural communities. We had Green Routes exhibits at the 2006 and 2007 Minnesota Sustainable Tourism Conference, the 2005, 2006 and 2007 Living Green Expo, and at a number of smaller events. We gave presentations on Green Routes at these events, and at a number of additional events listed in the outreach section of this report.

In 2006, we implemented a Green Routes bus tour for media and policymakers. We took over 20 individuals on a day-long trip where we introduced them to the concept of Green Routes and visited Green Routes destinations. In July 2007, we launched the Authentic Traveler e-newsletter that goes out monthly to over 2000 people who have signed up to receive it through the website or at various events where we have had an exhibit.

Outcome 2: Influencing Purchasing Behavior

The information above, related to the Minnesota Cooks event and the Healthy Local Foods exhibit, is also pertinent to this outcome. While we do not have quantitative data on how purchasing behavior has changed, we have heard interesting anecdotes. For example, one woman got her monthly dinner club to use the Minnesota Cooks calendar as a guide to where they would meet for dinner. A state legislator was inspired to become a CSA member after visiting the Healthy Local Foods Exhibit.

In regards to Green Routes, at the end of 2007 we had over 180 destinations listed on the Green Routes website and on the seven regional maps. Of the 28,000 glove box maps printed as part of this project, all but about 500 them have been distributed. We are in the process of updating information and reprinting maps for Spring 2008.

We also had over 350 people make a pledge to visit five Green Routes destinations by the end of 2007. We will be collecting data from these people in Spring 2008. And as mentioned above, we launched the monthly, Authentic Traveler e-newsletter which encourages people to travel green and visit Green Routes destinations.

In 2007, we received the findings from a study conducted in partnership with the University of Minnesota Tourism Center. This study gathered baseline information on interest in local foods and sustainable travel among diners at restaurants who serve local foods. A follow up study will be conducted in the fall of 2008, approximately six months after the Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook is released.

Outcome 3: Influencing Attitudes of Restaurant & Cafe Owners

We had hoped that the farmer/restaurant profiles collected through this grant would have been published, in book form, by the end of 2007. However, the publisher decided to push the publication date to Spring 2008. Therefore, we do not yet know the influence of the profiles on restaurant and cafe owners. As noted above, we will be conducting a follow-up study with cafe and restaurants approximately six months after the book is released.

We are developing an aggressive outreach and education plan that will be conducted alongside the roll out of the book. This will include a series of events across the state and intensive efforts to garner media coverage on these issues.

Our work funded through the SARE grant did provide additional opportunities related to this objective. In the initial research to identify cafe and restaurant owners that buy from local farmers, we repeatedly heard comments about their interest in buying more local, sustainable food if they could find it.

Based on these comments, we applied for and received a North Central Risk Management Education grant. This grant funded a series of Farmer/Buyer networking workshops that were held in January 2008. Over 180 farmers and buyers attended these workshops and new business connections were formed. We are considering conducting additional workshops later in 2008 and beyond.

Our work on sustainable travel, partially funded by this SARE grant, put us in conversations with leaders in the state's tourism industry. As a result of this, we have conducted workshops on using local foods at the Minnesota Bed and Breakfast Association's annual meeting two years in a row and had an exhibit in 2008 at the Upper Midwest Hospitality Show, where we were able to talk with numerous people in the restaurant industry.

Outcome 4: Increase business for sustainable farmers & their communities

When we began this project, there were those working on local food issues in Minnesota who voiced their concern whether there was enough demand/interest in local, sustainably-grown food. Today, no one working on these issues in the state has any doubt that there is plenty of demand for the current supply. The pressing issue now is building capacity within the system to meet that demand and ensuring that farmers receive a fair price.

Because efforts to increase awareness and interest in local foods have come from a number of sources, it is difficult to delineate our contribution. We do know that we have reached hundreds of thousands of people with the message to buy local foods, to support sustainable agriculture and to learn where their food comes from. We have also advised a number of individuals planning meetings and conferences on how to find and secure local foods for their events.

Economic Analysis

We do not have an economic analysis of this project. We can state that the SARE grant enabled us to leverage at least an additional $150,000 towards this work.

Farmer Adoption

This project did not have a farmer adoption component.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Following is the list of publications developed, in part, with funding from this grant:

• 2005-2006 Minnesota Cooks Calendar (15,000 copies)
• 2006-2007 Minnesota Cooks Calendar (15,000 copies)
• 2007-2008 Minnesota Cooks Calendar (15,000 copies)
• 2006 Local Food Hero Playing Cards (3000 decks)
• 2007 Local Food Hero Playing Cards (2400 decks)
• Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook (5,000 copies, available April 2008)
• Agassiz Green Route brochure (4000 copies)
• North Shore Green Route brochure (4000 copies)
• Pine & Lake Country Green Route brochure (4000 copies)
• Bluff Country Green Route brochure (4000 copies)
• Tatanka Bluffs Green Route brochure (4000 copies)
• Tamarack Green Route brochure (4000 copies)
• Upper Minnesota River Valley Green Route brochure (4000 copies)
• Green Routes Resource Handbook
• Green Routes Website (

Outreach included a number of workshops, tours and presentations at professional events.

In the fall of 2006, we conducted a day-long Green Routes media and policymakers tour (additional funding for this was secured from a Minnesota foundation.) In 2007, we conducted seven Green Routes workshops across the state for business owners, local organization representatives and community leaders. (Supported through additional funding from a Minnesota foundation.)

RTC staff gave a presentation entitled, Green Routes: Supporting Rural Communities through Sustainable Tourism, at the following conferences:
• April 20, 2006, Minnesota Sustainable Tourism Conference, Minneapolis, MN
• May 19, 2006, Association for Enterprise Opportunity Conference, Atlanta, GA
• July 15, 2006, Regards to Rural Conference, Warm Springs, Oregon
• August 17, 2006, National SARE Conference, Oconomowoc, WI
• September, 2007 North American Ecotourism Conference, Madison, WI
• October 3, 2007, Growing Green Enterprise Workshop, Willmar, MN

Project Outcomes


Areas needing additional study

For public education campaigns of this nature, it is difficult to quantify results without an enormous amount of expertise and resources. It would be helpful to have guidelines available to help do this in a reasonable way.

The question we are asking ourselves is given the growing interest and excitement in local foods, how do we harness that interest to move the system along. Various organizations in Minnesota are looking at different aspects of the food system, from building the capacity to produce local, sustainable foods to developing efficient and fair distribution systems to providing access for those least able to get it.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.