Food regulations in Minnesota are complex and are implemented by a variety of different agencies at the local and state level. This leads to immense confusion on the part of farmers and prospective food entrepreneurs, who are then hampered in their ability to develop local food enterprises. This project will target community leaders involved with local food systems in all 87 Minnesota counties, over two years. The project team of Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA), Renewing the Countryside (RTC), and Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association (MFMA) will compile a set of useful reference materials on food regulations relevant to local food systems, and will work with the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP) in all counties to schedule and deliver training to a minimum of three local leaders per county. This will result in a cohort in each county that can assist local food enterprises and projects to navigate regulations and move forward. It will also allow the project team to connect county-level concerns to the newly-developed Food Innovation Team (FIT) that involves Minnesota Department of Agriculture and Minnesota Department of Health in resolving difficult food licensing issues. We anticipate an improved climate for local food systems and enterprises in Minnesota as a result of this project, which will ultimately benefit farmers who produce food and the communities where they live and work.
Project objectives from proposal:
We expect that county-level food system leaders who attend this training will report increases in:
– Their knowledge of the landscape of food regulatory jurisdictions
– Their knowledge of food license types and matching of license types to food-related activities
– Their ability to explain the basics of Minnesota’s food regulatory system to others
– Their confidence in recognizing situations that need clarification from either a local inspector or higher-up inspection staff
– Their ability to refer a farmer or local food entrepreneur to an inspector
We anticipate that on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being lowest level, training participants will report an average of a 2-point positive shift in all points listed above.
Providing inspector contact information and project team contact information to the county-level trainees will cause trainees to feel that they have permission to ask questions, seek clarification, and elevate food licensing concerns seen in their communities. We anticipate a 10% increase in first contacts made to food inspectors in 2019 and 2020, and will seek information from MDA and MDH food licensing programs to attempt to verify that figure.
We anticipate the project team will field a minimum of 50 food licensing questions from the counties, and that a minimum of 10 of those questions will be suitable for attention by the Food Innovation Team (FIT.) FIT attention to a question means there will be a regulatory or jurisdictional interpretation, and the results will be conveyed to MDA and MDH regulatory field staff as well as the public. Therefore, the project will assist in developing a conduit for intake of difficult licensing questions to be resolved by FIT. Ultimately this will benefit local food systems across the state by elevating and resolving regulatory barriers commonly faced by local food entrepreneurs.
Providing reference tools and training in their use to a cohort of at least three local leaders per county will result in an improved atmosphere for local food enterprises in Minnesota counties. We expect to see increased entrepreneurial activity around local food in the years following the training events. Specifically, we hypothesize that trained county-level leaders, in the year following training, will assist two farmers or food entrepreneurs per county to launch local food enterprises. Full corroboration of this hypothesis extends beyond the term of the grant, but we will be able to partially check this with the 45 counties receiving training in the first year of the grant. Our exit survey with county SHIP coordinators will specifically ask about assistance provided to local food entrepreneurs.