Green Eating and Vacationing in Minnesota: Eat and Play to Support Sustainable Agriculture
Through a multi-faceted public education campaign we are encouraging individuals to eating and vacation in ways that support sustainable agriculture and healthy rural communities. In the first year of our grant, we partnered with Food Alliance Midwest and Minnesota Farmers Union to put on an all day local foods event at the Minnesota State Fair. In conjunction with this event, we produced and distributed 15,000 MN Cooks calendars that focus on buying locally and sustainable grown foods. We have also collected over 200 destinations to be included in the Green Routes publications and website that will be released this spring.
Objective 1: Increase understanding of local, sustainable food systems and of regional food identities in individuals who have interest in food, health and the environment.
Objective 2: Influence purchasing behaviors of individuals who dine out and vacation across the state by acquainting them with local businesses and restaurants that support sustainable food systems.
Objective 3: Influence attitudes of restaurant and café owners and the wholesalers who supply them so that they see the marketing value of purchasing sustainably grown products.
Objective 4: Increase business for sustainable farmers, the businesses that support them, and their local communities.
We co-hosted a MN Cooks event at the state fair with Food Alliance Midwest and MN Farmers Union. The event featured 14 MN chefs who are advocates of locally-grown, sustainably produced food and the producers who supply them. The chefs did cooking demonstrations and the farmers and “celebrity” guests participated in panel discussions. This event included seven, 45 minute shows and attendance was over 1000 people.
In conjunction with the event we produced an 18 month MN Cooks calendar featuring chefs, producers, and recipes. We printed and distributed 15,000 calendars. When we distributed calendars at events, we collected the names of the people who took the calendars. We have collected over 3,000 names and are working with the University of Minnesota Tourism Center to conduct a survey with these individuals.
This spring Green Routes will make its big public debut. At the May 6 & 7 Living Green Expo we will launch the website and the regional brochures that are being developed. Minnesota Monthly, a statewide magazine connected to Minnesota Public Radio is doing a piece on Green Routes in their April issue. Women’s Press will do a story in May.
A key piece of this work is publishing the Eat & Play book that features restaurants across the state that buy from local, sustainable farmers. We have selected over 20 stories to feature and over half of these are written and photographed. We will be rolling on a media plan in conjunction with this book.
We do not have the data to report on this yet. We will be collecting data over the next year that will help us evaluate this. The data will include that collected from the people who filled out contact information when they picked up a MN Cooks calendar. We will also be doing surveys at the restaurants that will be featured in the book.
The MN Cooks event and calendar contributed to this objective. When we were looking for cafes to showcase in the book, we did a press release to a wide group of individuals and organizations across the state asking for suggestions of eateries that use locally-produced foods. We received over 130 names of restaurants and made follow-up calls to these. In these calls we were able to collect info about the restaurant and engage the owner or chef in a discussion about local foods. Not all the restaurants that we called used local foods, but almost all of them were interested in buying more locally and sustainably produced products. We will continue to keep these restaurants in the loop as we move forward with this work.
Because of this project, we were asked by the U of M Tourism Center to be on a planning committee for the first MN Sustainable Tourism conference. The audience for this conference is people who work in the tourism industry or who own businesses that cater to tourists. We have also been asked to do a presentation on Green Routes at this conference.
We were also asked to advise the Wisconsin Department of Tourism on a new Green Travel initiative that they have now launched. We met with the Commissioner of Tourism and his staff to brief them on what we had learned in our work.
Because of this work, the Minnesota Bed & Breakfast Association has added a workshop to one of their conferences on using local foods in your B&B. We will be finding a speaker/chef who will conduct this seminar, which is expected to draw over 100 B&B owners.
As we talked with chefs and producers, we learned about problems chefs were having finding local producers, and the problems producers were having finding chefs. This encouraged us to partner with the Heartland Food Initiative to pull together a proposal for a web-based, interactive tool that will help facilitate links between producers and chefs. We have submitted this proposal and are waiting to hear the outcome.
We have not yet begun to evaluate if this project has increased business for sustainable farmers, the businesses that support them, and local communities. We will evaluate this piece in year two through interviews and focus groups with sustainable farmers and the businesses with which they work.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The evaluation process for this project is now underway and will continue throughout year two. It will provide quantifiable data on project impacts. In the interim, the following items provide some indication of the project’s impacts so far:
– B&B Association has decided to hold a workshop on cooking with local foods at one of their events
– interest from media including Minnesota Monthly, Minnesota Women’s Press, and Minnesota Public Radio indicating an interest in using the forthcoming book as a gift in their membership drive in the Fall of 2006
– 40 organizations signed up as sponsors to the MN Cooks event and calendar. Sponsorship covered the entire cost of printing the calendar.
– we are fielding many phone calls from businesses and consumers about the Green Routes project. (A large, MN-based corporation learned about the project and has invited us to exhibit at the environmental fair they hold on their 2 corporate campuses. Only 5 organizations are invited.)
– the MN Tourism Department approved a small grant to conduct further research on the interest in green tourism
– the Food & Wine Experience, a large event in the Twin Cities, is interested in having a MN Cooks component at their event next year. This would feature local chefs and local foods, unlike their traditional cooking demonstrations that generally feature chefs and food from elsewhere.