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 second year of our grant, we completed six Green Routes regional travel guides, launched the Green Routes website, again partnered with Food Alliance Midwest and Minnesota Farmers Union to put on an all day local foods event at the Minnesota State Fair, and coordinated a Healthy Local Foods exhibit as part of the Minnesota State Fairs new EcoExperience, which was visited by over 350,000 in a 12 day period.
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.
Objective 1 Accomplishments/Milestones
We worked with partners in six regions of the state to identify sustainable tourism destinations in their areas. These destinations were invited to apply to be part of Green Routes. A total 180 places (farms, businesses, public sites) applied and are now featured in the six regional brochures and on the Green Routes website that was released at the May Living Green Expo in St. Paul. In conjunction with this event, Minnesota Monthly, the state’s largest magazine, did a short article on Green Routes.
We again co-hosted the Minnesota Cooks event at the Minnesota State Fair with Food Alliance Midwest and MN Farmers Union. The event featured 14 MN chefs and the local, sustainable producers who supply them. This event included seven, 45 minute shows and attendance was over 1000 people. The MN State Fair also renamed the day, MN Cooks Day at the State Fair, greatly increasing publicity. 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 and collected the names of the people who took them. On our behalf, the University of Minnesota Tourism Center has conducted a survey with some of these individuals and will provide us the final results early in 2007.
Articles on Green Routes were featured in The Women’s Press and The Mix, two Twin Cities newspapers.
We were invited to coordinate a food and sustainable agriculture for the state fair’s new EcoExperience. We pulled together many partners, including Organic Valley, the Wedge Natural Foods Co-op, HealthPartners, and 12 non-profit organizations to develop and implement the Healthy Local Foods Exhibit. Over 350,000 people visited the exhibit over a 12 day period. As part of the exhibit we sampled local, sustainably produced foods, gave visitors an opportunity to talk with farmers, and gave away Local Food Hero playing cards that featured pictures of local farmers and food facts.
Objective 2 Accomplishments/Milestones
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.
Objective 3 Accomplishments/Milestones
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.
Objective 4 Accomplishments/Milestones
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
It is difficult, at this point, to quantify the impact of this project. We do believe that we are building interest and understanding. Some of the indicators of this are:
– B&B Association deciding to hold a workshop on cooking with local foods at their statewide event;
– interest we are getting from the media (e.g. Minnesota Monthly, Women’s Press, Minnesota Public Radio indicating an interest in using the forthcoming book as a gift in their membership drive);
– 40 organizations came on as sponsors to the MN Cooks event and calendar;
– we receive many phone calls a week about the Green Routes project;
– Explore Minnesota Tourism, the state’s tourism department, approved a small grant to conduct further research on the interest in green tourism and interest in local foods;
– The Twin Cities Food and Wine Experience, a large event in the Twin Cities, has asked the coordinators of MN Cooks to replicate the event at their venue in 2007. This would feature local chefs and local foods, unlike their traditional cooking demonstrations that feature chefs and food from elsewhere.