Produce local, sell local, buy local, feel good

A city initiative targets health and the economy with locally grown food

Just look at the news: The economy is in the dumps, and obesity is on the rise. Perhaps they’re unrelated trends, but a new Minneapolis initiative wants to single-handedly battle both.

Called Homegrown Minneapolis, the project is analyzing what impacts a locally grown economy could have. In other words, if Minneapolitans were to grow more food and eat more of what they grow, what would it do for the city?

The hope is an improvement in people’s health and an uptick for small business.

Since December, a group of dozens of city leaders, restaurateurs and volunteers have broken down the analysis into four facets: economy, environment, food security and health. They’ve investigated ways residents can get more connected to the city’s 15 or so farmers markets and how communities can become more self-sufficient.

Look at the work of the subcommittee on commercial use of locally grown food. They created a laundry list of wants, including growing personal relationships between producers and restaurateurs, changing the stereotype of who eats locally and seeing Minneapolis become famous for its local food support. They’ve also explored how to get schools and hospitals interested in buying local.

A subcommittee on community, school and backyard gardens have heard from a number of schools who say they’re interested in expanding or growing gardens. They also found that fire hydrants can
be a good, affordable source
for water.

Patty Bowler, of the city’s Department of Health and Family Support, said important, too, is trying to figure out how to keep up with demand.

"I think people are really excited about farmers markets, but there’s only a limited number of farmers who can actually get to all of those markets and sell," Bowler said.

The initiative originated within the city’s Department of Health and Family Support, where staff was trying to figure out a way to get more people access to healthy foods as a nutrition and obesity-prevention strategy. They took their thoughts to Mayor R.T. Rybak, who responded enthusiastically.

"You know how the mayor is when he gets excited about something," Bowler said. "He just jumps on it."

Rybak’s office added the homegrown aspect, piggybacking on the mayor’s personal interest in supporting local foods.

"We eat seasonally," Rybak has said about his own family. "Throughout the summer, we have tomatoes in season, melons and everything that comes in at its rightful time."

A complete list of tentative recommendations is expected next month, with final suggestions headed for the City Council’s Health, Energy and Environment Committee in May or June. Findings of the initiative also could play a role in Rybak’s proposed 2010 city budget, Rybak spokesman Jeremy Hanson said.

"It’ll come at a really good time," he said. The mayor usually starts developing his budget in late spring.

There are challenges ahead. Just the tip of the iceberg is that there is a relatively small supply of land for gardening. There also are significant roadblocks in city ordinances that would cause some recommendations to stall. For example, Minneapolis doesn’t allow bees to be raised within city limits, which makes honey production impossible.

But city leaders already are trying to overcome what they can. At the March 20 City Council meeting, Council Member Scott Benson (11th Ward) was expected to introduce an ordinance to allow beekeeping.

"Hopefully this will change the way the city does business around these kinds of food issues," Bowler said. "All we can really control is what the
city does."