Sprout, a non-profit based in Little Falls that aims to connect and strengthen the local food system, has launched a new grocery store on wheels, the Mobile Market.
“Sprout has been doing CSAs, community sustainable agriculture, for a while now, but this mobile market was more like a portable grocery store that we could also bring around with us so people have more access to fruits and vegetables,” said Dawn Espe, Region 5 Development Commission planner.
The Sprout Mobile Market as well as the art cart hits the road every other Tuesday. Today, they stopped in Staples at the Sourcewell headquarters before traveling up to Pine River.
Sprout launched the Mobile Market in order to increase access to fresh local foods in rural areas.
“We were just recognizing that there’s parts in the region that maybe didn’t have the access to the fresh fruits and vegetables that other people did,” explained Espe. “So we’re trying to make sure that everybody has a great quality of life around the region and that kind of access.”
Traveling with the Mobile Market is Sprout’s À la cARTe Initiative, a cohort of four artists that have come together to build a mobile art studio.
“A lot of times, people don’t necessarily have access to those types of experiences outside of a larger city. The initiative is to have more arts experiences in our rural communities,” said Maria Ervasti, Sprout À la cARTe artist.
The Mobile Market and the À la cARTe Initiative are coordinated by Sprout, the Region 5 Development Commission, and the Five Wings Arts Council.
When is dinner more than just dinner? When stories are told. And connections made.
That's the premise of a new documentary, which focuses on the stories of immigrants and other minorities living in the small towns and rural areas of central Minnesota. "Who's At Your Table?" brings together people of widely varying experiences to share a family-style meal and tell their stories—where they came from; how their cultures shaped them; and how they find life and acceptance in Minnesota.
It's the extension of a TEDxGullLake Talk delivered in 2015 by Arlene Jones, a Brainerd farmer and founder of Sprout Growers and Makers Market in Little Falls. She cohosts the dinner with Martin Jennings, a grants administrator and member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. Dinner guests include two Somali refugees, a Liberian refugee and entrepreneur, three former Amish members, a mother of seven multicultural children, and a chamber of commerce director in a small town finding new growth and conflict with the influx of first-generation Americans. Most of the dinner guests met each other for the first time at the gathering.
When to watch
What: "Who's At Your Table?"—television documentary.
When: 9 p.m. Monday, June 24, repeating 8 p.m. Thursday, June 27.
Where: Lakeland Public Broadcasting.
"The face of central Minnesota is changing," narrator Jennifer Smith of Brainerd said at the outset of "Who's At Your Table?" "There is more color to who we are. More depth to our traditions. More stories about from where we came."
With that introduction, the guests begin telling their own origin stories. Abdi Daisane, a Somali immigrant who now runs a preschool in St. Cloud, discusses growing up in a refugee camp and sharing what limited food was available. Fortuna Alexander, a Liberian immigrant, tells how she became an entrepreneur to finance an orphanage in a country ravaged by civil war and Ebola. Business owners and former Amish members Enos and Mary Schwartzentruber explain what it's like moving from one culture into another without ever leaving town.
The hour-long storytelling and discussion is more about cultural understanding than conflict, Jones pointed out in a news release.
"Food was the motivator," she stated. "The heritage behind the food was what we used as the platform to bring all these people together. To share a meal as you would with your family and begin to tell our stories about what it is like to live in central Minnesota to possibly be an immigrant and to possibly be someone who is here who is different, who has had a different struggle."
The documentary will premiere on Lakeland Public Broadcasting, beginning 9 p.m. June 24 and repeating 8 p.m. June 27. It was created by Resilient Living MN, a production arm of Happy Dancing Turtle in Pine River, which also organized the TEDxGullLake conference. Region Five Development Commission and ArtPlace provided funding, along with assistance from Sprout and Lakeland Public Broadcasting.
The "Who's At Your Table?" dinner represented a rare opportunity for people of differing cultures to come together, tell their stories and listen to others, said co-host Jennings. "Hopefully, this work and this conversation will help others think a little more differently about communities that they typically don't see or think about," he said.
By Anthony Scott — Lakeland PBS
Sprout is a non-profit organization based out of Little Falls that works to keep the local agricultural economy strong, and today Sprout received a new set of wheels to bring local produce to families in need.
After months of fundraising and support from the Otto Bremer Trust, Sprout was able to secure enough funds to purchase a van that will be used as a mobile food market.
“So, this vehicle will allow us to take some of the pieces of our food hub, local food aggregation and distribution, and some of the fun activities that happen around the marketplace, we get to now take that out on the road,” Natalie Keane, Sprout’s Facility Utilization Director, said.
Sprout collaborated with IMED Mobility, which specializes in making wheelchair-accessible vehicles, to create their own custom van for their mobile market.
“We’re going to lose seating, we’re going to lose some of the interior panels, but what we are going to do is we’re going to maximize space,” Justin Alain, IMED Mobility’s General Manager, said. “That was the biggest importance for what Arlene and Natalie wanted for Sprout.”
The van also comes with a wheelchair-accessible lift which will make it easy for Sprout to load and unload their inventory.
“We do really think this van will serve our needs,” Keane said. “It has great space so that we can really have a great selection of inventory to offer folks.”
Sprout plans to add refrigeration and a freezer system to the van so they can also bring fresh meats and dairy products to rural regions.
“Our five-county region has two of the highest low-income, low-access areas; a lot of our schools are also facing high percentages of free and reduced lunches which is an indicator of food access needs,” Keane said. “So, we definitely believe that this mobile market will help fill in some of those missing meal gaps.”
The mobile market won’t only be bringing food to local families, but Sprout is also collaborating with local artists to bring entertainment to each stop along the way.
“It’s gratifying to have the van here and see how excited they are, and see what they are going to be able to do for the community of Central Minnesota,” Alain said. “That’s a big thing for us: we always want to help, and we think that this is the perfect van that’s going to get their mission accomplished.”
The mobile market is expected to launch at the start of the harvesting season.
Sprout is also looking for someone to come up with a design for their mobile food market. The design contest starts March 1st, with the winning artist taking home a $1,000 prize package. For more information, visit www.sproutmn.com/mobilemarket.
Sarah Winkelmann, Lakeland Public Television
Tonight, class was full of vegetables.
“Fresh herbs, radishes and a lot of those summer squashes,” said Tomas Zimmerman, chef and owner at A.T. The Black and White in Little Falls.
One of the things Chef Tomas talked about in his class tonight was kitchen safety and that when you’re cutting herbs, make sure to tuck back your fingers before chopping.
But after safety, tonight’s biggest lesson was about the efficient use of local produce.
“It’s a good way to connect the farmers with the community,” Chef Tomas said. “Shopping local is a big thing, and getting local produce to help those farmers out is a really good asset to the community.”
Chef Tomas was full of ideas to incorporate plants like bok choy into your dinner.
“Showing us different flavor profiles – so if you don’t like it in this variation, you can try it in something new – helps us further expand our abilities and skills in the kitchen to really use the local product that we can grow here in Minnesota,” said Sprout employee Natalie Keane.
And those ideas can also help not letting any produce go to waste.
“The biggest culprit of food waste is actually us as individuals in our own kitchens,” Keane said.
But in tonight’s kitchen, it was all about bringing together the community.
“It really showcases just how special it is to have culinary experts like Chef Tomas, how special it is to have a rich agricultural region and to showcase our farmers in a light where they are the folks that are actually feeding us in this region,” Keane said.
It was a time for all farmers, consumers and chefs to come together.
“I want to support local farmers, and personally, I am a vegetarian, so I like to see where my food comes from and where it is grown,” said attendee Kimberly Augstin.
Everyone in attendance had their own reason to pick up some new skills.
“I belong to a CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] and I also did last summer and I really, really enjoyed it, but sometimes there was too much food and I wanted to figure out what to do with it all,” said attendee Candice Koopmeiners.
So no matter how much fresh produce you get, there is always a fresh way to cook it.
“I don’t know everything, I never will, but that’s one thing I like about this industry is you are always getting new products and new ways to do stuff, new techniques,” Chef Tomas said.
Catch the full story at LPTV.org