Sprout Food Hub Founder Arlene Jones speaks to the Little Falls City Council, Monday. A food collaborative consisting of Sprout, Purple Carrot Market and Little Falls Farmer's Market recently learned it received a $233,803 USDA grant. Staff photo by Zach Hacker
The Little Falls Local Food Collaborative recently got a major boost in advancing its mission.
The group — which was formed within the past year — recently learned it received a $233,803 grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Consisting of representatives from Sprout Food Hub, Purple Carrot Market and the Little Falls Farmer’s Market, the collaborative aims to expand access to local, affordable food sources, provide nutrition and culinary education, promote healthy living throughout the community, and more.
In speaking to the Little Falls City Council, Monday, Sprout Founder Arlene Jones said the local food, local places action plan within the OurTown 56345, community-driven visioning was instrumental in helping the collaborative receive the grant.
“I need to tell you that this was an extremely competitive grant,” Jones said. “Had we not done the work of engaging our community at large in local foods, local places, and listing those community-driven goals in that action plan in the OurTown visioning process, we would not have achieved and secured this grant.”
The total grant amount will be spread over two years. It officially began Nov. 1, and it will last through Oct. 31, 2024. The funding will go toward several aspects of advancing the collaborative’s overall mission.
From a budgetary standpoint, the grant will help fund a project manager for the Purple Carrot Market — a local food cooperative — for two years, and another for the Little Falls Farmer’s Market for one year.
The project manager with the Purple Carrot Market will work with the Board of Directors to advance its priority of opening the market, which will be located in the Victor Mall building on East Broadway in downtown Little Falls.
“They’ve got a dedicated Board,” Jones said. “They’ve got a dedicated group of sub-groups that are working on this. This will allow the people that are working in unpaid positions to actually hire a project manager under the guidance of the Board of Directors of the Purple Carrot Market to move that project forward for two years.”
In terms of the Little Falls Farmer’s Market, the project manager will help advance some of its initiatives, such as establishing a site for a permanent structure to house the market. That will allow the market to continue its work of allowing community members to participate in the commerce of local foods and local artisan projects without worrying about the weather, according to Jones.
The grant will also fund equipment for both the Purple Carrot and the Farmer’s Market. That will include refrigeration and freezer space for vendors.
It will also provide opportunities for Sprout to continue in its endeavors involving nutrition and culinary education.
“Without continuing to educate our community, we will not continue to advance the economic opportunities of local foods,” Jones said.
She said the collaborative has already received letters of commitment for staff time over the course of two years from Community Development of Morrison County, Visit Little Falls, the Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, Region V, the Purple Carrot Market and the Little Falls Farmer’s Market.
In giving the presentation to the Council, Jones asked for its continued support of the collaborative and its mission. She thanked council members and city staff for already being supportive, without which they would not have received the grant.
“To all of you that participated, to all of you that raised up your voices, to all of you that said, ‘This is what we need to do in order to have a vibrant community that’s healthy and that we have access to local foods and that we’re advancing our goals,’ I want to thank you,” Jones said. “I think it’s a great achievement.”
Susy Prosapio, president of the Purple Carrot Market Board of Directors and a member of the collaborative, said the cooperative is up to 705 owners. That is evidence, she said, that the community sees the vision and the need to bring local food in a retail setting to the community.
She said the timing of the grant funding is perfect for their organization.
“The Purple Carrot is now working very hard at getting our store open,” Prosapio said. “There are many committees working. The project manager will help us coordinate all of that work so that it’s not volunteers, that when one person gets busy, the project doesn’t move forward. The project manager landing right now is so incredibly important.”
As they continue to work on opening the retail location, she said they will be working to get additional grant funding for the entire project. The fact the equipment will be covered by the NIFA grant will allow them to focus on working toward dollars for construction.
Ultimately, it will help keep the project as a whole affordable, she said.
Little Falls Farmer’s Market Director Birdie Pederson said the market has been a part of the community since the 1880s.
“We’ve gone through all of those years through the wind and through the snow and things like this,” Pederson said. “That’s what we are also working toward — a permanent structure.”
She said the refrigeration and freezer space will also be vital. A meat vendor typically comes to the market with what looks like a fish house. That contains her freezer, and she has to bring a generator in order to meet regulations to sell frozen food at the Farmer’s Market.
“This would certainly benefit all of that,” Pederson said. “We are delighted,” she added.
Jones also asked the Council to support the collaborative’s desire to form a Food Policy Council for Little Falls and Morrison County. That will have to be granted by resolution from both the City Council and the Morrison County Board of Commissioners.
She said forming a Food Policy Council will allow them to continue to address and provide goals that “improve access to nutritious, affordable and culturally suitable foods; promote healthy eating; encourage nutrition education, consumer-wise, through our assets that we have here in Little Falls and in our schools; promoting and buying and utilizing local food,; promoting local food processing; and promoting our farmer’s market.”
No local unit of government — neither the city or county — would incur any financial liability if such a council is formed. However, she said “any reputable food policy council” does have a representative from the local government to act as a liaison between the two entities.
“We know that all food policy councils that are successful include a vast diversity of representation from local units of government, school districts, public health, nonprofits that are invested in food systems and higher education,” Jones said.
She said Sprout is willing to go after any additional funding that will help support the Food Policy Council.
According to Jones, Little Falls is home to the only rural, brick and mortar food hub in the state of Minnesota. The only other physical food hub she is aware of is in Falcon Heights, a suburb of the Twin Cities.
She added that members of Sprout have recently met with people in Duluth and Fargo who are wanting to start a food hub of their own. They are using Sprout and Little Falls as a model for how it can be done outside of a major metro area.
“I’m incredibly proud of the work that we’ve done,” Jones said. “We’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
She said there are still a lot of issues to address and voices that need to come to the table to work on issues such as the increased senior population, the veteran population and “all others that need adequate food.” As food prices continue to rise, she said more and more people will suffer.
“We have the ability to do something,” she said. “I’m asking you to consider being part of the work that we’re doing and, as a city, to lift us up.”