Minnesota Grown, a statewide program managed by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, makes it easier than ever to enjoy locally grown foods by connecting area farmers, consumers and wholesale buyers.
Through the program, specialty crop and livestock farmers have the opportunity to sell their goods to markets, shops, restaurants, schools and other establishments across the state.
“Our focus is on buying locally from Minnesota farmers,” says Paul Hugunin, Minnesota Grown program coordinator. “We’re encouraging people to spend their dollars in Minnesota.”
Planting The Seed
Minnesota Grown originated when a group of fruit and vegetable growers approached the state department of agriculture in the mid-1980s to request help in marketing their products. As a result, the department gave the group – now known as the Minnesota Grown Promotion Group – a series of grants.
“The Minnesota Grown Promotion Group was a nonprofit organization created to partner with the state department of agriculture to represent grower interest and raise grower money. We then sought to manage with state and federal money and carry out promotional activities,” says Kevin Edberg, the first Minnesota Grown full-time staff member and current managing partner of The Berry Patch in Forest Lake. “We gathered private money from farmers and leveraged that with the state grants. We achieved some major success.”
In 1987, Minnesota Grown received its first annual appropriation. Under Edberg’s leadership, the program quickly expanded to include items including honey, Christmas trees, nursery products and floral products, in addition to fruits and vegetables.
“We coordinated this Minnesota Grown concept for as many parts of agriculture as we could reasonably apply it to,” Edberg says.
In 1989, the first year Minnesota Grown issued licenses, the program included 178 members. Today, that number has increased to approximately 1,240 members, many of whom are included in the Minnesota Grown directory.
“We have room in Minnesota Grown for big farms, little farms, organic, conventional – we are all-encompassing,” Hugunin says. “A member for us is a producer– not a restaurant, not a grocery store – who purchases a $20-per-year license.”
Members have access to promotional materials, such as price cards and stickers that are branded with the Minnesota Grown logo. In addition, the program’s certified organic farmers receive marketing materials with an organic logo.
“Minnesota Grown is a very important part of our program,” says Bonnie Dehn, co-owner of Dehn’s Garden in Andover and one of Minnesota Grown’s founding growers. “We’ve used the Minnesota Grown stickers on our products at farmers markets ever since they were available.”
Growth On The Horizon
The program’s most recent development is a new website, minnesotagrown.com. The site draws more than 300,000 unique visitors annually, and traffic is steadily increasing. Hugunin points to the public’s growing interest in local food, as well as the website’s additional content and mobile-friendly application, as major traffic drivers.
Minnesota Grown’s website isn’t the only part of the program that’s evolving. Big plans are in the works to ensure continued growth and success.
“Minnesota Grown is best known for our work with produce,” Hugunin says. “But we also work with nonproduce members, like garden centers and meat producers. We want to make a concerted effort to do more to promote those farmers and producers.”
Looking ahead, Minnesota Grown officials plan to cultivate relationships with nontraditional media outlets to further the program’s reach, and the website’s directory will undergo improvements to provide more information to visitors.