The Alternative Local Economy

Last week, after a very good market day in Detroit Lakes, all of us went down to St. Paul to stay with Maree’s relatives. We had tickets to a concert on Harriet Island on Monday and we had plans to check out the state fair as well as attend our nephew’s second birthday in Red Wing.

The problem with a farmers market is that you have to wake up early, harvest like crazy people for four hours, and then race off to the farmers market to frantically set up and sell produce for another four hours. Last Saturday was so busy we had a line up of a dozen people or so even before we had things on the table…pretty nuts and it kept up that way for a good three hours. Needless to say we were a bit tired, so much so that we bagged the idea of going to the Fair on Sunday. Fighting crowds and walking for miles on end didn’t sound like a real relaxing time to a family with no energy, and, although we really like fair food, it’s not really good food.

So, instead, we decided to check out a place in South Minneapolis called Common Roots Café for lunch. I’ve heard about the place through a sustainable ag listserve since they host a monthly local foods happy hour there for interested foodie-types. I’ve found this one of the best examples of what I call the “alternative local economy” based on local production, connecting people to growers and each other, and fair trade. The restaurant currently source 87% of their food from local sources and pays their entire staff a living wage (which start at $11/hour in MPLS), and, beyond that, they have created a comfortable place where the quality of the food comes before quantity and speed (fast food). It’s a place where people are expected to slow down, talk to their neighbors, and celebrate good food…more of this is needed in this world! This experience, of course, got me thinking about what is possible in our own region of the state.

When I first started as a farm apprentice at Foxtail Farm by Taylors Falls in 2000, there were only a handful of CSAs in Minnesota and pretty much all of them were in the vegetable belt around the twin cities. Even there we pretty much felt like the fringe of society since it seemed like only those crunchy people who hung out a local food coops were talking about local foods and organics. But now the tide has really turned. Many people are searching out farms like our because they not only want fresh produce, but they are pulled to this local alternative economy where people are people and not just consumers, where you can get to know the person who grows your food, where your dollars can stick around and support your community…connections you will not find at your nearest Walmart. So, when I see how the twin cities local foods community has matured in eight years, I imagine where we will be in eight years ourselves… Will there be common roots café in our neck of the woods? Will local cut flowers be available down the street? How about local grains? Local beer? I don’t know about you, but I’m optimistic.

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