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City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Fresh food comes to corner stores in Philadelphia under the Department of Public Health’s Get Healthy Philly program. Image Source: http:// foods/

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A Mayor’s Office and Health Department Lead the Way in Municipal Food Policymaking

Beginning in 2008, the City of Philadelphia introduced a series of food policies – plans, regulations, and programs – to respond to the many opportunities and challenges facing its residents. Under the leadership of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, one of the most impoverished cities in the United States now has a suite of food policies connecting food access challenges related to poverty with the city’s food production potential. This includes a food charter, food policy advisory council, as well as the inclusion of food systems in comprehensive sustainability planning and health promotion programming.

With a population of 1,553,165, Philadelphia is the biggest city in the state of Pennsylvania. It is also one of the most racially mixed cities in the state with over 43% black residents, compared to the state average of 10.8%. Asian, Hispanic, and Latino residents collectively account for 18.6% of the city’s ethnic makeup[1]. And, the city is a majority minority city; only 41% of the population is white. Although Philadelphia is now the fifth largest city in the US, its population experienced a marked decline towards the end of the 20th century following the downturn of its once thriving industrial sector. The city is still dealing with the significant number of vacant properties resulting from population loss, which total approximately 40,000 parcels.[2]

Philadelphia is located in the heart of the Delaware Valley region where agricultural production focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs. Complementing production is Philadelphia’s rich history of gardening, which dates back to the 1970s and 1980s. Today, the broader Philadelphia region has several small to medium sized farms focused more on the production of consumable products and less on commodity crops such as corn and soy. Within city limits, production focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables. Livestock is also permitted on city parcels over 3 acres. These agricultural opportunities are paired with urban density and therefore proximity to markets as well as a growing immigrant community with technical gardening knowledge.

Food producers in Philadelphia and the greater region face challenges due to a lack of local processing capacity, soil contamination, and limited access to water. Urban growers also find it difficult to be profitable. Oftentimes this means selling urban-grown food to restaurants rather than to food insecure residents, presenting a gap between local food production and food access. This is significant given that Philadelphia suffers from one of the highest poverty rates in the United States with 26.5% of households living below the poverty line[3] – a major challenge that is closely tied to food insecurity. Low-income residents, people of color, older adults, children, and people with disabilities are many of the populations struggling with food insecurity in Philadelphia.

Evidence of this is found in the 2013 Philadelphia Department of Public Health report which states that 307,000 of Philadelphians are living in neighborhoods with high poverty and limited access to healthy food retail[4].This is increasingly difficult for residents who depend on public transit to do their grocery shopping as public transit does not always connect with food retail destinations.  While the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), which provides public transit service within Philadelphia, is a partner on food system efforts, the authority is underfunded and therefore unable to adequately expand its service.

In the face of these challenges, Philadelphia has been able to implement a number of policies to support food production and improve food security. The municipal government has demonstrated a renewed interest in food systems policy, especially under the leadership of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. Policies that particularly connect both food production and food security led by these two departments are highlighted below.

Leadership from the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability

After he was elected in 2008, Mayor Michael Nutter pledged to make Philadelphia the greenest city in America. The Mayor’s Office of Sustainability was created shortly after and champions several sustainability programs, including many related to local food, as well as the overarching Greenworks Philadelphia plan.

  • Philadelphia Food Charter, 2008. On October 7, 2008, Mayor Nutter announced a Food Charter that articulates the City’s commitment to providing safe, affordable, locally grown, and healthy food for Philadelphians. One notable goal of the Charter is its call to create a food policy council.
  • Greenworks Philadelphia, 2009. Community advocacy group, the Next Great City in Philly, motivated the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability to launch the Greenworks Philadelphia Sustainability Plan in 2009. Target 10 of the Greenworks Plan is to “provide walkable access to affordable, healthy food for all Philadelphians.” The plan bridges food production opportunities with food access needs by calling for the integration of anti-hunger efforts into food and urban agriculture goals.
  • Philadelphia Food Policy Advisory Council, 2011. The Philadelphia Food Policy Advisory Council was established in 2011 following the aforementioned recommendation of the Food Charter. The council’s mandate is to facilitate the development of responsible policies that improve access for Philadelphia residents to culturally appropriate, nutritionally sound, and affordable food that is grown locally through environmentally sustainable practices.  Two staff positions, a Food Policy Advisory Council manager and a coordinator, are housed in the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability.

Leadership from the Department of Public Health

The City of Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health is responsible for several food policies under a chronic disease prevention umbrella. Along with work related to preventing smoking, health promotion and the prevention of chronic diseases are approached through a food and nutrition lens as part of the Get Healthy Philly program. Staff time for this program was originally funded under a Communities Putting Preventing to Work (CPPW) grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and subsequently transitioned to a civil service position.

  • Get Healthy Philly, 2010. Established in 2010, Get Healthy Philly (GHP) started as a collaborative initiative between academia, local government, the private sector, and community organizations to address physical activity, smoking, and nutrition in Philadelphia. GHP has since become the Chronic Disease Division of the Department of Public Health. Food Fit Philly is the umbrella for GHP’s nutrition and physical activity efforts. The program’s leadership team is chaired by the mayor who sits alongside city staff, academics, healthcare professionals, and private sector representatives. GHP initiatives are implemented across city departments, including the Healthy Corner Store Program, Healthy Carts Program, Philly Food Bucks, as well as funding for the establishment of 9 new farmers’ markets in low income communities.
  • Philly Food Bucks, 2010. This healthy food incentive program, introduced in 2010, encourages SNAP recipients to use their benefits to purchase fresh, local ingredients at participating farmers’ markets throughout the city. For every $5 spent using SNAP at participating markets, customers receive a $2 Philly Food Bucks coupon for fresh fruits and vegetables, increasing the purchasing power of lower income farmers’ market shoppers by 40%.
  • Healthy Carts Program, 2011. Philadelphia Public Health worked with government and community partners to develop a city-wide Healthy Carts Program. The carts sell fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and whole grains. Carts can accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits a way to increase healthy food access for low income residents. The program pilot ran from 2011-2012 with carts now being managed by partner organizations.

The City of Philadelphia has also developed several other food policies aiming to promote urban food production, food access, and other food system goals. These range from zoning amendments to programs, research, a staff position, and the inclusion of food priorities in municipal planning.






Marquette County, Michigan

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Image Source: Marquette Food Co-op.

Image Source: Marquette Food Co-op.

Private-Public Partnerships: Cornerstone of Food Systems Planning and Policy in Rural Marquette County, Michigan

Marquette County, a small picturesque county located on the shores of Lake Superior in the northern part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP), has taken significant steps to strengthen its food system. The county is home to 22 local units of government – 3 cities and 19 townships ranging from the largest city of 21, 441 people – the City of Marquette – to the smallest township of 153 people – Turin Township.[i],[ii] The Marquette county government and several of its local units of government are actively engaging in planning and policy efforts across disciplines to establish a local food system that serves the community. From supporting the innovative work of key non-profit groups and businesses, like the Marquette Food Co-op, to adopting long-term, comprehensive plans, these local governments are laying the groundwork for future food systems change.


Most farms in Marquette County are small – approximately ¼ to 10 acres in size – and grow a mixture of vegetables and raise some animals. According to the 2012 US Agriculture Census, the average size of a farm in Marquette County has decreased by 12% between 2007 and 2012, while the number of farms has increased from 144 to 168.[iii]

One of the most diversified farming operations in the county is the Seeds and Spores Family Farm, located in Chocolay Township. The farm grows 10 acres of vegetables as well as shiitake and oyster mushrooms, raspberries, strawberries, apples and ginseng; and raises laying hens, cattle, pastured pigs and turkeys. The farm sells its product through farmers markets and a community supported agriculture (CSA) program.[iv] In addition to this farming operation, many homeowners grow vegetables and berries in their backyards.

County farmers face a number of challenges. The majority of farms (147 of the 168) gross less than $20,000 per year. Farmers face a very short growing season (June through September) and unfavorable soil types (83% of the county is forested and not suitable for farming).[v] In addition to these issues, the UP is vulnerable to drought. Due to the limited and scattered population in the region, transporting farm goods to population centers is also a challenge. Currently no organized transportation and distribution system for food exists in the UP. Beyond these challenges, the UP cannot sufficiently handle all the meat processing needs of UP farmers, especially for poultry and pork. Small and medium sized dairy farmers and vegetable growers also have no place to process and add value to their products.

Despite these challenges, there is a real demand for local products among consumers and institutional buyers, especially in the population centers of the county. Currently, not enough local products are being produced in the region to meet this demand, creating an opportunity for farmers. Additionally non-governmental and quasi-governmental entities, such as the Marquette Food Coop, and Michigan State University Extension, provide a wealth of research, resources, and assistance for farmers wishing to connect with consumers.

Food Security

Marquette County serves as the regional hub of services for the geographically isolated Upper Peninsula. While Marquette County is more affluent than other counties in the UP, there are still pockets of concentrated poverty. Transportation and household economics are barriers to healthy food access for the populations of Marquette, especially the elderly and those in rural areas. Physical access to food relies heavily on personal car ownership, often requiring long trips to reach a food retail location. The county-wide transit bus system runs on a limited fixed-route hourly schedule and offers door-to-door specialty service, but these services either come at an additional cost to residents or are unavailable at convenient times, and only service a small array of food retail options. Beyond transportation, affordability and the perception of affordability pose challenges for food access in the county. Many families, low-income residents and older adult residents are not fully aware of programs that offset the cost of produce at many of the county’s farmers markets, such as double up food bucks programs and Project Fresh for seniors or that both Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) can be used at farmers markets.


Over the past 4 years, the Marquette county and city governments, Chocolay Township staff, and several key business and community leaders, particularly the Marquette Food Co-op and Michigan State University (MSU) Extension, have both independently and cooperatively developed a number of plans, policies, programs and projects to tackle these food system challenges, outlined above, and further support opportunities for strengthening the local food system.

Upper Peninsula Food Exchange, Central UP Food Hub, Food Policy Committee, 2012. In the fall of 2012, the Marquette Food Co-op, MSU Extension, and the Western UP Health Department collaborated to support local food activities across the UP. This joint effect, called the Upper Peninsula Food Exchange (UPFE) established three regional food hubs with the mission of serving as a resource center for participants looking to be more active in the local food system, focusing on connecting farmers, businesses, policy makers, and individuals. Following a series of focus groups, the UPFE formed the Food Policy Committee. The Committee is tasked with ensuring policy is at the forefront of food system discussion and informs the work of decision makers and the choices of citizens in the UP.

Local Food Supply Plan – A Chapter of the Marquette County Comprehensive Plan, 2013. The Marquette County Planning Commission prepared a Local Food Supply Plan as a chapter of the county’s updated comprehensive plan, which was officially adopted by resolution on September 4, 2013. The plan pursues a vision of a vibrant local food system focusing on enhancing the local economy, improving health and increasing food security, and takes a comprehensive approach in identifying and addressing the gaps in the current food system. The Marquette County Planning Commission uses the Local Food Supply Plan as a reference document to advise decision makers regarding the role of local government in supporting a community-based food system.

Charter Township of Chocolay Master Plan Update, 2015. Beginning in 2010 Chocolay Township staff led a process to update the township’s master plan. Officially adopted on May 18, 2015, the plan update incorporates the concept of resilience according to three systems: community systems, private systems and natural systems. Food is integrated throughout numerous sub-sections of the plan, but the food systems as a whole is called out as ‘critical infrastructure’ much the same way as water, waste and the environment. The plan update explicitly addresses food in sections devoted to infrastructure; managed development and growth; the economy; watershed planning; floodplains, wetlands, dunes and other areas of particular concern; and farmlands, forests, and other productive lands.  The plan details specific administrative and regulatory tasks and capital projects related to improving the local food system, through mechanisms including fiscal incentives and investments for producers, committed human resources for collaborative work with surrounding jurisdictions on food system issues, and zoning ordinance changes.

Chocolay Permaculture Park, 2014. On June 10, 2014, the Chocolay Township government entered into a 5-year land use agreement with the Chocolay Community Farm Collaborative to lease 14 acres of township property to the non-profit for the purpose of preserving the land for public agricultural use or a permaculture park, including “farm incubator plots, large plot community gardens, hoop houses, public u-pick bramble patches, food forest, agricultural support structures, and associated public spaces including trails.” As part of the agreement, the township government is responsible for serving as the fiduciary agent for grants and assisting with grant-writing to obtain funding for the development of the permaculture park as well as programming and educational activities.

Resolution Approving a Commercial Rehabilitation Exemption Certificate for the Marquette Food Co-op Expansion and Relocation, Co-op Resolution 210-2014. Under the Michigan State Commercial Rehabilitation Act 2005, which “affords a tax incentive for the rehabilitation of commercial property”, the City of Marquette passed a resolution to approve a 5-year property tax abatement for the expansion of the Marquette Food Co-op in downtown Marquette. The resolution acknowledges the need for increased food retail options in the city and supports earlier zoning updates by providing for a greater mix of food business uses downtown.

City of Marquette Community Master Plan, 2015. As part of the master planning process, the city of Marquette held numerous community meetings to gain feedback on the vision and goals of the community. The community expressed tremendous interest in local food systems. As a result, the adopted plan integrates food systems goals as part of the public health section, including the goals to: develop and amend regulatory documents to support the local food system; support urban food production; and create more opportunities for access to healthy foods.

Additional Policies

In addition to these policies, there are several projects and regulatory changes currently underway within the county government and several local units of government, contributing to the food system change:

  • Chocolay Township zoning ordinance, nuisance ordinance, and animal control ordinance updates
  • Marquette County is administering a UP-wide USDA inspected multi-species processing facility feasibility study expected to be completed in 2016
  • UPFE documents “Guide for Decision Makers” and “Guide for Citizens” to inform and educate on the importance of community food systems.


[i] US Census 2014 Population Estimate,

[ii] Michigan Township Association, Turin Township,

[iii] 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture County Profile, Marquette County, Michigan

[iv] Seeds and Spores, Family Farm About the Farm,


Region 5, Minnesota


The Farm on Saint Mathias in Brainerd, MN. Image Source: Jennifer Whittaker

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Region 5, Minnesota includes Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd, and Wadena counties. Source: BldgResilientRegion.pdf

Building from the Inside Out in Region 5, Minnesota: A Rural Region’s Effort to Build a Resilient Food System

Rural food insecurity remains one of the most vexing challenges in the United States. In central Minnesota, Region 5 is emerging as a leader in using policy to address food insecurity and agricultural viability in a rural context. In face of high rates of unemployment, food insecurity, and poor health, Region 5 has built on its own assets to build a resilient region. Driven by a desire to improve its own community, and not solely relying on assistance from outsiders, many different governmental and non-governmental groups have come together to combat food production and food security challenges through lasting policy change.  As early as 2007, this rural region recognized the local food system as one of its strongest community assets and has made concerted efforts toward creating a regional food system that generates local wealth and provides access to healthy, affordable foods.


Region 5 is located in central Minnesota and consists of Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties. Approximately 163,000 people live in this rural, 5-county region, including: 65 incorporated cities, 155 townships, 24 school districts, one Army Camp, one community college, and one tribal band – The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwa. Brainerd, located in Crow Wing County, is the largest city with about 13,425 residents,[1] and is considered one of the top 20 fastest growing micropolitan cities in the nation. Most of the region’s other cities have less than 500 residents. The majority of the region’s population and growth is centered in Crow Wing and Cass Counties. [2]

The majority of the regional population is white (about 95%) and of Germanic or Scandinavian descent. Many Ojibwe or Chippewa First Nation’s people reside across the region, and there is a growing Latino population in Todd County. Due to the location of a military and civilian training facility in Morrison County, Camp Ripley, there are also a number of former military service people in the region.

The U.S. financial crisis of 2007–2008 and subprime mortgage crisis of 2007–2009, had a significant negative impact on the region. According to the Region 5 Development Commission, “Region 5 is the only region in the State of Minnesota where all 5 counties are classified as economically distressed.” Todd and Wadena counties are considered to be the two poorest counties in the state of Minnesota. [3] A number of factors, including population migration, disappearance of family farms, pressure on natural resources, and high unemployment all contribute to the economic distress of the region.

Agricultural strengths and challenges

The 5-county region produces primarily poultry and eggs, cow milk , cattle, turkeys, grains, dry beans and peas, and over 70 different varieties of vegetables. According to the 2012 United State Department of Agriculture(USDA) Census of Agriculture, Morrison County is ranked 1st in the state for poultry and eggs by value of sales, and 3rd in state for milk from cows by value of sales. Cass County is ranked 2nd in the state and 2nd in the United States for acres of wild rice. Todd County is ranked 8th in the U.S. for the number of turkeys it produces.  Wadena County also produces many different varieties of vegetables, including potatoes, and is home to a number of bee colonies.[4] According to the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture, there were approximately 5,610 farms in the 5-county region, totaling about 1,236,500 acres.[5] While the average size of a farm was 227 acres in 2012, most farms are small, family-owned farms of 40 acres or less. Many of the farmers in the 5-county region are also Amish, Latino or American Indian.[6]

Despite the diversity of agriculture across the 5-county region, fruit and vegetable growers face a number of challenges. Due to its location in the northern part of the U.S., the region’s cold climate severely limits its growing season, requiring a need for season extension (such as hoophouses) to enable growers to stay profitable and earn a living throughout winter months. A 2008 survey of primarily small and mid-sized farms with annual farm incomes of less than $5K, conducted as part of the Central Minnesota Food Hub feasibility study, found that growers, including existing specialty crop producers, commodity growers, and new farmers, lacked the time to dedicate to farm work because of the need to have an off-farm, paid job.

Many of the producers surveyed also expressed the desire to expand sales to individual customers, businesses and institutions, and stated that their biggest challenge was connecting to buyers.[7]  While the largest farm-to-school program in the state of Minnesota is located in the region, small and mid-sized farmers find it difficult to provide enough local produce for the number of mouths to feed, about 12,000 students in 6 different school districts.[8]

Food Security and Overall Health

Despite the agricultural wealth of the region, food is inaccessible and unaffordable for many people across the 5 counties. According to Cheryal Hills, Executive Director of Region 5 Development Commission, “There are serious health disparities within the region.” At least 10% of the population in all five counties are food insecure, with the highest prevalence occurring in Wadena County, where 13% of the population is food insecure. Over half of all children in Cass County (52%) and 42% of children in Todd County are also eligible for free lunch, compared to the state average of 30%. Of the 87 counties in the state of Minnesota, the 2015 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation County Healthy Rankings, ranked Cass County 86th, or second to last in the state, and Wadena County 81st for overall health. Morrison County was ranked 77th, Crow Wing County 59th, and Todd County 55th. [9]

Policy and Planning Solutions

Driven by a desire to improve its own community, and not solely relying on assistance from outsiders, government and non-government groups have come together to directly combat food production and food security challenges through lasting policy change in the 5-county region.

Creating a Resilient Region: The Central Minnesota Sustainable Development Plan, 2012. In 2010, the Region Five Development Commission (R5DC) received a $1.8 million HUD/DOT/EPA Sustainable Planning grant, and $800,000 in-kind local match funds to develop a 5-county, regional strategic plan. This planning process, called the Resilient Region Project, was a multi-year, public-private collaborative effort between key government and non-government groups, including the R5DC, Central Minnesota Initiative Foundation, Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs), Central Minnesota Housing Partnership (CMHP), Envision Minnesota (formerly 1000 Friends of Minnesota), EnSearch, Inc., University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, and the William Mitchell School of Law. The plan focused on integrating key sustainability and resilience topics – housing, transportation, natural environment, and economic development (including energy and local foods). It explicitly identified “agriculture” as a key “economic engine” for the region, and emphasized the need to promote the agricultural sector, specifically local foods. After the plan was adopted, R5DC and its partners raised about $5 million for plan implementation in year one, raised and leveraged over $40 million over the last 4 years, and identified key champions in 10 focus areas to lead the implementation process. Plan implementation includes 10 specific projects, two of which explicitly relate to food: a micro-lending program for start-up and small businesses, including local growers, and a regional local foods distribution and processing facility.

Choose Health, 2014. Funded by Hunger-Free Minnesota, Choose Health was designed and implemented by a public-private partnership of Lakewood Health System, Sprout, Todd County, University of Minnesota Extension, and Prairie Bay with R5DC acting as the program administrator. The program started as 6-month pilot project with $25,000 grant from Hunger-Free Minnesota, and is currently being sustained by hospitals and healthcare practitioners in the region through extended funding.

The Choose Health program provides healthy foods, recipes, food demonstrations and education to local families who have been identified as food insecure by physicians from Lakewood Health System. Participants go through an extensive process of pre and post health care screenings, receive nutrition education and recipes from the University of Minnesota Extension, alongside a concentrated community referral process and ongoing support offered by Todd County Public Health. Families receive locally grown and raised commodities bi-monthly from Sprout, the 5-county regional food hub of more than 70 local low-income growers. Initial pilot results showed an improvement in the amount of fruits and vegetables participant families are eating and having more access to fruits and vegetables, both indicators of improved health outcomes.

Sprout Regional Food Distribution and Processing Facility, 2016. Sprout, LLC is a food hub located in Brainerd. Established in 2013, Sprout coordinates a farm to school program for six school districts in central Minnesota and provides area restaurants with food from over 70 local producers. In an effort to implement food system related actions in the Resilient Region Plan, Sprout partnered with R5DC to open a regional food distribution and processing facility, called the Sprout Growers and Makers Marketplace, in Little Falls, MN in April 2016.

R5DC supported the Sprout Growers and Makers Marketplace development from the initial feasibility study to acting as a fiscal administrator to engaging stakeholders in the concept and design process. Public funds through USDA’s Rural Community Development Initiative and Minnesota Department of Agriculture grant funds have been utilized to support facility planning and build out. Through several other unique partnerships, funds were secured from untraditional sources such as the region’s purchasing Co-op; The National Joint Powers Alliance and the Little Falls Catholic Charities.  Sprout and their partners offer an example of how a rural region can develop market channels within the region to support local producers and connect the community to healthy foods. The Marketplace aggregates thousands of pounds of commodities for over 300 community supported agriculture shares; serves as a value-added agriculture processing facility for Sprout employees and local farmers; and provides space for the only indoor winter farmers market in upper Minnesota. Additionally, the Marketplace includes a demonstration kitchen, where health care providers and county health practitioners deliver food nutrition education classes, and a classroom that is utilized by partners who provide business education and technical assistance to growers and makers.

Microlending Program, 2012. Identified as a vital project in the implementation of the Resilient Region Plan, the North Central Economic Development Association (NCEDA), a 501c3 subsidiary of R5DC, developed a microlending program with a strong focus on agriculture producers and food artisans. NCEDA established the program in 2012 through USDA’s Rural Microenterprise America Program (RMAP) award and private foundation funds. Loans from $1,000 to $50,000 with a 3 – 7% interest rate are available for start-up and small businesses in a 10 county region, including Region 5’s counties. R5DC provides technical support and requires 25% owner’s equity injection and 1 job created/retained for each $10,000 lent.


In an effort to create a resilient region, Region 5 has focused on supporting its existing community assets, particularly the local food system. Collaboration across a variety of stakeholders, including the public realm, has led to creating a vision for the community’s food system and implementing strategies to achieve this vision.

In addition to the five main initiatives described above, the 5-county region (and many of its local units of government) have engaged in other local and regional (food?) activities including:


[1] U.S. Census QuickFacts, 2014 Population Estimates,,00

[2] Creating a Resilient Region: The Central Minnesota Sustainable Development Plan, 2012,

[3] Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies: Vital Projects 2011

[4] USDA Census of Agriculture 2012

[5] USDA Census of Agriculture 2012

[6] Local Food Report, May 2015,

[7] Central MN Food Hub Feasibility Study,

[8] The Farm on St. Mathias,

[9] County Health Rankings and Roadmap,