Most people search out local food for one of three reasons: the environmental benefits, to help support the local economy and farming community, or more simply, to get the freshest, healthiest, most nutritious and delicious food available.
For top chefs, this means bypassing the farmers’ market, and going straight to the farm. More often chefs are developing relationships with local farmers who offer produce and meats grown for outstanding flavor, versus the ability to withstand a long journey from far-flung places.
Instead of basing their menu on the same old tasteless tomatoes, potatoes and standard vegetable medley available in the supermarket, chefs in the know seek out heirloom and organic vegetables, fruits, herbs, meats and cheeses not often available from traditional food distribution sources. Get in good with a farmer, and they will often grow specialty items specifically for a restaurant’s needs.
You might think it virtually impossible to eat local, fresh produce year-round in Minnesota, but think again. Many small farms are extending their growing season by using hoop- or greenhouses, making fresh greens an option early in spring and well into winter. Apples, onions and potatoes store very well through the winter, making summer’s bounty available most of the year.
Even if the supply of green food is lacking come Christmas, think beyond the vegetable bin when seeking local foods. Milk, cheese, butter, eggs, honey, maple syrup, breads, and dry beans are available year-round from local producers, as well as beef, pork, chicken, bison, elk, duck, veal, rabbit, pheasant, and other meats. In addition, farmers in your area may grow and even mill their own wheat, cornmeal, oats, flax, wild rice, and other grains.
Getting hungry? Read on:
The Eat Well Guide is an online source of who, what, and where in the local, sustainable, organic world of food. A quest for restaurants and suppliers within 200 miles of my home resulted in 809 listings ranging from bakeries, butchers, bed and breakfasts, and many other options not beginning with the letter B.
If you are up north, check out the Cool Beans Coffee Shop and Deli in Pine River, MN, serving all organic coffee, fresh baked goodies, homemade soups, sandwiches, and smoothies. They’ve also got an organic, natural, and local goods market.
Another not to be missed eatery is the Harvest Thyme Bistro in Wadena, MN. Their menu makes me hungry.
Skipping the restaurants and heading straight to the source? Check out this list found on The Minnesota Project. “The Minnesota Project champions the sustainable production and equitable distribution of energy and food in communities across Minnesota.”
The Minnesota Grown Directory is an online and print directory of Minnesotan fruit, vegetable, meat and other producers which also includes farmers’ markets. A database of farmers who supply wholesale accounts is available by clicking on the “Retailers” link.
Food Alliance Midwest is a nonprofit organization that certifies farms, ranches, and food handlers for sustainable agricultural practices.
Land Stewardship Project is a nonprofit organization in Minnesota
that publishes the Stewardship Farm Directory and CSA Farm
Directory of sustainable and organic family farms in Minnesota.
You can also buy CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares
of fruits and vegetables from a farmer. Use the Minnesota Grown directory or the Land Stewardship Project’s CSA directory to find a CSA farm.
Another way to buy local food is through cooperatives that
provide local products from multiple local farmers. Because cooperatives and collectives carry a wide range of items, it is
possible to buy local food from them year-round.
For example, Co-op Partners Warehouse is a cooperative distributor owned by the Wedge Co-op in St. Paul, MN. It provides organic fresh
produce, dairy products and other perishables from farms in Minnesota,
Wisconsin and Iowa: in winter, organic produce is sourced nationally.
Local cheeses, milk, flour, maple syrup, honey, bottled beverages and
many other grocery times are available year-round. Lori Zuidema
DragSmith Farms in Barron, WI provides a variety of fresh produce
from organic and sustainable growers in Western Wisconsin to
farmers’ markets, restaurants, grocery stores, and food co-ops in
Minnesota and Wisconsin. Maurice and Gail Smith (715) 537-3307
Hidden Stream Farm is a farm near Elgin, MN that specializes in
pork, but carries sustainably raised produce, meat and dairy products
from at least 12 other nearby family farms. Delivers to the Twin Cities,
Southeastern Minnesota and Southwestern Wisconsin. Eric and Lisa
Klein (507) 876-2304 or (507) 272-4157
Southeast Minnesota Food Network in Elgin, MN supplies organic
and sustainable produce, dairy, meat products, and specialty foods
from over 90 small family farms to restaurants, caterers, co-ops, and
other institutions. Delivers to the Twin Cities, Southeastern Minnesota
and Southwestern Wisconsin. Pam Benike (507) 251-9773
Whole Farm Co-op in Long Prairie, MN buys food products from over
30 sustainable producers in Central Minnesota and delivers along a
route that includes Little Falls, Brainerd, Aitkin, Duluth as well as to
drop sites in the Twin Cities metro area. They also offer online
ordering. Robert Bromeling (320) 732-3023
Locally grown food can also be sourced through traditional wholesale
distributors. Here are a few that carry local products:
Bergin Fruit and Nut (651) 642-1234
Bix Produce Company (651) 487-8000
Co-op Partners Warehouse (651) 644-7000
Great Ciao (612) 521-8725
H Brooks and Company (651) 635-0126
J and J Distributing (651) 221-0560
Northwestern Fruits (651)224-4373
Reinhart Foodservice (800) 895-5766
Sysco Minnesota (763) 785-7329
Upper Lake Foods (800) 879-1265