Local Foods College Helps Minnesotans Get Ready for Spring
March 10, 2015 | Trish Popovitch
In Minnesota, winters are often bitter and unforgiving. But the colder months are an ideal time to share knowledge about sustainable food production.
That’s why staff at University of Minnesota’s extension service chose January to launch the Local Foods College. Now in its fourth year, the program’s free courses are giving Minnesotans a reason to think spring.
Linda Kingery directs the University of Minnesota’s Northwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnership.
“Across Minnesota, people want to rediscover how to raise their own food,” she says. “There’s growth in farmers’ markets, and people have an interest in serving institutions such as schools and hospitals. The Local Food College series is a starting point.”
Classes run online Tuesday evenings in January, February and March. In the first year, the Local Foods College had approximately 100 participants. This year, there are over 350 people enrolled in the classes.
Fueled by steady growth and positive feedback, the program operates on grant funding and volunteer hours. The speakers are drawn from a combination of University of Minnesota Extension staff and regional entrepreneurs.
“There’s been a steady progression to including the stories and the experiences of practitioners. This year, half of our presenters are people that do this for a living,” says Kingery.
The Local Foods College uses a hosting platform called Noodle that archives all the information.
“We do the webinar live, and we also record it and post it on the Noodle platform. When people register to be part of it, they get access to that Noodle site,” says Kingery.
Noodle also offers information on the speakers, stores the recorded lecture and offers class notes for each presentation. Local Food College students can also share their views, questions and backgrounds through the forum.
Students come from all walks of life, and many have established businesses or are thinking of starting one. Students manage farmers’ markets, community gardens, CSAs, food hubs and farms. Many are home gardeners looking to grow their own food or gain knowledge of planting choices and techniques.
Several students meet in person to view the webinars together, creating impromptu classrooms at local businesses and cooperatives.
“There’s a progression of people getting connected to one another,” says Kingery. “That networking can create connections that are a part of growing those enterprises.”
In the last three years, the Local Food College has offered a variety of courses, from marketing and packaging, food safety at farmers’ markets, processing local foods, seed selection, food hub collaboration, efficient irrigation, to whole farm planning and composting. This year’s classes include soil fertility, vegetable gardening, business planning, beekeeping, greenhouses, growing in small spaces, food hubs and farm-to-bottle businesses.
The Local Foods College website archives all past course videos. Anybody can sign up for the Local Foods College and explore past course material for free.
“It makes the efforts under way in creating a healthier food system more visible,” says Kingery. “We are showing that there are steps we can take to improve the health of our food system, and that they are not difficult to take.”