Our Blog


With grant funds in which Renewing the Countryside received from being a recipient of a USDA Farm to School grant, a farm to school workshop occurred at Long Lake Conservation Center in Palisade on February 4th. Gabrea Anderson, events coordinator for the Greater Mille Lacs Chapter of the SFA-MN, and Hannah Colby, Aitkin County SHIP Coordinator coordinated the event. The workshop brought together food service staff from the schools in Aitkin County (Aitkin, Hill City and McGregor School Districts), school board members, parents, community members, Master Gardeners, teachers, community education directors and local farmers and producers.


This farm to school workshop is part of a series of six regional workshops that will take place in Lake City, Cannon Falls, Chisago City, Rochester, Grand Rapids and Aitkin; which all cities are participating in The Farmers' Market Aggregation Project (also known as the Farmers Market Aggregation Hub).


The Farmers' Market Aggregation Project started in 2018 with nine MN farmer's markets, including the Aitkin Area, becoming licensed wholesale food handlers and establishing aggregation and distribution hubs for local products. The 2020 season will be the third year of the project funded by Specialty Crop Block Grants. The goal of the workshop is to help the markets and their local schools forge better connection, and increase the amount of locally sourced food going into school food service.

Jane Jewett of Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture spoke about the Farmers Market Aggregation Project in Aitkin. Brett Olson (shown in picture to the left) of Renewing the Countryside started the workshop by facilitating a group discussion by first having attendees identify who is in the room and to list goals of the farm to school program and barriers.


Barriers identified ranged from farmers driving 2+ hours to have their meat inspected by either MN Equal To or USDA inspectors in order to sell to institutions to school staff having the right equipment to help alleviate staff time to prepare food that is being locally sourced.


Breakout sessions followed in which attendees could choose from the following guest speakers:


  • Agriculture is Everywhere: Learn how to incorporate AG in the classroom with Sarah Kuschel from MN AG in the Classroom

  • Retail Marketing with Ryan Pesch from University of MN Extension

  • School Gardens with Kirsten Saylor with the MN Schoolyard Garden Association

  • Production Methods & Disease Control with Natalie Hoidal with University of MN Extension


While the breakout sessions occurred, foodservice staff participated in a culinary skills training with a chef from The Good Acre. Food-service staff learned how they can leverage their time and equipment to make serving local food a sustainable and delicious affair. This training focused on recipe development that adheres to budget and nutritional guidelines. School kitchen staff made roasted Parmesan carrot fries, buffalo cauliflower, and apple kohlrabi slaw.

The workshop ended with a wrap up discussion by identifying solutions to the barriers that were mentioned at the beginning of the event and what next steps need to occur to keep the momentum going around farm to school efforts and supporting local agriculture.


Workshop sponsors were the following: USDA Farm to School grant, Renewing the Countryside, Compeer Financial, The Greater Mille Lacs Chapter- SFA, Aitkin County Public Health, Statewide Health Improvement Partnership, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture.


To view highlights of the event, please view video below.