Online venture designed to connect local producers with local consumers.
Local Harvest Market is a regional food hub, formed by a group of west central Minnesota producers and consumers, primarily to build a market bridge between local farmers and local consumers. Luetmer is quick to explain that Local Harvest Market is a majority-producer-owned business, and the producers are the real heart of the organization. Any producer who uses sustainable agricultural practices can become a part of the market. “Our producers are local farmers and small producers of value-added products and are accountable to meet regulatory requirements and the standards established by our Producers Committee.”
A passion for healthy living, sustainable farming, land stewardship, protecting native prairie and wetlands, and a desire to allow small family farms to survive are all values that nudged Sylvia and Joe Luetmer into organizing a team to form the market. “We saw a need for consumers to have year-around access to local foods grown with sustainable farming practices,” Luetmer explained.
The market utilizes an e-commerce model “to provide online shopping at a farmers market that can be operational year round,” Luetmer explained. There is currently no physical “store-front” but instead, drop-off sites are used for consumers’ convenience in picking up their order.
In addition, Local Harvest Market Co. will act as a catalyst for collaboration between growers, small local food processors, food co-ops, neighborhood grocers, restaurants and institutional customers. “We believe we can build the scale needed to allow small family farms to survive while providing greater access in our community to fresh, wholesome and locally produced food,” Luetmer explained.
Luetmer grew up in Sauk Centre and has always loved the rural area. As a kid, he was always taking on jobs offered by local farmers. “The rural community, the farm, has always given me a sense of place, and I think many people can relate to that feeling,” he said. “Our rural communities have a great sense of identity that should be protected by sustaining local businesses and local agriculture. Part of what the Local Harvest Market can offer is the joy of knowing where your (our) food comes from.
The goal of the Local Harvest Market Board of Directors (consisting of both producers and consumers) is to build the local economy, a healthy rural area, and a sense of self-reliance. According to Luetmer, Minnesota is the fifth most productive agricultural state in the union, yet most of the food we eat is shipped into the state. Local Harvest Market Co. has a goal of changing the statistics and provides consumers with the option to buy locally grown food. Know your farmer. Know your food.
You may wonder how a year-round farmers market can possibly survive through the varied seasons of Minnesota, especially the winter months. Luetmer explained that there are a few solutions already being utilized by local producers. Winter greenhouses, which are heated, and high-tunnel houses, which are unheated yet can grow produce from April through November, are successful growing environments. Long-range plans for the Local Harvest Market Co. include building storage capacity (frozen, refrigerated, root storage), a mixing center for staging of customer orders, a commercial kitchen, and distribution capability.
“This will allow us to extend the season for locally grown foods through the winter months and provide the scale needed to serve restaurants, local grocers, and institutions, including schools and hospitals,” Luetmer said.
Currently the United Church of Christ/Congregational Church in Alexandria and Sunnies General Store on Hwy. 42 north of Alexandria are the consumer pick-up sites for Local Harvest Market Co.
The consumer orders are currently filled every two weeks. As the consumer base grows, and as the number of producers increases, the market will move to a weekly cycle and more drop-off sites will be added. A wider variety of produce will also be added, depending on the season, and with producers increasing their seasons by using greenhouses and high tunnels. There will be a continuing strive for greater access to fresh, wholesome, locally grown food.
For more information, please contact the Local Harvest Market Co. at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
How can you help? Tell your family and friends, and shop the market. The goal of building a community kitchen which will be commercially licensed, to allow producers to can, freeze, or dehydrate foods for winter consumption is an exciting possibility. Offering education on sustainable farming practices, the benefits of fresh local foods, and how to cook and preserve produce are other possibilities. Businesses owners could volunteer in providing a drop site at their place of business.
“We are responsible for the stewardship of our soil and water, of sustainable food production and distribution,” said Luetmer. As the Local Harvest Market Co. becomes a reliable and profitable market for local growers and producers, the community will have access to locally grown produce, and that has an effect on the survival of family farms. “When family farms thrive, so does our community.”