Commentary

Let’s tell the Department of Agriculture what kind of food system we want

September 14, 2022 6:00 am

Cattle are grazing a cover crop field. Photo courtesy of Grant and Dawn Breitkreutz.

Increased participation in the policymaking process from all who are involved in our food system — from growers to producers, aggregators to eaters — in our state is core to the creation of a truly sustainable and equitable agricultural landscape in Minnesota.

In the midst of challenging harvest seasons, pandemic upheaval and major weather events — all of which exposed the fragility of supply chains — community-rooted farm and food system organizations from across Minnesota came together to form the MinneAg Network.

MinneAg’s mission is to convene leaders statewide and champion policy solutions that protect communities, farmers and climate. Formally joining together for the first time, the members of the network have a long history of collaboration, and as experienced stakeholders have worked and advocated on Minnesota agriculture and farm issues for decades.

It is critical that MinneAg Network partners — with years of on-the-ground experience and knowledge — have a voice in the decision-making processes that will impact them.

That’s why when the Minnesota Department of Agriculture put out a public call for submissions for legislative ideas to inform the 2023 budget process, members of the MinneAg network applauded the MDA for developing a process for input and engagement from community stakeholders.

Ideas submitted through the portal will be reviewed by MDA and may be incorporated into the official budget request from the department to the governor’s office. The governor’s office reviews all agency requests to develop the governor’s budget, a key part of the state’s budget and policy process.

MinneAg submitted over a dozen proposals to the MDA’s legislative ideas portal, reflecting priority areas for Minnesota’s food and farm economy, ranging from combating climate change to market development to increased programmatic support for emerging farmers.

Proposals submitted by members of the MinneAg Network included the following:

  • Support for a Purchase of Agricultural Easement Conservation (PACE) program at the state level to create opportunities for land access for emerging farmers.
  • Streamlined food sampling law language that will support businesses at farmers’ markets.
  • Funding for an endowed chair at the University of Minnesota for increased research in local foods, including farmers’ markets.
  • Additional funds for the purchase of local milk for Minnesota food shelves.
  • Amendments to the Emerging Farmers’ Working Group to extend beyond 2025 and streamline meeting protocols.
  • Support for the Local Emergency Assistance Farmer Fund (LEAFF) to buy from emerging farmers.
  • Grant funds for emerging farmers to invest in supplies, buildings, infrastructure and other business development needs.
  • State apprenticeship program and accompanying funds to support new, beginning and emerging farmers.
  • Expanding the existing MDA Farm to School Grant program to include early care providers as eligible applicants in addition to k-12 schools, and increasing funding for this program to meet the high level of demand.

Stakeholders have until 5 p.m. on Thursday, September 15, 2022 to submit recommendations to MDA’s 2023 legislative ideas portal. Please join us in participating in this democratic process! If you would like to draw from the recommendations of MinneAg Network members, you can find more detail here.

The MinneAg Network looks forward to continued engagement with Minnesota lawmakers and the MDA on these proposals and other ideas that will lead to the creation of a more sustainable, equitable food system across the state.

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Erin McKee
Erin McKee

Erin McKee is the director of the community food systems program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, where she works to build vibrant food systems that give all people access to sufficient, safe, culturally appropriate and nutritious food, while also developing local food supply chains that allow small to mid-scale farmers access to a variety of new markets. Erin is a facilitator of the MinneAg Network.

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Ariel Kagan
Ariel Kagan

Ariel Kagan is a resource economist with expertise in state and federal agriculture policy and currently serves as the director of agriculture strategy at the Environmental Initiative. Ariel is a facilitator of the MinneAg Network.

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