A Grant for Growth: Menomonie Co-Op Supports Local Ag Through New Grant

Menomonie Co-Op Supports Local Ag Through New Grant

Lauren Fisher


Rachel Henderson was never much of an animal person. When she and her husband, Anton Ptak, first began integrating contracted cattle and hog grazing into their orchard operations at Mary Dirty Face Farm, it took some getting used to. But as she looked out over their farm on June 20 and saw her 10 new lambs huddled under one of the apple trees, she began to feel genuinely excited about the fluffy critters.

“They’re able to provide market access to smaller producers, and that creates sort of this strengthening of the local economy and strengthening of their business, and our business, and our community’s health and wealth.” – BETH MARTIN, MENOMONIE MARKET  FOOD CO-OP

Henderson and Ptak of Mary Dirty Face Farm, based in Menomonie, received one of the first Menomonie Market Food Co-Op Fund Our Foodshed grants in May. Using the grant, they were able to invest in movable fencing that they can use to make their foray into livestock ownership. This was a big step for the couple, allowing them to offer a wider range of products, cut down on the time they spend mowing, and fertilize their land.

Helping small farms invest in projects like these was just what Beth Martin and Crystal Halvorson of MMFC had in mind when they began planning the Fund Our Foodshed grant program a few years ago.  The grant’s mission is to promote the development of Menomonie’s local food economy by supporting area producers.  They raised funds through a round-up at the register at the co-op, as well as a donation from the organization itself, and opened applications in April. They received 12 applications from producers, processors, and CSA farmers within 75 miles of Menomonie.

The selection committee chose five projects to fund based on demonstrated need, effect on environmental sustainability, and benefit to the Chippewa Valley community and foodshed, among other factors. Mary Dirty Face Farm, Deutsch Family Farm of Osseo, Baruk Yah Organic Eggs of Menomonie, Bifrost Farm of Boyceville, and EB Ranch of Ridgeland received grants to fund various projects.

Several applicants are farms just growing into mid-sized agriculture operations, which is where many farms struggle to find support programs, Martin said. “Our whole economy is set up to support massive agro-business,” she explained. That’s where co-ops and programs like the Fund our Fooshed grant come in. “They’re able to provide market access to smaller producers, and that creates sort of this strengthening of the local economy and strengthening of their business, and our business, and our community’s health and wealth.”

Every winter, Erin Link of EB Ranch fills buckets from her kitchen sink and hauls them out to her goatsheds to water her herd of San Clemente Island goats.  She is using the Fund Our Foodshed grant to install a flexible hose on her land to keep her livestock watered in the colder months. She is also expanding her goat shelter with a new hoop house, and putting up a sturdy fence around the goathouses to protect them. This will allow her to grow her herd of the critically endangered breed of goats, offer more goatmilk products, and potentially expand into meat production.

“This grant program is a way for the community to become more involved with their local farms and businesses,” Link said. “Every single person that contributed is helping these farms grow in important ways.”

“The whole purpose of the fund is to enhance the viability of these farmers and producers,” Martin said. “We had fantastic applications from those 12 farms. It was difficult to whittle it down.” Applications were for projects in beekeeping, dairy production, flower farming, and more. Baruk Yah Organic Eggs received a grant to install nesting boxes for its chickens.

“A $300 nesting box doesn’t seem like a whole lot,” Martin said. “It’s not sexy.  But the impact on his daily workflow and the quality of the product that comes out of it is huge. That little change in his operation just reverberates out.”

“When we made our announcement of the grant offerings, people were really excited and they made the connection,” Martin said. The co-op hung a banner detailing the projects that received grants and identifying the farm locations, as well as sending out announcements in its weekly newsletter.

Following the award announcements, community members approached Henderson with congratulations. “To be able to look around and see that the shoppers in the community decided that it’s worth it to support local farms is huge,” Henderson said.

“The next part of it is to continue to tell the story,” Martin said. Grant recipients will work with MMFC to create photos, videos, and reports that communicate the impact of the grant program.  The organizations will also collaborate to determine how the grants can provide the most benefit for recipients and the greater community.

“People want more local food – They want strong local farms,” Martin said. “When we’re able to keep that system closed … it’s a more powerful economic driver.”

“When you shop and support small and local it helps to invigorate these small communities,” Link said. “We see around us so many small farms and dairy operations going under. It’s time we turn that around and support our small business owners and farmers as it supports or local economy.”

More information about the Menomonie Market Food Co-Op’s Fund Our Foodshed program is available at www.mmfc.coop. Follow them this summer for updates on the grant’s benefits to the Chippewa Valley.