Tim Penny Opinion/Editorial: Local Foods

Tim Penny, SMIF
February 27, 2015

Making Local Foods Matter

Recently Target Corp. announced the expansion of its Made to Matter program, an initiative that highlights exclusive "better-for-you products" from mostly up-and-coming brands. The program is part of Target's plan to boost its reputation as a retailer that provides healthier and less toxic options-especially as consumer demand for such products increases.

For Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), we are excited to see that Mankato-based Angie's Kettle Corn is participating in this year's Made to Matter program. In 2008, when Dan and Angie Bastian were just starting to grow their business, SMIF provided lending assistance. Of course we're proud that Angie's is now a household name, and we are excited about their ongoing success.

We applaud the attention that Target is giving to up-and-coming local businesses, as we understand the vital role they play in our economy. According to the Small Business Administration, 64% of new private-sector jobs come from small businesses and start-ups. In addition here at SMIF, we have also taken note of the fact that the demand and desire for local foods has been consistently trending upwards in Minnesota.

From 1994 to 2011, the number of farmers' markets has quadrupled. Research also indicates that Minnesota food and farm sectors generate $55 billion in economic activity in Minnesota and support more than 367,700 jobs. Local restaurants, college campuses, hospitals, and corporate dining services are all showing an increased interest in purchasing their food locally.This means that local food distribution, organics, urban agriculture, and alternative farming techniques offer opportunities for small business ownership and employment.

As we recognize these growing trends, SMIF has committed to investing in local foods businesses within our 20-county region, as well as playing an active role in the FEAST Local Foods Network. We're proud of the success of the Local Foods FEAST Festival and Tradeshow in Rochester last November where we played a key role, and we're excited about the opportunity to make this annual event. The FEAST Festival event brought together local producers to connect with buyers and distributors, as well as attracting 1,200 visitors-thereby providing area consumers this visibility to a number of local food options.

Over the past year, we have supported more than eight local food businesses through our lending program, many in partnership with other financial entities. While we hope that many more of our local foods loan clients can become as successful as Angie's Kettle Corn, we also recognize the value of our sole proprietor start-ups and small businesses with only a handful of employees. These companies are a vital part of our regional economy, and SMIF will continue to invest in these entrepreneurs as they continue to make an impact within our region.

As always, I welcome your questions and comments. You can reach me at 507-455-3215 or timp@smifoundation.org.

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