Feature Image: The FEAST! Local Foods Marketplace in Rochester

‘Tis the season for spending time with family and friends, enjoying delicious meals and of course, shopping for gifts. The holiday season is always a great reminder to spend dollars locally and lift up our small businesses. At Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) we invest in the businesses in our 20-county region because we know that they are the backbone of our communities.

According to the National Retail Federation, consumers say they will spend an average of $1,007 during the holiday season this year, up 4.1 percent from last year. In the same survey, 23 percent of consumers said they plan to purchase gifts at local, small businesses. Shopping at small businesses also recirculates dollars within a community – the gift that keeps on giving.

At SMIF, we invest in businesses through our lending and equity programs, technical assistance, economic development grants and more. In 2018 we invested $1.8 million in economic development initiatives and provided support to 711 entrepreneurs through lending or programming.

One of the emerging markets that we have supported, and watched flourish, is the local foods market. We do this primarily through our involvement in the FEAST! Local Foods Network, a partnership of more than 60 organizations, businesses and individuals committed to growing a sustainable, local and regional food system. We provide support for food and farming entrepreneurs through peer networks, financing and a major upcoming local foods event that connects the public with our regional food-makers.

The 5th annual FEAST! Local Foods Marketplace will be held on December 1 at the Rochester Mayo Civic Center. The Marketplace is the perfect opportunity to support local businesses and find unique gifts. Visitors can sip, sample and stock up on locally-made foods and drinks that range from cheese and chocolate, to kombucha and kimchi from a selection of 100 exhibitors. SMIF, in partnership with Renewing the Countryside, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and other organizations, hosts this event each year to encourage shopping that will have a major impact on these area producers.

This time of year is also the perfect time to celebrate the achievements of our entrepreneurs. Many of our loan clients were recently honored in Southern Minn Scene’s Best of 2018, including Haute Skin Spa & Tanning (Owatonna and Faribault), Imminent Brewing (Northfield), Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm (Waseca), Ron’s Repair (Owatonna) and Sollid Yoga (Owatonna). We are also looking forward to hearing the results of the 2019 Good Food Awards, as Grandma’s Gourmets, a loan client and FEAST! Marketplace exhibitor, is in the running for their Strawberry + Balsamic + Black Pepper Jam in the Preserves category of this national contest.

We give thanks to all of these entrepreneurs who are contributing to a vibrant region. Consider supporting your local businesses this holiday season. Shopping small will have a big impact on the place you call home.

To learn more about the FEAST! Local Foods Marketplace, visit local-feast.org/marketplace.

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

Tim Penny, President & CEO of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation

Tim Penny is the President & CEO of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. Tim represented Minnesota’s First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1982 – 1994.