By BRAD PHENOW
Low-income families now have access to local produce at a reduced price, thanks to a Carleton College student who teamed up with Growing Up Healthy to help break down the barriers of food access.The Farmer to Family program was developed by a Carleton College senior, Tori Ostenso, who has spent the summer focusing on breaking down food access issues in Rice County, including cost, transportation and nutrition education.Ostenso, who is from Ladysmith, Wisconsin, received a Phillips Scholarship which not only helped with tuition costs but supplied additional funds for the Family to Farmer program. One of the requirements for the scholarship was designing a summer project that worked toward a community need.
It didn’t take Ostenso long to decide where she wanted to use the funds, as she was already familiar with local farmers and had a strong interest in food access issues. She has been involved with several agriculture groups on Carleton’s campus including the Carleton organic farm, the gleaning program and FireBellies cooking club.
As part of the gleaning program, members visit local farms to gather produce, after which they donate it to the food shelf. With the FireBellies cooking club, a group of Carleton students go to the middle school and give cooking demonstrations. Thanks to these different organizations, deciding on a summer project was simple for Ostenso, with help from Growing Up Healthy.
“I noticed most of the people who are getting the local produce in Rice County were the upper-class people who could afford it,” she said.
After getting in touch with the coordinator at Growing Up Healthy, Ostenso discovered there were already events planned for low-income neighborhoods in Rice County.
Growing Up Healthy Coordinator Leah Eby said she and Ostenso went out and talked with neighborhood leaders to identify a community need in those neighborhoods.
After talking with neighborhood leaders, and determining cost and transportation being two of the barriers, Ostenso decided to make an effort to bring local produce to low-income families at an affordable price.
“They had already established some communities, and had planned to do these events in the park,” she said. “So we hooked up with them and now we attend all those events and set up the vegetable market.”
To add a little more fun to these events and to tackle the third barrier, she decided to educate the community members by providing healthy cooking demonstration. Ostenso said with the help from another FireBellies cooking club member, Emily Pence, they were able to bring the kitchen to these communities.
“The kids and the moms are really taking a liking to these cooking demos,” Ostenso said.
Eby said the cooking demonstrations have become the main attraction.
“Some people are wary to buy a whole bag of vegetables if they aren’t familiar with how to cook them,” Eby said. “But they (Ostenso and Pence) find a way to relate it to both the parents and the kids.”
Ostenso said at the beginning of the summer things were slow, so she reached out to Becca Carlson at Seeds Farm, who grows the vegetables. Carlson reassured Ostenso that it took time when she first began selling vegetables, too.
You have to be patient, Ostenso said she remembers hearing.
Now, Ostenso said she is selling between 10 and 20 bags of local produce at each event.
“We sell them for $5, and the customers get to pick what they want to put in the bag,” she said. “Each week more people are starting to come.”
Looking back, Ostenso said it’s incredible how an idea she had in her head turned out the way it did.
“I think the best part is when the moms come over as every one is getting ready to leave. They are so thankful for us coming to their neighborhood,” she said.
Eby added that the event has had such a positive impact on the neighborhoods that she plans to continue offering the vegetable market after Ostenso’s project is completed.
“Even though our events in the park days will end in August, we are talking about ways to continue Farmer to Family into the fall,” she said. “And definitely in future summers.”
Eby added that students and community members who are excited about breaking food access barriers help make these event possible. If you wish to help out in the future, contact Growing Up Healthy at 507-664-3527.
Brad Phenow covers Rice County government, townships and arts & entertainment. Reach him in Faribault at 333-3135 and in Northfield at 645-1122.