Community food systems are a growing trend in Minnesota – farmers markets are just one example.

Eric Sannerud (right) and his partner Ben Boo are among the first and biggest hops farmers in Minnesota. (Mighty Axe Farms)

Erin McKee with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy runs a program that helps schools and day care centers buy from local farmers. She’d like to expand the system, but said processors and markets are friendlier to industrial agriculture.

“So if we want to support those small to mid-sized farmers, we also need to support growing the infrastructure again to provide them a place to sell their food and to process their food and to get it to the customers that exist,” McKee said.

She said momentum is building for a new movement that would bring together farmers, environmentalists, anti-hunger activists and public health professionals. They want to hold elected officials accountable for both state legislation and provisions in the Farm Bill that either support or sabotage community food systems.

McKee said both producers and consumers deserve a better food system.

“If we don’t have access to affordable healthy food, that’s a big contributing factor to the fact that Minnesota has some of the worst health disparities in the country,” she said.

For instance, the state health department reports that African-American, Native American and Latino youths have much higher rates of obesity than white children.

Advocates for community food say the commodity system and globalization have damaged both consumers and producers. The average age of farmers in Minnesota is now over 60. Land and markets are hard to come by for young people who want to farm.

Eric Sannerud farms hops near St. Cloud. He said he’d like to grow his farm, but he needs access to credit and markets beyond craft breweries.

“The opportunity to shift into more specialty production or to move your marketing closer to your farm – removing some middle folks and giving you more control over your operation, your livelihood – is something that is huge for growers,” Sannerud said.

Sannerud said community food systems are better at protecting the environment than the industrial systems. His farm recently won a water-quality certification from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.