Main Street Project and Growing Up Healthy Building A Stronger, Healthier Community Together

Rocky Casillas blog, mainstreet project

When two organizations are working in the same neighborhood with multiple overlapping goals, complementing strengths, and leaders who share a vision on what it will take to make positive, long-lasting impacts for their community, the need for collaboration becomes clear. This is what led southern Minnesota-based organizations — Main Street Project (MSP) and Growing Up Healthy (GUH) to make their partnership official in this new year.

Together we are combating a flawed system – conventional agriculture. Large corporations produce food loaded with GMOs, MSG and chemical pesticides, exploit rural farmers, deplete natural resources, and are responsible for many of the health risks plaguing our nation today. We have needed a new system for a long time – one that is socially, economically, and environmentally just, and that is precisely what we have set off to build.

For more than a decade, Main Street Project has worked to create pathways out of poverty for rural Latino immigrants relegated to working in low-wage industry jobs, with no benefits and no future.  Through the development of a regenerative agriculture model, training of agripreneurs and a new community-based program, Sharing Our Roots (SOR), we aim to improve food sovereignty for minority farmers and families. Growing Up Healthy has been working to foster a stronger sense of belonging for immigrant and refugee families in Rice County since 2007. They address challenges brought up by community members and provide a multitude of services. Additionally, through their Farmer to Family Program, GUH is tackling food access barriers for people of low-income.

Food is a basic human need and because of that, it serves as a powerful tool for bringing people together. We believe everyone deserves, and has a right to, healthy food. Now Main Street Project and Growing Up Healthy join forces to build a stronger, healthier region.

MSP and GUH began actively collaborating last summer, during the launching of Main Street Project’s, Sharing Our Roots program. Over the course of seven weeks of programming between August and September of 2017, community members from Northfield, Faribault, and Rochester visited our farm and harvested over 4,400 lbs. of locally grown, healthy, nutritious vegetables at no charge. We provided a safe, welcoming space in which people could gather and connect to the land, but we would not have reached nearly as many families without Growing Up Healthy’s support. GUH arranged transportation for those who otherwise would not have been able to visit the farm. Because of this, Sharing Our Roots’ first year was a complete success.

Other collaborations:

  • Main Street Project was part of Growing Up Healthy’s Farmer to Family program through the selling of whole birds at reduced rates. Through this program, families are connected to high quality, nutritious foods. MSP chicken is free-range, non-GMO, free of hormones and free of antibiotics.
  • MSP donated produce to several GUH events, including the celebration of Mexico’s Independence Day at the Cannon River Mobile Home Park last September.
  • Six residents of Cannon River and Faribault community leaders joined Main Street Projects’ Agripreneur Training Program. The training program aims to teach aspiring farmers how to raise their own chicken flock. MSP rented GUH’s community trailer to hold training meetings last fall. Trainees graduated in November and will be started the second phase of the training program in May 2018.

The experiences MSP and GUH teams shared over the summer helped us all realize the true potential of a partnership. For some time, we have been looking for ways to keep communities engaged year-round, not just during the harvest season. Last month we met with Growing Up Healthy and its parent organization, the Healthy Community Initiative (HCI), to plan for the year ahead. During the meeting, community concerns about obesity were brought up. Latino families are looking for resources to help them on the path to healthier diets. In Minnesota, Latinos have the highest rates (33.1%) of obesity compared to other racial groups. This is true at a local level as well, here in Rice County. From this conversation, we have decided to join forces and establish Cocina Y Campo, an adult cooking club.
Cocina Y Campo
Cocina Y Campo will cover practical nutrition information, hands-on food preparation and demonstrations, and food budgeting and shopping. Club classes will take place during the spring and fall months using Faribault’s community school facilities. Over the summer, we will incorporate a field-component, which will allow club members to connect to our MSP farm and learn about food production. It is critical that we equip families with the knowledge and tools they need to help them make healthier choices. In addition to the cooking club, the next phase of SOR and our 2018 vegetable production is in the works. When things line up as perfectly as they have, we can’t help but be excited for what lies ahead.

Julie Ristau (MSP Chief Operating Officer), Sandy Malecha (HCI Senior Director), Niel Ritchie (MSP Chief Executive Officer), Laura Tiano (GUH Northfield Coordinator), Natalia Marchan (GUH Faribault Coordinator), Rocky Casillas (MSP Community Outreach Extension Education Coordinator).
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