> Rural Minnesota region pulls itself up by food and farming bootstraps


Good Food Economy Digest

Rural Minnesota region pulls itself up by food and farming bootstraps

People building strong places with local and regional food

Good Food: Healthy, green, fair, and affordable


 By Patty Cantrell, Regional Food Solutions LLC

In This Edition

We go to Central Minnesota, where a five-county economic development strategy uses local food sales to tourists and cities to build rural health and wealth.

Take Action

Central Minnesota’s Resilient Region effort is related to the national Partnership for Sustainable Communities. Initial funding from three federal agencies (HUD, DOT, EPA) launched a number of innovative planning efforts. Support for similar investments can help spread the learning and benefits.

“It takes about five years before bigger buyers will say, ‘OK, now we’ll do business with you.’”

Central Minnesota farmer Tom Smude speaks from direct experience.

His sunflower cooking oil business is now in the black, with retail and food service distribution across Minnesota and four neighboring states. Bankers and neighbors thought he was “absolutely nuts” when he turned in 2011 to markets for Minnesota-grown and –made foods. His original plan, to produce bio-fuel from sunflowers, tanked with global oil prices.

The same five years of growth at Smude Sunflower Oil have seen a related economic evolution in the five counties where his farm is based. In fact, the smallest, yet most critical piece of Smude’s startup financing came through Central Minnesota’s recent re-focus on local food and farming for new health and wealth.

Smude Sunflower Oil was an “off the wall” idea that Tom and Jenni Smude pursued anyway with some help from Region Five’s focus on local food and farming businesses. CREDIT: Courtesy Smude Oil and Midwest Sales

Smude Sunflower Oil was an “off the wall” idea that Tom and Jenni Smude pursued anyway with some help from Region Five’s focus on local food and farming businesses.
CREDIT: Courtesy Smude Oil and Midwest Sales

Five years into implementation, Central Minnesota’s Resilient Region strategy, like Smude’s “off the wall” business idea, also is building converts and confidence.

It’s a fairly logical self-help plan, said Cheryal Hills, executive director of the Region Five Development Commission.

The citizen-led Resilient Region plan that Region Five facilitated from 2009 to 2011 focuses on local foods, farming, and the arts as levers, or “economic engines. The goal is to lift up this rural area challenged by out-migration, poverty, and diet-related chronic disease. The strategy is to leverage strong tourism demand in a couple of Region Five’s counties to stimulate commercial and community development the entire region needs.

“The opportunity we have in local foods is to take product from our agricultural communities and sell it to the resorts here and to highly populated areas, where people love it and are more likely to pay for it,” Hills said. “We use those sales as stimulus to make fresh and local food more available, raise disposable incomes in our agricultural communities, and work on a regional scale to address needs and opportunities.”

 

Main Street Lives

Brenda Thomes is the city administrator for Long Prairie (pop. 3,400), in Region Five’s southwestern Todd County. Like many rural communities, Long Prairie’s historic downtown is plagued with vacant buildings. Thomes said a new independent grocery store in one of those storefronts, Mi Pueblito market and café, which Region Five helped finance, is filling a real economic development need.

“If you want to get younger families into an area, you have to not only look at having fast food restaurants, but also farmers markets and places people can walk to for fresh foods and other things they need,” she said. “It also makes it easier for our industries here to attract people to come work for them.”

The combination of local food, farming and the arts is the economic stimulus recipe Region Five is using to promote rural health and wealth. CREDIT: Courtesy of Region Five Development Commission

The combination of local food, farming and the arts is the economic stimulus recipe Region Five is using to promote rural health and wealth.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Region Five Development Commission

Thomes is describing a new trend in economic development called “placemaking,” It’s about retaining, creating, and attracting businesses by making towns and cities more attractive places to live.

Placemaking is also helpful for tourism, said Kris Vonberge, executive director of the Little Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau..

“I call it destination building,” she said.

Vonberge is excited about a group of residents and investors moving forward with plans to locate a new cooperative grocery store in downtown Little Falls that will stock fresh and local foods.

“I want people to spend money in town, and that can happen if it’s more of a full town, with more things to do and buy, like food,” Vonberge said.

 

Business Ecosystem

Mo Durheim, vice president and senior lender at Farmers and Merchants State Bank of Pierz, is encouraged by the co-op grocery store plan in Little Falls.

It’s the type of larger volume opportunity that can give people with local food and farm ideas a chance at real livelihoods, he said.

“These are our friends and neighbors,” Durheim said.  “I’d like to see this (local food and farming sector) evolve where those who have an interest can succeed, where they have an avenue to build something for themselves.”

Region Five is working to support this vision, unanimously supported in Resilient Region planning, by building the business ecosystem in which those livelihoods can grow. A core element is a retailing, distribution, and processing hub called “Sprout.” Region Five has facilitated and supported its growth from an idea in 2009 to a startup group of 15 suppliers in 2012 to more than 60 now.

Sprout serves seven school districts (15,000 students), four hospital systems, and other restaurant, retail and food service accounts in the region. Its 2016 revenue is on target to exceed 2015 by 48 percent, said founding farmer and manager Arlene Jones.

Most of that goes to the growers, she said. “Seventy percent of our total revenue is cost of goods sold, which equates to direct funds back to our growers and their family incomes.”

 

Diversity and Development

The Agua Gorda Cooperative of Hispanic farmers from Long Prairie, MN, started business producing food on community garden plots. The co-op now owns land for a business that is growing in sales both to rural central Minnesota and to the Twin Cities. CREDIT: Courtesy Shared Ground Farmers Cooperative

The Agua Gorda Cooperative of Hispanic farmers from Long Prairie, MN, started business producing food on community garden plots. The co-op now owns land for a business that is growing in sales both to rural central Minnesota and to the Twin Cities.
CREDIT: Courtesy Shared Ground Farmers Cooperative

One set of growers that Sprout buys from is the Agua Gorda Cooperative of Hispanic farmers out of Long Prairie. Agua Gorda’s sales to Sprout are important, said Jaime Villalaz, business development specialist with the statewide Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC) based in St. Paul.

“Sprout pays really good prices, transportation costs are lower, and the warehouse and cold storage space Sprout has are big benefits,” he said. Agua Gorda also plans to use new commercial kitchen space at Sprout’s headquarters in Little Falls to make value-added products like salsa.

Agua Gorda members first started farming on community garden plots at a local church, which expanded to welcome and include them. It was part of civic efforts to build cultural connections in a town that has grown from 1 percent Hispanic population in 1990 to one-third today.

Most came from the same Agua Gorda community in the Mexican state of Michoacán to work at a local meat processing plan. Now many are building businesses in Long Prairie alongside their Anglo neighbors.

The Agua Gorda Cooperative recently purchased a 54-acre parcel on the edge of town next to five certified-organic acres it leases from the city. In addition to Sprout, Agua Gorda supplies a tamale factory in Minneapolis-St. Paul with 45,000 pounds of tomatillos each year. It has also joined the larger Shared Ground Farmers Cooperative, which supplies Twin Cities’ restaurants and cooperative grocery stores.

 

Full Circle

The growth of farm enterprises like Agua Gorda feeds many other parts of the regional food system Region Five is working to build for community and economic stimulus.

Celebrating the opening of the Sprout Growers and Makers Marketplace in Little Falls, MN, are Region Five Development Commission executive director Cheryal Hills (L) and Sprout food hub founding farmer and manager Arlene Jones.  CREDIT Courtesy of Region Five Development Commission

Celebrating the opening of the Sprout Growers and Makers Marketplace in Little Falls, MN, are Region Five Development Commission executive director Cheryal Hills (L) and Sprout food hub founding farmer and manager Arlene Jones. 
CREDIT Courtesy of Region Five Development Commission

Three hospital systems in the area, for example, now provide weekly boxes of local produce to food insecure families on a prescription basis. The hospital systems source the fresh produce through Sprout. The fresh food prescriptions add to the sales picture that is helping new food and farming businesses in the region start and grow.

Another bright spot in the sales picture is Sprout’s new Growers and Makers Marketplace.

The indoor market brings art vendors together with farm and food vendors. Local artists are also part of a team working to develop the market into a community gathering place, said painter Heidi Jeub.

“We want to do something authentic for the community that really brings people in,” she said. Music, classes, and cultural events are already underway.

Many of the families receiving fresh food prescriptions pick up their Rx boxes at the Growers and Makers Marketplace. While there, they learn about nutrition and cooking with on-site classes plus interaction with farmers.

“Peeling carrots with these kids and cooking whole and wholesome food is one of the greatest rewards for all the work it took to get here,” said Sprout manager Arlene Jones.

Five years in, Region Five is meeting many of its Resilient Region objectives. They range from healthier diets to fuel local children’s success in school to fresh paint on neglected Main Street buildings and new options for making a living in farming.

Perhaps even more significant is the faith and motivation that’s growing across the region as successes like Smude Sunflower Oil and the Agua Gorda Cooperative grow. Tom Smude, for example, now has five neighbor farms producing sunflowers for his growing business. Production is up to 800 acres now from a start of 30 acres in 2011.

Brainerd city councilman Chip Borkenhagen said the proof for him is in the community spirit that’s shining stronger than he’s ever seen it. “You can’t quantify it. You can’t financially translate it,” he said. “It’s just something you feel in the air, and goldarnit I’m feeling it!”

> Fishing communities find economic power doing business together


Good Food Economy Digest

Fishing Communities Find Economic Power Doing Business Together

People building strong places with local and regional food

Good Food: Healthy, green, fair, and affordable


  

By Patty Cantrell, Regional Food Solutions LLC

In This Edition

We go to southwestern Oregon, where six port communities across three counties are building new regional wealth with more local links in seafood supply chains.

Take Action

The Southwestern Oregon Food Systems Collaborative is using a new economic development framework called WealthWorks. It offers a process for developing “value chain” strategies that deliver what buyers want and what communities need. Check out the WealthWorks Northwest program that regional funder and mentor Rural Development Initiatives has put together.

Seven years ago, Aaron Longton and a few fellow commercial fishermen from the small community of Port Orford, on Oregon’s rocky southwestern coast, struck out on their own. They pushed off from the global commodity markets they had supplied for years, for less and less return. They set sail for new markets on the promise of an emerging direct-to-consumer business model called Community Supported Fisheries.

The move to offer consumers advance shares of their local catch was not just for economic survival. The founders of Port Orford Sustainable Seafood were also motivated by their belief that building a brighter future for their families and neighbors means finding more productive ways to live off their land and the sea beside it. 

“This is what we have to work with,” Longton said of the rolling waves and abundant stocks of tuna, Dungeness crab, salmon, and more under his boat. “We’re adjacent to this great resource. We need to take that and make it work for us.”

His words are like a mission statement for a larger group of businesses, nonprofits, and institutions in the area that are taking a new and radical approach to this challenge. They aim to build more community wealth from the region’s rich natural resources. Their strategy is to build new locally owned, mutual-aid supply chains across great market gaps that have formed in the wake of the region’s near-total focus on global commodity exports.

The Southwestern Oregon Food Systems Collaborative unites six port communities across Oregon’s southernmost counties: Coos, Curry, and Douglas. The “value chain” approach it is taking to economic development is showing signs of success in a region still reeling from the collapse of its timber industry. The approach also shows real potential for transitioning so many other, mostly rural places now caught between past economies of resource extraction and future economies of resource conservation.  

Capacity building
The Collaborative formed when Rural Development Initiatives, an Oregon-based nonprofit serving the Pacific Northwest, invited communities in the state to explore economic development opportunities using a new framework called WealthWorks

It is a process for identifying specific market-driven opportunities, exploring the many supply chain links needed to meet them, and building the business-to-business relationships that can bring the benefits home. Historical commodity approaches basically converted the region’s timber, agriculture, and fisheries into financial capital, which mostly left the area. This approach values and targets other types of wealth-building capital as well, such as the natural capital of sustainable fish populations and the intellectual capital in new products and processes.

Aaron Longton is part of a novel effort in southwestern Oregon to link regional seafood businesses into new supply chains that work better for local people and places. His business is Port Orford Sustainable Seafood, one of the nation’s earlier Community Supported Fisheries. Its part of a growing national network of fishermen and related businesses pursuing opportunities in local, sustainably caught seafood. See more at LocalCatch.org and CommunityFisheriesNetwork.org. CREDIT: Courtesy of Port Orford Sustainable Seafood

Aaron Longton is part of a novel effort in southwestern Oregon to link regional seafood businesses into new supply chains that work better for local people and places. His business is Port Orford Sustainable Seafood, one of the nation’s earlier Community Supported Fisheries. Its part of a growing national network of fishermen and related businesses pursuing opportunities in local, sustainably caught seafood. See more at LocalCatch.org and CommunityFisheriesNetwork.orgCREDIT: Courtesy of Port Orford Sustainable Seafood

The group confirmed that a top-level value chain opportunity for coastal southwestern Oregon is surging demand for local, sustainably caught, and premium-processed seafood. 

“We’re exploring a couple dozen different value chains within seafood,” said Michelle Martin. She is director of economic development at Neighborworks Umpqua, the Collaborative’s coordinating agency. It won a two-year “value chain construction” grant from Rural Development Initiatives. 

“Each boat size, each species etc. has a different value chain,” she said.

Each also faces big challenges given the current industry structure. The mid-size range of seafood businesses is gone. The next generation of entrepreneurs, innovation, and investment is stranded. Growing demand for food that comes with fresher taste and less damage goes unmet. Deliberate development of supply chains across this middle, which serve people and places better, is what’s new and radical about the value chain approach.

Oregon’s industry landed 292 million pounds of seafood in 2014 worth $158 million. More than 80 percent is exported, however, and most of that is sold to just a couple of large international buyers. The catch travels frozen to places like China for processing before working its way back to Oregon dinner plates. 

Cold storage, processing, distribution and other infrastructure that locals need to serve different market channels is now over-sized, far away, or falling apart. New opportunities that languish as a result range from sashimi grade tuna and salmon for Asian and domestic markets to local fish for tourism, an equally important regional industry. In the meantime, many essential facilities, like the public Port of Port Orford, from which Aaron Longton and crew operate, tread water.

“If we can’t keep this dock running, the collateral damage to fishermen here would be huge,” said office manager Katie Dougherty. As much as one third of the work force around Port Orford (pop. 1,200) is directly involved in commercial fishing, with a catch worth upwards of $3 million each year. 

“It’s pretty dynamic how losing this dock would affect families and other businesses here,” Dougherty said. 

Shifting mindsets
It looks now, however, that the Port of Port Orford will not only stay afloat but also expand its services. Projections include 40 new jobs along with more revenue needed to secure the dock for the local seafood economy. The shift came about in part after the Collaborative introduced port authorities to some new entrepreneurial uses that an earlier plan, designed around the current industry structure, had not contemplated. 

The “dolly dock” at the Port of Port Orford is the only one in America and one of just a few in the world. Because the port is directly on the ocean, without a safe harbor, cranes lift boats in and out of the water. Boats park in homemade moveable “dollies.” The cost of upkeep is a challenge that regional seafood “value chain” development aims to help solve with new revenue from stronger commercial fishing businesses. CREDIT: Courtesy of Port Orford Sustainable Seafood

The “dolly dock” at the Port of Port Orford is the only one in America and one of just a few in the world. Because the port is directly on the ocean, without a safe harbor, cranes lift boats in and out of the water. Boats park in homemade moveable “dollies.” The cost of upkeep is a challenge that regional seafood “value chain” development aims to help solve with new revenue from stronger commercial fishing businesses. CREDIT: Courtesy of Port Orford Sustainable Seafood

“We have more requests for space than we can fill right now,” office manager Dougherty said. Nine businesses are in line to locate at the planned 20,000 square-foot multi-use dock facility. It is twice the size of the port’s older cannery and will include new retail, tourism, and smaller-scale processing space in addition to meeting the growth needs of an existing commodity-market anchor tenant. 

“(The Collaborative) put us in touch with these people and helped us understand what they want and what they need,” she said. 

Newcomers include two fresh fish retailers and one entrepreneur who needs the unique access to fresh seawater the port provides for live fish sales. The company is already on site gearing up for marketing live sea urchins and cultivating the sea vegetable dulse (aka “bacon-flavored seaweed”) using a new aquaculture process patented by Oregon State University. 

Business starts
Port Orford is just one place where value chain thinking is beginning to shift local seafood industry reality. Many connections are still subtle yet groundbreaking in terms of who is talking together and how they are finding shared interest in addressing pain points and exploring different business directions.

Collaborative member Rick Goche said he sees it in new business activity and more people getting involved. Goche is a local fisherman and chair of the Oregon Albacore Commission. His Sacred Sea Tuna company has helped pioneer a domestic sales direction for the state’s tuna sector. “We went from just 5 percent to North American markets six years ago to 55 percent today” he said.  

The Collaborative is bringing more people, ideas, and investment to the table, Goche said. “I’m seeing faces I don’t normally see.” 

Finding local business solutions to local business problems is one of the ways people see the Collaborative working for them. An example is a new business now solving a major problem that fishermen, port operators, and seafood processors in the region all share. 

“There is nowhere to take fish waste,” said Shaun Gibbs, economic development specialist with the South Coast Development Council.

One port faced crushing costs of investing in refrigeration just to hold mounting fish waste in addition to transportation and disposal costs. Another port was dumping its fish waste at sea. Now the startup company SeaCoast Composting takes fish waste from ports and processors in the area. It is developing a unique, value-added blend that also includes local dairy and forestry waste.  

“I was excited to learn about this seafood group,” said owner-operator David Boyer. “They started connecting me. It’s pretty much a hub.”

Dungeness crab is among southwestern Oregon’s seafood riches. Landing more of the market value is how the Southwestern Oregon Food Systems Collaborative aims to shift the local industry outlook. CREDIT: Courtesy NeighborWorks Umpqua

Dungeness crab is among southwestern Oregon’s seafood riches. Landing more of the market value is how the Southwestern Oregon Food Systems Collaborative aims to shift the local industry outlook. CREDIT: Courtesy NeighborWorks Umpqua

Internal customers
The lack of cold storage is another big need spurring new value-chain conversations. It came up during “dockside discussions” the Collaborative held up and down the coast. The input has prompted local ports to take a closer look at investing in cold storage to serve an emerging set of customers. 

“They’ve asked us to research demand in more detail,” said Shaun Gibbs with the South Coast Development Council. 

Tuna commissioner Rick Goche believes the region could build a new generation of seafood businesses with cold storage investments. “The market for sashimi loins, for example, is growing in the U.S. But it’s slow because of limitations in refrigeration.” 

“What’s needed is holding temperatures of -30 to -40 degrees,” he said. “Access to that kind of freezer capacity will attract people from a lot of different industries and a lot of different food products.”

Back home
How all of this builds lasting community wealth is something that Aaron Longton thinks about back in Port Orford.

“Having our port involved now is real positive,” he said of the new dock design and shift in business development perspective. It is opening opportunities in tourism and for fishermen to explore a business world beyond commodity markets.

Making that transition is difficult, he said. “Most fishermen are so removed from the market. They’re reliant on big buyers and have no relationship with the consumer on the other end.”

The middle ground is stirring though, he said. 

The value chain work is connecting area businesses that have the potential to go farther together. It is also connecting with other assets like the “jewel of a marine reserve we have here in Port Orford.” He’s talking about the Redfish Rocks marine reserve, which his community worked with regulators to create. 

The Port Orford Ocean Resource Team represents the grassroots action that made it happen. It is an example of fishermen and local residents stepping up to protect threatened breeding grounds for the future fishery rather than fighting government for the present short-term fishery.

Ultimately it is all connected, Longton said, with consumers and markets that are beginning to understand that “who fishes matters, and where you put your dollars when you buy fish matters.”

>Closer look at rural gives Sacramento new economic direction


Good Food Economy Digest

Closer look at rural gives Sacramento new economic direction

People building strong places with local and regional food


Good Food: Healthy, green, fair, and affordable


By Patty Cantrell, Regional Food Solutions

The little northern California town of Winters (pop. 7,212) is a local-foodie destination on the verge of turning its strategic location and “beautiful produce” into a new crop of non-farming jobs.

“Most of our residents commute to urban centers for work,” said Winters’ city manager John Donlevy. “They head out before 6:30 in the morning and return after 6:30 at night.”

That’s about to change, he said. New economic analysis details the success that regional market-focused food manufacturing and distribution sited in Winters could have.

“Five venture capital groups have visited in just the past three months,” Donlevy said. He sees real opportunity in their potential investments for local people to work closer to home. “That’s huge for quality of life,” he said.

How this investor interest in Winters came to be is a story of the nearby Sacramento metropolitan region taking a fresh look at the lay of its land. Its new view of outlying rural areas has prompted a full-scale mobilization of area leadership in recognition of how much the region has to offer, and to gain from, soaring demand for local food. 

 

Map Detail

Metro Sacramento’s six counties are at the northern end of California’s agriculturally diverse and rich Central Valley. They produce $4.2 billion worth of food and agriculture products. The metro also includes the local- and organic farming-rich Capay Valley, which is just north of Winters.

The conversation about local food and farming changed dramatically in Sacramento when regional planners added crop detail and other eye-opening specifics to its generic land use map. It had long pictured agriculture as just one big green expanse. Credit: SACOG

The conversation about local food and farming changed dramatically in Sacramento when regional planners added crop detail and other eye-opening specifics to its generic land use map. It had long pictured agriculture as just one big green expanse. Credit: SACOG

Sacramento regional planning, however, had not really included agriculture.

Sacramento had at least used the color green to designate agriculture on its planning maps, said Ed Thompson, California Director at American Farmland Trust. Most of the time those agricultural areas are just white, as if they’re empty and waiting for some other “higher and better” use.

Nevertheless rural areas were still just one big blob in most minds, said David Shabazian, manager of the Rural-Urban Connections Strategy at the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG).

The first thing Shabazian and staff did when launching Rural-Urban Connections was to fill in agricultural areas on SACOG’s planning maps with soil types, crop detail, water use, sales, employment, and more.

And that has made all the difference.

“It really started getting people thinking holistically about what we are as a region, how the land base is made up of both urban and rural spaces and that both are needed to really thrive,” he said.

 

Aha Moments

Two big realizations are now fueling a move to build more “local-serving” agriculture into the region’s food and farm economy.

One, only two percent of the 1.9 million tons of food consumed in the Sacramento area comes from food and farm businesses in those six counties. In other words, Sacramento eats the same produce the rest of the country eats — grown for long-distance shipping and run through distant, massive warehouse and processing facilities.

Two, new analysis shows significant farm-to-table development potential. Rural communities can strengthen their economic position by developing supply chain facilities and services, like food manufacturing, that more “local-serving” agriculture needs. In turn, the city of Sacramento and surrounding counties gain the fresh and local food they want and need for both health and wealth.

“We’re exporting so much of our own bounty, we miss taking care of ourselves,” said John Nicoletti, a supervisor in metro Sacramento’s rural Yuba County.

The irony is motivating a full spectrum of interests to take action, said Trish Kelly, senior vice president of Valley Vision, a 16-county leadership organization.

“We are really getting to scale,” she said. “You go in a room now for discussion, and there’s a food bank person there, a food distributor, a grower, an elected official, a chef, someone from local economic development, someone from regional planning, or a professor from the University of California-Davis ...”

A new UC Davis study confirms the economic benefit these leaders expect from efforts to build local and regional food sales. Looking at farms that include direct-to-consumer marketing in their overall business, researchers found twice the economic impact as farms that do not include such channels as farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture. The economic multiplier difference (1.86 vs. 1.42) was mainly in the extent to which direct marketers themselves do business locally, purchasing 89 percent of their inputs within the region. Overall, Sacramento area farms that direct marketed their food — and most sold local food through wholesale channels also — generated 31.8 jobs per $1 million in economic output vs. 10.5. for farms that did not do business regionally in direct markets.

Leaders Lead

More than a slogan, Sacramento’s new brand — America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital — speaks for a region-wide focus on building the farm-to-table value chain. Credit: Valley Vision

More than a slogan, Sacramento’s new brand — America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital — speaks for a region-wide focus on building the farm-to-table value chain. Credit: Valley Vision

A broad base of regional leaders now function as the Local Food Economy Partnership, which the Sacramento Area Chamber of Commerce hosts. They are taking seriously their job of supporting the food and farming innovation they want to see.

The Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau took a big first step when it declared the city “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital,” which launched a major public awareness and engagement campaign.

Valley Vision led the regional food economy team in a bid to win major federal support for building more farm-to-table food supply chain services and facilities into the Central Valley’s agricultural economy. The region’s new Economic Development Administration designation as an “Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership” will support regional food hub development, food business incubation, workforce development and more.

Along with new agricultural detail in its maps, the SACOG Rural-Urban Connections Strategy put together a groundbreaking toolbox of parcel-level data and decision-support tools. It puts nuts and bolts on the many opportunities metro Sacramento has with its Mediterranean growing conditions, access to markets, and its agricultural capacity and heritage.

County-level reports project the relative profitability and desirability of different directions food and agriculture entrepreneurs in a particular county could take. Case studies compare return on investment, cash flow, and other variables such as labor, water use, and greenhouse gas emissions. SACOG has also developed actionable pro forma business planning information to help entrepreneurs, local governments, and investors take action.

SACOG’s toolbox has “driven a much higher level of consideration of how to make these things happen,” said Winters city manager John Donlevy.

 

Return on Investment

The toolbox is prompting regional leaders, for example, to look more closely at what’s available and what they can do with it, said Valley Vision’s Trish Kelly.

“We’re asking local jurisdictions: ‘Do you have facilities, do you have vacant properties, do you have sites ready, do you have broadband, what capacity do you have?”

Detailed scenario planning is also helping capital find its way to places like Winters.

SACOG analysis shows the rural town is in perfect position to provide its nearby local and regional food sector, west of Interstate 505, with the light industrial services it needs, like processing and distribution.

Winters, CA, city manger John Donlevy looks forward to more regional scale food manufacturing and distribution jobs as local and sustainable food and farming sales and outlets grow. Here he leads a tour at Yolo County’s Turkovich Family Wines. Credit: Valley Vision

Winters, CA, city manger John Donlevy looks forward to more regional scale food manufacturing and distribution jobs as local and sustainable food and farming sales and outlets grow. Here he leads a tour at Yolo County’s Turkovich Family Wines. Credit: Valley Vision

Winters is near a large concentration of local-serving farms and innovative sustainable agriculture enterprises in the Capay Valley. They include 400-acre, 30-year-old Full Belly Farm and nearly 40 more that market and distribute together through their regional hub, the Capay Valley Farm Shop.

“Ninety-eight percent of what we grow is consumed within 100 miles,” said Full Belly Farm co-owner Paul Muller.

As a municipality, Winters has some other key strengths to build upon.

“We have the infrastructure; we have the wastewater system,” Donlevy said. “We’ve also been progressive about how we look at things ... We are a small town but what we do here is food.”

Winters is now on the verge of having the best of both worlds, he said. “We can develop jobs through the processing and industrial side of regional food. That combines with our town as a great place to live and visit, with its excellent restaurants, atmosphere and fresh food.”