What the heck does a “Local Foods Organizer” do, anyhow?

Actually, my title is, “Healthy Food System Organizer,” which also tends to get me a lot of perplexed looks.  I realize that what I do is somewhat of a mystery to the majority of people I talk to.

So, by way of an explanation of just exactly what it is I’m getting paid for, I’ll recap my Monday.

I got up at about 6:30 this morning and was online by 7am–checking e-mails at my home office from the home office–that is, Land Stewardship Project in Montevideo, Minnesota.

I also checked for and responded to e-mails from the Local Foods Steering Committee people here in Big Stone County, and from the Healthy Eating Minnesota program folks at Blue Cross & Blue Shield.

I sent off an e-mail to the area pastors’ association to see if I can talk to them about community/commercial kitchen projects–looking to see if we can work with area churches to build some needed processing infrastructure in the community.

After that, I prepped for my vermicompost presentations at CGB school in Graceville, and loaded my truck with the necessary supplies: handouts, my worm bin, a bucket of bedding (aka shredded newspapers), and a big bowl of finished chocolate-cakey compost.

[How is this about healthy, local food?  Healthy food starts with healthy soil. Worms are healthy soil superheroes. Students are healthy soil champions of the future.]

I headed out to CGB School, but when I got there, I realized that somehow we’d got our communication wires crossed, and the science teacher wasn’t expecting me that day (there weren’t actually any students there–kind of a problem).

So, with the teacher’s blessing, I unloaded my worm bin and other materials and left them in the classroom for the students to check out, and made plans to do the presentations for the five classes on Tuesday and Wednesday instead.  The teacher and I chatted a bit about plans for the school garden, produce in the cafeteria, and the greenhouse project before I headed out.

Not wanting to waste my miles, I stopped in at the grocery store in Clinton and pitched an idea about how we can get local produce into the store without creating too much of an administrative headache for the store owner or the farmer.  It sounded like it could work!

Next, I headed over to Beardsley.  When I got to town, I called one of my contacts in that area and chatted briefly about the community garden there before heading into the Country Market and pitching the aforementioned produce-into-grocery idea there.  It also met with a positive response.

[Now to play match-maker with store owners and farmers in their area.  I’ve got some ideas….]

Realizing I was starving hungry and needed to use some facilities, I had lunch at the cafe there in Beardsley–chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, white gravy, green beans, roll, fruit-and-marshmallow salad, and white cake.

In short, a real Midwestern meal.  I can never believe how much food there is in one of those–even the half-portion.  I chatted up the gals working there a little–weather, crops, business.

Heading back toward Ortonville, I stopped at Big Stone Apple Ranch to see if they’d closed up for the season (they had), and how the overall season went (well, considering the light harvest).

Had a cup of coffee with the owner and her friend (both business-savvy ladies), and we talked about the local foods scene overall and some of the specific projects they’re interested in.  Maybe convincing area restaurants to make just one change–a little local produce on the salad bar, a special steak dinner with local meat .

Then, back home to let the dog out.  I spent a little time online checking in, then tweaked and printed out a membership flier for the co-op downtown designed by one of the steering committee members.  Did a little pen-and-ink work on the logo, as it was too light to copy well.

Brought the flier to the print shop and had them run off a few copies, then dropped them down at the Granary.  Chatted with the volunteer-member who was working and told her what the fliers were for (sack-stuffers for non-members).

[This work might seem a little outside the purview of local foods work, but the co-op is one key to making local foods available in the community–and they need more working members to keep their doors open.]

Then, off to the EDA office to talk about website development for the Local Foods Project and what kinds of capabilities and information we’ll need to include in our online presence.

Back downtown to the courthouse to chat about the land search I requested–to try to identify available small acreages for beginning producers.  Then across the street to the Extension to talk to the nutrition educator about the whole, healthy, local foods cooking classes we’d like to hold starting early next year.

We also got talking about SNAP (that’s food stamps, for the uninitiated), and I realized I’d need to visit Social Service to try to get some more information about numbers of clients in the area.

It’s my dream to help the farmers market here to accept SNAP and debit, but it might end up having to be a consortium of area markets on both sides of the MN/SD border involved to make it work.  Which also makes the logistics that much more complicated–and that’s before we even start chatting up the vendors to see if they’ll go for it.

[ At this point, I made a mental note-to-self to call the sainted woman in the SD Dept. of Social Services who helped me through the SNAP process for our market in Vermillion.]

And then I stopped by the Social Services office here in Ortonville and asked them a lot of questions they weren’t prepared to answer.  But they were really nice, gave me some names and contact information, and said they’d absolutely be on board with promoting the program should we start it.

[This is a lot of what I do–I show up in someone’s office, introduce myself as the Healthy Food System Organizer (the what?), and start asking a lot of questions that no one’s ever asked before.  But I am at least polite about it.]

After that, home again.  I checked in online and sent a couple of e-mails to Local Food Committee folks and to the home office.

At that point it was about 4:30, so I got on my bike and took an hour ride along the bike trail (another note to self–remember daylight savings and get a light for the bike).

Back at home for good this time, I heated up some red beans and rice, cracked a beer, and decided I’d better explain what the heck it is I do all day.  And then start planning for my day tomorrow.

Note: While there isn’t really such a thing as a “typical day” in this job, this is about as typical as it gets: running all over, talking to as many people as I can, and  working on several different projects at once.  But most of the time, I don’t visit all four of the largest towns in the county on the same day!



3 responses

  1. I’m so glad you’re here! Just one day of work, and it is brimming with possibilities. By the way, I have eight acres of tillable land (currently in alfalfa) that’s just aching to be used by someone to grow food! Will take veges in lieu of rent! And I bet I can convince my nice neighbor, half a mile away, to make some room in his barn for equipment if needed …

  2. Great post, Rebecca! The blank stares as you say your title is so familiar. It’s a great line of work though, and you’re so well-suited for it! LSP’s lucky to have you!

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