Twitter, E-Mail, and Blogs, Oh My! Online Marketing Workshop for Farmers March 19 in Milan

Are you interested in marketing your farm and its products online but don’t know where to start? Join Land Stewardship Project and University of Minnesota Extension for a workshop highlighting some of the many available social media and internet marketing tools, such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and websites, and how they can be used to connect your farm to potential customers throughout the region.

Ryan Pesch, U of M Extension educator, will delve into the specifics of online marketing tools (from free to $$) and provide individual assistance to farmers wanting to get started using these tools. Regional producers will discuss their online marketing strategies, the costs, the benefits, and how to build customer relationships by telling their farm story to an online audience.

Join us at the Milan Community School in Milan, MN on Monday, March 19 from 9-noon. Light refreshments will be provided. Fee for the workshop is $10 for LSP members and $15 for non-members. RSVP to Rebecca Terk, LSP Community Based Food Systems Organizer: (320) 305-9685 or rebeccat@landstewardshipproject.org.

This workshop will also occur in southeast Minnesota on March 27th. For details about the location or to RSVP, please contact LSP’s Caroline van Schaik: (507) 523-3366 or caroline@landstewardshipproject.org.

 

People Power vs. Corporate Power: Keep the Teeth in Minnesota’s Interim Ordinance

In Big Stone County, where I live, a proposed aggregate quarry by a North Dakota-based corporation has united local residents around protecting the ancient granite outcrops that gave the county its name.

Strata Corp. applied for a conditional use permit at the county level just before Christmas, and though Strata’s own planning process has been six years in the making, citizen input was limited until the Planning & Zoning Commission’s initial public hearing on January 5th.

The room was packed with citizens who were reeling from what seemed to them like an incredibly fast process where there were many more questions than answers. Most residents had no idea the project was in the works until community members staged a grassroots organizing effort to take outreach into their own hands–writing letters to the commissioners and local papers, having one-on-one conversations with other residents, and collecting signatures on petitions in opposition to the project.

While the county’s permitting process continues despite growing opposition to the quarry from residents across the county and region, the Ortonville Township Board took action to protect residents in and around the proposed quarry site by passing an interim ordinance to place a moratorium on the project and to develop their own planning and zoning commission.

Education and action on potentially harmful developments is going on across the state–in southeastern Minnesota, counties have enacted interim ordinances to check the rapid expansion of frac sand mining, which is changing the face of the landscape and destroying productive agricultural land.

But legislation moving through the Minnesota House and Senate would diminish the power of local governments to protect their citizens and communities.

House File 389 and Senate File 270 weaken township, county and city local control. The proposals weaken the power of local governments to enact interim ordinances (also called moratoriums). An interim ordinance allows local governments to quickly put a temporary freeze on major development. This power is essential when the community is caught off-guard by unanticipated and potentially harmful proposals, especially those from corporate interests and outside investors, such as frac sand mines, big box stores like Wal-Mart or a large-scale factory farm. This bill favors corporate control over local control. [Action Alert: Legislation Weakening Local Control Moving Forward at State Capitol. Land Stewardship Project. 24 Feb 2012.]

Some have tried to frame this issue as a fight between liberals and conservatives or between pro-development and environmentalist factions. But the faces at public hearings have belied those characterizations–this is a fight for community that brings together citizens from all walks of life and all political perspectives.

The real fight is for local control in the face of corporate greed–about the right of citizens to determine what’s best for their communities through a democratic process vs. a desire by corporations to weaken that power and steamroll that process.

At the root of the debate is an age-old tension between the rights of business and the rights of neighbors within the unwieldy democratic process. Proponents of the new law, primarily Twin Cities builders, say developers who have spent tens of thousands of dollars planning a project deserve to have those investments protected from politically arbitrary decisions by government officials.

“It happens regularly,” said James Vagle, public policy director for the Building Association of the Twin Cities, which has been trying to get the law through the Legislature for several years. “We were following all the rules … and a project gets stymied.” [Marcotty, Josephine. “Should locals have the power to stall controversial projects?” Star Tribune. 21 Feb 2012.]

A developer’s complaint that they spent many years and dollars in the planning process and were “following all the rules” only to be  “stymied” by “politically arbitrary decisions” sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Except that “following all the rules” isn’t a pass to do whatever you want, especially when local governments are also following all the rules to ensure citizens have a say in the development of their community.

To suggest that because a corporation dots its i’s and crosses its t’s, it should get to build, mine, and blast whatever it wants wherever it wants flies in the face of our democracy. To suggest that a community whose citizens come together across socioeconomic and party lines to halt an undesirable project and begin a lengthy and complex process of planning for the future is “arbitrary” in any way shows ignorance of the democratic process at best–contempt at worst.

Instead of “playing by the rules,” corporations are trying to change the rules–to take the teeth out of local control via the interim ordinance and make it virtually impossible for smaller units of government and the citizens they represent to exercise their right to determine what kind of community they live in and how their resources are used.

What you can do to protect local democracy and your community:

Contact your legislators in St. Paul and tell them to vote against House File 389 and Senate File 270. Then, contact Governor Dayton’s office to tell him you’ve spoken with your elected officials about this legislation, and ask for a veto should it reach his desk.

To learn more about the fight for people power vs. corporate power at the state capitol, to find out who has supported this democracy-weakening legislation, and to find contact information for your legislators, see Land Stewardship Project’s latest Action Alert on the subject, or contact LSP’s Bobby King: bking@landstewardshipproject.org or 612-722-6377.

 

“Compromise” Language on Local Control is No Real Deal–Calls Needed Before Feb. 22

Below is LSP’s full action alert regarding the latest attack on township and county rights.

This issue is especially timely here in Big Stone County with the proposed Strata granite quarry, and Ortonville Township Board’s ability to pass an interim ordinance, placing a moratorium on the project and giving residents time to study the project more fully. Keeping local control strong is a fundamental part of our good Minnesota democracy.

Retaining the full power of the interim ordinance is an important piece of LSP’s work in the state. If you believe in the right of local governments to determine what kind of development is right for them, you should be a member of Land Stewardship Project.

Calls Needed: Bill that Weakens Township & County Rights Up (Again)
in the State Legislature Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 10:15 a.m.

Proposed ‘Compromise’ Language on House File 389 Still Weakens Local Control

House File 389 will make it more difficult for citizens who want their township, county or city to take action and protect the community from unanticipated, harmful development. The bill weakens the power of local governments to enact interim ordinances (also called land use moratoriums). An interim ordinance allows local governments to quickly put a temporary freeze on major development. This power is essential when the community is caught off-guard by unanticipated and potentially harmful proposals, especially those from corporate interests and outside investors, such as big box stores like Wal-Mart or a large-scale factory farm. An interim ordinance freezes the status quo and gives the community time to review or create the appropriate zoning ordinances.

UPDATE: House File 389 was tabled at the Jan. 26 hearing in the House Government Operations and Elections Committee due to our phone calls and e-mails and strong testimony in opposition. Now new language for the bill is being proposed as a “compromise.” However, this new language still dramatically weakens local control and is NOT a compromise. Under this new proposal, after a project applies for a permit the local unit of government has a short window of time in which to enact an interim ordinance. If they miss that window, then the proposed project is exempt. The clock starts running before any public hearing — by the time there is a hearing, the clock could be run out. (Full details below.)

TAKE ACTION!

1.  Contact these key members of the House Government Operations and Elections Committee before Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 9:30 a.m. If you have called before, call them again. They need to know a large number of people are watching the issue.

Here is a suggested message: “Minnesotans value strong local control and township rights. House File 389 authored by Rep. Beard undermines these rights, specifically the right to enact an interim ordinance or land use moratorium. I urge you to oppose it. This power is essential when the community is caught off-guard by unanticipated proposals, especially those from outside corporate interests. I am familiar with the new language being proposed and it still weakens local control unacceptably. Local control is working and should be left alone.”

If you have more time, contact these other members of the committee:

2.  Attend or testify at the House Government Elections and Operations hearing on House File 389 on Wed., Feb., 22, at 10:15 a..m. in Room 5 of the State Office Building. Contact Bobby King at bking@landstewardshipproject.org or call 612-722-6377 for more information. Committee information is here.


More details on this legislation:

  • House File 389 is authored by Reps. Beard (R-Shakopee); Quam (R-Byron); Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park); Sanders (R-Blaine)
  • Senate File 270 (the Senate companion) is authored by Sen. Limmer (R-Maple Grove).

Interim ordinances (also called land use moratoriums) are a part of strong local control. An interim ordinance allows a city, county or township to quickly put a temporary freeze on major development. This is necessary when the community is caught off guard by unanticipated and potentially harmful development. This power has been attacked repeatedly by corporate interests over the years.

The power to enact an interim ordinance matters. For example, communities in southeast Minnesota have been bombarded with outside corporate interests wanting to mine for sand to be used in frac mining. These mining proposals are much different in scale and scope from the aggregate mining that takes place there now. In response to citizen concerns, Wabasha, Goodhue and Winona counties enacted interim ordinances that put a moratorium on frac sand mining while they study the issue to see if their current ordinances are sufficient to deal with this new type of mining.

Here are the details of how the legislation and the proposed compromise weaken local control:    

  • Under the proposal, merely applying for a permit exempts a proposed development from any future interim ordinance. But all too often neighbors do not get any information about a project until AFTER the permit has been applied for. When that happens, an interim ordinance may be needed to freeze the status quo and create time to assess the situation.

Proposed “compromise”on this aspect: After a project applies for a permit, the local unit of government has a short window of time in which to enact an interim ordinance. If they miss that window, then the proposed project is exempt. The clock starts running before any public hearing. In fact, by the time there is a hearing the clock could be run out.  Here is how this new clock would work.  After the permit application is accepted, a 30-day clock starts at the next public meeting. This is any public meeting and not a hearing on the project. For example, a permit for a sand frac mine is accepted on a Thursday and the county commissioners meet the following Tuesday. This issue will very likely not even be on the agenda at that meeting, but that meeting triggers the 30-day clock. By the time the first public hearing happens and neighbors know about the project, the 30-day deadline could be expired.

  • The proposal requires a two-thirds vote (a super majority) to enact an interim ordinance.  For counties this would mean 4 of 5 commissioners must vote for the ordinance, or 80%. Currently, an interim ordinance can be enacted by a simple majority — that’s how democratic rights should work. There is no reason to make adopting an interim ordinance so difficult by requiring a two-thirds vote. (The “two-thirds vote” proposal is also included in the”compromise” language.)
  • The legislation slows the process for enacting an interim ordinance by mandating public notice and a hearing before an interim ordinance can be enacted. In many cases, a local unit of government — particularly a township — does not get complete information on a proposed development until shortly before approval. In those cases, there can be legitimate concerns that the local government needs to address. When that happens, an interim ordinance must be enacted quickly to be effective. An interim ordinance can only be adopted at a public meeting, but currently no special notice is required to be given that the interim ordinance may be considered at the meeting. The very nature of an interim ordinance is to address unanticipated situations, and so there are times when it must be enacted quickly as an emergency measure. (The “mandated public notice” proposal is also included in the new “compromise” language.)

The Power to Retain Local Control in the Face of Corporate Development is in Your Hands

In 2011, corporate interests attempted to weaken township and community rights in Minnesota. Land Stewardship Project helped block that attempt, but corporations are at it again this year.

By law, township, city, or county governments can pass interim ordinances to place a moratorium on large development projects in order to give citizens and communities more time to study their impacts. The ordinances must pass by a simple majority, and they are one of the best ways communities have to put a hold on projects–like factory farms, mines, and housing subdivisions–that may have taken them by surprise.

Often, corporations plan developments far in advance, but lack of communication and disclosure leads to citizens being “blindsided” by a large development until it’s late in the game. The interim ordinance gives citizens–through their city councils, county commissions, and township boards–a powerful tool to say, “hold on a minute!”

Unfortunately, House File 389 and Senate File 270–legislation that would weaken the power of local control–are now making their way through both houses of the Minnesota legislature.

Under the proposed legislation, merely applying for a permit exempts a proposed development from any future interim ordinance. But all too often neighbors do not get any information about a project until AFTER the permit has been applied for. When that happens, an interim ordinance may be needed to freeze the status quo and create time to assess the situation.

The legislation requires a two-thirds vote (a super majority) to enact an interim ordinance. Currently, an interim ordinance can be enacted by a simple majority — that’s how democratic rights should work. There is no reason to make adopting an interim ordinance so difficult. The legislation slows the process for enacting an interim ordinance by mandating public notice and a hearing before an interim ordinance can be enacted. In many cases, a local unit of government — particularly a township — does not get complete information on a proposed development until shortly before approval. In those cases, there can be legitimate concerns that the local government needs to address. [“Keep Local Democracy Strong in Minnesota.” Land Stewardship Project. 1/25/12]

House file 389 is scheduled to be heard TOMORROW, 1/26/12 at 10:15am.  Protect your right to exercise local control over corporate development by calling your state representatives right away!

For more information on the bills and how to contact your legislators, and to read Land Stewardship Project’s press release on the legislation, click here. You can also call or e-mail LSP’s Bobbi King: bking@landstewardshipproject.org or (612) 722-6377.

Local Foods Distribution in Western MN–Making it Happen

According to a recent USDA Economic Research Service report [pdf], “For local foods production to continue to grow, marketing channels and supply chain infrastructure must deepen.”

While farmers markets, roadside stands, and other direct-to-consumer marketing arrangements are a good way for a vendor to develop close relationships with valued customers (and for those customers to better know their food, their farmer, and his or her practices), direct-to-consumer sales can also be time-consuming, and according to the report, “account for only a relatively small portion of total local food sales.”

Local foods producers and advocates have long discussed the problem of aggregation, storage, and distribution in rural areas, but not enough has been done to solve the problems faced by producers wanting to expand their operation, or who already have plenty of product, but not enough market.

On Saturday, January 21st in Milan, Minnesota, Land Stewardship Project is holding a Profitable Collaborative Marketing workshop for farmers. This is an opportunity for western MN and northeastern SD producers to come together and do more than simply “admire the problem.” We will be learning about a variety of regional aggregation, distribution, and marketing ventures, and then working in groups to start developing our own.

This free workshop runs from 10am-3pm, and lunch will be provided. Preregistration is required by contacting LSP’s Tom Taylor at (320) 269-2105 or e-mailing ttaylor@landstewardshipproject.org.

For more details about the workshop and our presenters, read the press release at LSP’s website here.

Hope to see you there.