Urban greenhouses to feed Willmar, Minn., schools
WILLMAR -- The land west of the Willmar Area Food Shelf will soon get a facelift, thanks to the combined efforts of the Willmar Design Center, the Southwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnership and the Food Shelf.
With a grant from the Southwest Partnership, the Design Center will soon start working on creating the Willmar Food Hub, which will consist of three parts and will put food on Willmar School District's students' plates.
The first part will be constructing two greenhouses on the Food Shelf's land, which the Food Shelf is renting to the Design Center, and also running the greenhouse that is currently sitting unattended on the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar.
The Design Center also plans to use its grant money to purchase a building downtown to be the Food Hub Facility where, once the produce is picked, it would be washed and stored before the Willmar School District is ready to use it. The building will also eventually house a value-added processing kitchen where vegetables could be canned for the school district's use. Finally, the Design Center hopes to add more customers, in addition to the school district, over time.
Beverly Dougherty, project coordinator for the Willmar Design Center, said the project was started when she found out the Food Shelf wanted the Design Center to use their land.
"With this, Willmar would be seen as the first food hub in the region," Dougherty said. "We're very excited about that."
The urban greenhouses are also a "practical" way to increase the fresh produce season, especially for school-age children, Kristin Anderson-Rosetti, project developer for the Willmar Design Center, said.
"We can have a greater impact by serving institutions," Anderson-Rosetti said. "It's a great way to introduce healthy foods into their meals. Plus, Annette (Derouin, Willmar School District's food service director) has been a champion of the Farm to Schools program for years."
Anderson-Rosetti said programs like the Willmar Food Hub can also have a "tremendous impact" on the local economy.
"Not only do we support small- and medium-scale farmers, but we also provide quality food, the money stays local and there are benefits to our health. We can't be healthy without eating healthy foods."
Nancy Johnson, manager of Becker Market, said the health factor is the reason she sees the urban greenhouses as a valuable entity for the community.
"What's more important than our kids eating healthy products?" Johnson said. "It's a great way to get them off to a good start. The nutrients fresh produce provides is so important."
Christie Kurth, executive director of the Willmar Area Food Shelf, said her organization got involved with the project after they purchased land to build a parking lot and receiving bay and realized about half the land they bought would still be undeveloped.
"I had heard that the Design Center was interested in urban greenhouses, so I went to them," Kurth said. "We want that land to be able to give back to the community."
Kurth said the Food Shelf's involvement mainly involves renting the land to the Design Center at a nominal fee and being supportive of what they're doing. She said they may also help find volunteers to pick the greens.
Three raised beds have been built and put in place on the lot west of the Food Shelf, where the Design Center is growing some produce, in what Kurth calls "symbolic and the start of a great community partnership."
The Willmar Design Center will formally announce the Willmar Food Hub at the 6th Annual Bounty of the County on Aug. 15 at 414 Becker Ave. SW, Willmar. The event will start at 5 p.m. with appetizers and music by The Strollers; at 6:30 p.m., dinner will be served, featuring local food, wine and beer.
Tickets are available at WillmarDesignCenter.com or at Engan and Associates, 311 Fourth St. SW, or the Willmar Design Center, at 414 Becker Ave. SW. All money raised supports the Downtown Willmar Local Foods System.