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Sustainable Farmers Tap Grocery-Chain Market
Wisconsin CSAs become 'first source' for nine vegetables.

4/24/97: WHITE BEAR LAKE, Minn. -- The development of a locally based, sustainable food system received a shot in the arm recently when a group of local farms working with the Land Stewardship Project (LSP) reached a marketing agreement with a major regional grocer.

Under the agreement, Erickson's Diversified Corporation of Hudson, Wis., will buy select vegetables from the Hay River Produce Cooperative during the upcoming growing season. Hay River is a new cooperative that consists of six farms in western Wisconsin.

Erickson's officials approached LSP about setting up a marketing agreement with local farmers after the grocer stopped carrying pork produced by Premium Standard Farms last fall. Erickson's dropped Premium from its 18 stores in Minnesota and western Wisconsin after family farmers and consumers representing LSP and the Missouri Rural Crisis Center talked to store officials about the mega-hog operation's extremely bad environmental and community record in Missouri.

The Erickson's corporation's mission statement states: "We will work to improve the environment and enhance our community that all may prosper." As a result, when they dropped the Premium Standard line, store officials reiterated their desire for quality food products raised locally by sustainable family farmers.

LSP has conducted a series of meetings with store officials to determine how to create mutually beneficial marketing agreements that link Erickson's customers with local producers. Various farmers have taken part in these meetings, including Wisconsin vegetable producers, hog farmers who are members of the Prairie Farmers Co-op in western Minnesota and members of the Southeast Minnesota Alternative Markets Group (a joint effort of LSP and the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota).

The Hay River agreement is the first formal marketing arrangement to come out of these meetings. Under the plan, the six farms will serve as the "first source" for nine vegetable products the grocer sells. That means, for example, that if the farms can provide the quantity of tomatoes the participating stores need during a certain week, then they will receive priority over the big California and Florida producers, said Erik Sessions, an LSP policy intern who worked closely with the farmers in developing the marketing agreement.

This arrangement will help Erickson's meet the increasing demand for locally produced food raised with a minimum of chemicals, said Karl Mathys, Director of Fresh Development for Erickson's. "We're starting to get more requests for local, sustainably produced food, so the awareness is growing," he said, adding that in-store promotions of the produce will emphasize the "sustainably produced angle."

Mathys says Erickson's stores have bought produce from local farmers in the past, but never in an organized manner. This year, the marketing agreement will be limited to four "More 4" stores in the Wisconsin towns of Hudson, Barron, New Richmond and River Falls.

All six of the participating farms are Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations. The CSA system is an arrangement where consumers buy shares in a farm before the growing season, and in return receive a weekly shipment of produce. During the past decade, at least 25 CSA farms have sprung up in the Twin Cities region.

CSA farms often have the capacity to produce more food than their members demand. "It's an extension of the CSA concept," said Prairie Farm, Wis., CSA farmer Mike Racette, who will raise lettuce and summer squash for Hay River. "It really is a win-win situation. The community has been supporting Erickson's, and now they can turn around and support the community."

-- News release from Brian DeVore, Land Stewardship Project
Email: Brian.A.Devore-1@tc.umn.edu

For more information:
Erik Sessions, LSP (612) 647-5024
Karl Mathys, Erickson's (715) 381-2352
Mike Racette, Spring Hill CSA (715) 455-1319

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