Productive Partnerships

food hub organizer Arlene Jones with fresh produce bound for Forestview Middle School

A one-ton refrigeration truck will soon be motoring along the rural roads of central Minnesota, delivering fresh produce and serving as a reminder of the importance of sustainable agriculture, local foods, biofuels and the University’s commitment to rural and small town communities.

The truck, a 1997 Ford F350 with a refrigerated box, is a collaboration between the University of Minnesota Extension’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP), Central Lakes College’s Agricultural and Energy Center and SPROUT MN, a Brainerd-based food hub owned and operated by local farmers.

The truck runs on biodiesel made from locally grown canola oil—the same kind of canola oil used for cooking—extracted from locally produced seeds at the Agricultural and Energy Center’s plants. It’ll be used to collect raw produce from farmers around the Staples, Wadena and Brainerd areas and deliver it to locations for processing. Afterward, the SPROUT MN truck will deliver the processed food to institutions for consumption.

The complicated but efficient operation is a great example of how RSDP builds community partnerships like the SPROUT MN truck that strengthen and support Minnesota's small towns by addressing needs in agriculture, natural resources, tourism and energy.

At present, there are about 75 local growers in the Staples, Wadena and Brainerd areas who raise everything from tomatoes, lettuce and kale to squash, green beans and carrots. The SPROUT MN truck will visit local farms and pick up fresh produce, dropping it off at either Brainerd Senior High School or Central Lakes College's Staples campus. Last year, the Brainerd High School used 18,000 pounds of local foods in its school lunch program. And Central Lakes College has a commercial kitchen that’s used by growers to process and package their produce, such as dicing carrots, cooking sauces, or chopping and mixing cole slaw. 

With an increasing number of growers using green houses to grow produce during the winter months, SPROUT MN’s founder, Brainerd-area farmer Arlene Jones expects the refrigeration truck to be busy year round as the local foods movement continues to gain momentum in central Minnesota.

Through the Office for Public Engagement, the University promotes collaborations like the partnership between RSDP and Sprout MN that address critical societal issues while optimizing educational experiences for students participating in community-focused learning. Learn more about the University's public engagement agenda.

Learn more about RSDP projects at: www.rsdp.umn.edu.

Learn more about the University's public engagement agenda.