Background music courtesy of Robin Shields-Cutler.
Hi, I'm Erin McKee. I'm the Community Food Systems Program director at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).
What is the MinneAg Network?
So, the MinneAg Network is a project of IATP. It's co-led with partners from the Land Stewardship Project, MN 350 and the Minnesota Farmers Union. And our goal, our mission for MinneAg is to bring organizations from around the state together to champion nonpartisan policy solutions that protect communities, farmers and the climate.
We want to foster an inclusive, resilient and community-accountable farm and food system for the state.
Why did IATP and partners create the MinneAg Network?
So the existing state policy and decision-making spaces for food and farm systems in Minnesota had a lot of structural barriers to engagement for many communities, and we could see that this was resulting in a systemic lack of equity and empowerment and inclusion in decisions that were going to be affecting those community members. We also know that to do the policy advocacy to try to fix those inequities takes a lot of time and effort and to try to understand those policy processes and roles is difficult when you have a lot of other things on your plate.
And I know as a program person, I was working on issues like Farm to School implementation on the ground, and it can be very difficult to translate that when you're new to the policy world to understand all of the jargon and the lingo, to know where are the opportunities, where you can make your voice heard, and to know when those opportunities are going to come up.
And we see that we have a ton of really amazing organizations in Minnesota working on farm and food systems issues, but a lot of them only have the capacity to work on their own issues. They didn't necessarily have the capacity to convene with others to be able to work together. We also could see that in the budget making process, a lot of us who have aligned values in what we ultimately want for the big picture farm and food system to be would end up being sort of pitted against each other and competing for smaller pieces of the funding rather than being able to coordinate and strategize to work together toward what we want as a big picture solution for a Minnesota farming food systems.
What is the history and mission of the MinneAg Network?
In 2021, we came together with partners to form the MinneAg Network with our mission being to create a space for our Minnesota farm and food systems. Organizations can come together to strategize, coordinate, share information and increase civic engagement with our partners. And we really know that collective action works. We can get more done together and we are excited to build on the foundation that we already have.
We're very excited that in 2023, IATP secured a USDA Regional Food System Partnerships grant to support MinneAg to grow in the future.
What has the MinneAg Network accomplished so far?
We've already seen the impact that the MinneAg Network has had on the ability for partners to engage. And actually, last year, during the legislative session, I had members of the Minnesota House Committee tell me that they had never seen so many letters of support and so many testifiers coming in.
So, we can already see that if you get the information about how to engage to partners, then they want to be there, they want to be part of those decisions. We had a lot of tangible, big wins in the 2023 legislative session in Minnesota. We saw the creation of a climate coordinator position, as well as a farm to institution coordinator position.
And we also are going to see expanded funding for Market Bucks, which matches dollars for using at farmer's markets and expanded funding for soil health programs as well. And those are just a few of the things that we were able to do with limited, limited resources and just getting off the ground as a network.
What are MinneAg's priorities for the 2024 Minnesota legislative session?
Based on many members’ feedback, we've identified four pillar priority areas that we work on and kind of watch the issues for. So, we look at infrastructure for small to mid-sized farms, and that includes processing and market development; land access and farm viability for emerging farmers; and nutrition and food access, linking those to local Minnesota producers; as well as leveraging Minnesota agriculture for positive climate and ecosystem impact.
And then within each of those four priorities, there are a lot of different strategies and specific legislative fashion that we'll be watching and tracking. So, for example, under nutrition and food access, we'll be looking at a Farm to School bill that is asking for increased funding for the Farm to School and Early Care grant, as well as expanded access so that in-home early cares can also participate in those programs.
And then in addition to working on specific legislation, we also are really excited to be developing a set of Minnesota farm and food policy 101 resources that will help people know how they can get involved and get engaged in the decision-making spaces that impact them.
How does the network work to accomplish those goals?
MinneAg Network uses three core strategies to empower members to engage in decision making spaces.
So first, we try to boost the capacity of those members and orient them to how the decisions are made. And we do that through biweekly meetings where we give updates. We do webinars. We invite elected officials to come and talk about decision making processes and generally just familiarize our partners with where decisions are made and what the processes are and how they might engage.
Secondly, we work on developing our network, so we invite more partners to engage. We make sure that we're identifying where gaps are in the network and who else might want to join and be part of our movement. And then thirdly, we do specific policy engagement. So, we will actually look for information on specific legislation and create issue briefs or translate resources into our other languages, and also develop sample customizable templates that our partners can use, that they can share their policy priorities as well.
How can Minnesota food and farm groups get involved?
2024 is going to be a big year of growth for the media network, and we would love for more farm and food systems organizations to get involved. If you want to join us, you can go to our website, which is www.minneag.org and click on the “Join” button and get added to our listserv, where then you'll be in the loop on all of our action alerts, our biweekly legislative session meetings that we host and other events, as well as action alerts.
So that is the space to be if you want to join us. And I hope you do.