The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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November 17, 2011

Vegetable farms seen as economic opportunity

ST PETER — The produce grown on Living Land Farm, just a couple of miles outside St. Peter on the Ottawa Road, takes a short trip to store shelves and tables.

“I could bike it into town if I had to,” said Adam Ellefson. “We’re about as local as you can get.”

For the past two years, Ellefson and his wife, Lupita Marchan, have raised a variety of vegetables on five acres, selling it to the St. Peter Food Co-op, River Rock Coffee, Gustavus Adolphus College and individuals who pay an annual fee.

“There’s a great demand for local produce. We can’t grow enough for our local market,” Ellefson said.

Lee Egerstrom, of the think tank MN2020, was on Ellefson’s farm Thursday to promote the economic opportunities of small farms and to encourage holiday shoppers to buy more locally produced goods.

“Use discretionary income and purchases this time of year to stimulate the Minnesota economy,” Egerstrom said.

Noting that average farms are worth more than $2 million each, he said small-scale farming is a sector poised for growth as more people are interested in buying locally produced foods.

“There’s still opportunity and it doesn’t take a $2.2 million investment to get started.”

A study by MN2020 found that the state’s farmers markets contribute up to $64 million in economic benefits and that community supported agriculture accounts for an estimated $10.5 million in direct sales to more than 41,000 customers.

Egerstrom said buying locally grown pumpkins, Christmas trees, wreaths and specialty goods keeps more than 90 cents of every dollar spent in the local economy.

Immigrants and refugees led the way in expanding the locally grown and sold farm sector. Community supported agriculture has grown from just two farms in the state in the 1980s to about 400 now.

CSAs generally charge people a set fee per season (some lowering the fee if people volunteer to work a certain number of hours in the field) with the farm providing fresh produce to the customers during the summer and fall.

Ellefson supplies produce to 55 families, mostly in St. Peter and Mankato, with more sold wholesale.

“People want to see a change in the way food is sold, the way food is grown,” Ellefson said.

The MN2020 report can be found at MN2020.org.

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