By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — The idea came to Blue Earth County after Commissioners Will Purvis and Vance Stuehrenberg saw a successful community farm in Oregon.
But it took off after three people just happened to have the connections and the motivation to get it done.
They were Jessica Beyer, with Blue Earth County; Joe Domeier, with Three Rivers Resources Conservation and Development; and Melinda Wedzina, with Feeding Our Communities Partnership. Others, including volunteers who gave time and businesses that gave equipment, stepped in for supporting roles.
Without that collaboration, Wedzina said it may have still happened, though probably not at the speed it did — and not in time to be recognized next month by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Policy & Affairs.
The community farm is receiving a Local Government Innovation Award at a mid-January awards ceremony. It won one of the 18 awards out of 111 entries.
The three principals were actually working together, with Wedzina’s anti-hunger group, before the farm idea came to Blue Earth County. The farm was born, in other words, from the unlikely collaboration of a county public affairs specialist, a natural resources nonprofit and an anti-hunger group.
“Great ideas are out there all the time. All it takes is a couple of key people to make things happen,” Wedzina said.
In this case, the county donated the land, the natural resources group brought the farming expertise and the anti-hunger group brought its connections to the ECHO Food Shelf and the Salvation Army.
Domeier noted the help from Lowe’s in erecting a fence, and from local garden centers in donating seeds, plants and fertilizers.
“I think that’s great that we’re getting some recognition outside of the area. Any exposure like that helps open up doors,” Domeier said.
The plan for the farm is to have a similar, 0.68-acre footprint next year and expand to five acres within a few years.