Friends of the Finland Community

Report date
February 2023

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

A key factor informing the early work of this project involved increasing capacity for farmers and foragers to produce foods. In the past year we focused on driving consumer demand for these foods. We utilized a captive audience attending our Finland Farmer’s Market to host cooking demonstrations, featuring peak seasonal produce and free samples. This strategy helped us connect our work directly with members of the community in a tangible way. We witnessed folks engage in the food demo(s), grab a copy of the recipe, and then go straight to the vendor with the produce/ingredient featured in the demo. Feedback from vendors affirmed that our efforts to educate drove sales of seasonal produce. Feedback from community members affirm that the food demos inspired them to use more local foods in their diet. After each demo, people expressed their surprise at the flavors, asked questions about substitutions or suggestions for tweaking the recipe, and shared their own recipes using the ingredients featured. This engagement strengthened our living food system and helped grow the Finland Farmer’s Market into an event where people gathered to shop, eat, visit, and connect.
Another aspect has been our Farmers Market, which not only allows us to regularly contribute to the physical and mental health of our community, but also allows us to stay in touch with what is further needed. Providing a means for community members to buy locally produced and organically grown food here in our community serves as a lifeline in a region that would otherwise be considered a food desert. Food demos and live music at our events, along with general socializing, help to provide a much needed sense of community and belonging to a region that is otherwise quite isolated. Having our weekly markets in summer, and monthly markets in winter allows us to regularly talk with community members about how our organization can better help the wellbeing of our community. In these ways, the farmers market is critical for our organization to be continuously working towards community innovation. Through the coordination of our team members working in a horizontal management system we can be simultaneously working in all stages of the community innovation process to achieve our goals of understanding, evaluating, adapting, and providing services needed by our community.
I've been attending the Finland Farmers Market (as a shopper) since it started, and joined the Finland Food Chain in June of 2022 as the Digital Communications Coordinator. Last summer it became very apparent that the market was growing; reaching more and more people in the area! We had record attendance in 2022. Over 1,600 people attended and enjoyed music and food here at the Clair Nelson Center over the summer! Many folks took advantage of the Power of Locals program and the SNAP/EBT programs. In 2022, over $1,625.00 was spent in EBT at the market, and with some of that being tripled with produce and market bucks, that means over $2,200 extra was given out to SNAP customers to spend with local farmers! A record number of people also took advantage of the Age to Age sponsored Power of Locals program, which gives kids ages 3-15 and seniors 65+ $4.00 in market money every week. This summer, 67 individuals both young and old participated in the program! The Market was able to distribute over $1,000 to these community members to spend on whatever they choose. With the substantial growth of the summer market, we're now doing monthly winter markets!

Key lessons learned

In 2022, our project team embarked on creating a cooperatively-owned, local foods restaurant. The idea behind this project was to demonstrate demand for local food, thus justifying the expansion of farming in our area, as well as to generate local wealth through cooperative ownership. As we forged ahead with the project, designing a business plan, finding a location, and funding, we barreled towards a goal that the work group at the time ultimately was not ready for. By April of 2022, after six months of work on the project, the group decided to hire a project coordinator rather than continue to work on the project together. This coordinator did an incredible job planning a ‘pop-up’ local foods restaurant; however, after that first pop-up it was difficult to gain momentum. After discussing the project, we realized several things that were inhibiting the project. First, there simply weren't the worker-owners in Finland that had the dedication to see the project through. Second, we did not clarify our roles and capacities from the beginning so many of us were left very burnt-out. Lastly, we lacked critical outreach and community process at the beginning of the project.
2021 was a year of transition for the overall project with staff turnover in most coordinator positions and the growth of our core team to address the identified needs of the community in our work. 2022 brought more stability to our team identity, a big part of which came from trust in each other and our horizontal structure of leadership. This translated to equality in pay across all coordinator positions and transparency in budget funds and allocations, thanks in large part to the organizational skills and communication from Lucy Carlson, the finance lead of Friends of Finland. With this guidance, we were able to efficiently spend down the remaining Bush Grant funds and prioritize projects for future funding through grants. With this foundation, we feel confident that this food systems work can continue into the future in a sustainable manner. We have improved the financial literacy of all our coordinators and have a team capable of being great stewards of grant funds. For now, our work is a program of Friends of Finland, which keeps the project team free to work on actual pieces of the food system, while being supported by the larger overall organization.

Reflections on the community innovation process

Building capacity is the thread that runs through all of our work during the last four years. When we were awarded this grant, Friends of Finland as an organization had a lot of ideas and energy but did not have the structure and capacity to hold them all. We now have a well-defined structure, that includes a Finance Lead who is able to build financial literacy throughout the entire organization, as well as the amazing project team we named the Finland Food Chain who are able to support each other and hold each other accountable in order to execute the tasks needed to bring community-identified food system work to fruition. This has led to greater functionality in the entire organization, streamlining the way all of our programs work and allowing much more to be possible than before. There are internal organizational systems that allow us to employ more people, manage more funding, and branch out in new directions. Not only that but we are continuing to build the capacity of our employees as well as supporting leadership development in our broader community.

Progress toward an innovation

We have made substantial progress in achieving community innovation and providing and supporting resources in this rural community. Crunching the numbers throughout the years of our local farmers market proves this. Attendance has been steadily climbing every year, the amount of money spent with our local producers has been steadily increasing, our partnership with the Age to Age program has increasingly been able to give more money to our children and elders to spend with farmers, and there have been weekly education demos in which recipes are shared using local foods. With this increased inclusivity and community engagement comes the potential for collaboration, which has been apparent at every farmers market (or other program event) where new connections are made or people are inspired to sign up or get involved in something new. The success of the Wild Rice Project is a good example of this, as the number of participants in the wild rice mentorship programs soared from last year (20 harvesting mentees and 5 processing apprentices, up from 4 total last year), and the use of the community processing facility quadrupled (13,000 lbs of wild rice processed this year, up from 2000!)

What it will take to reach an innovation?

For the parts of our projects that haven’t come to fruition yet, such as the cooperative restaurant idea, there are multiple things that need to happen in order for that to work. We know that successful projects need a champion to work on them (usually paid), they take time to research and figure out the nuts and bolts, the timing has to work for funding and other factors, it is very important to take the time to increase collective understanding, but maybe most importantly, real relationship building needs to take place during this time of increasing collective understanding. That’s how community support is built, which at least in our community, is what helps projects like those we have been working on to succeed once they are built or set up.

What's next?

We have secured grant funds to continue the bulk of our food systems work through 2023 and identified additional grant opportunities to target specific projects within the food system. We plan to conduct a follow-up survey to gauge some of the impact our work has had on shopping habits, awareness of accessibility, and relationship with local foods in our community. We are testing and implementing solutions to turn food and farm waste into a resource with a recycling and composting facility that is self-sustaining and will help to close the loop of our food system. We have a strong model for a Farmer Apprenticeship program that will recruit emerging farmers and partner with land access efforts to grow the number of farms in our region to meet the increasing demand for local foods. We will continue our work with Wild Rice/Manoomin in providing accessible processing, partnering with indigenous tribes and organizations, and passing on generational knowledge of an integral food to the history of our region. We will continue to host traditional cultural events around foods and tell the story of our work to bring our community together. No

If you could do it all over again...

We entered this process with dreams and excitement about the potential of finding ways of improving our community resilience through the development of the local food system. One of the insights the Bush Foundation had when you engaged with our community, is that you provided an additional $10,000 on top of the $200,000 to do just that, build our capacity. We did end up using those funds to get outside advice and help with community processes, but it was not used right away. We had some good community outreach and collective brainstorming sessions, but they were brought forth with internal tension and conflict. The project would have had better momentum, if we had done the “work” with outside expertise, as early in the grant cycle as possible. Although we lost some folks and some energy in that first year, the broadening and development of many members of this project and our community has been exceptional and continuous. This growth, developed through this project, will benefit our community in many ways in the years to come.
Our advice to ourselves and anyone else taking this on, would be to prioritize community process and relationship building first.

One last thought

While discussing the achievements thus far, several folks expressed how the work of this project has impacted their lives and the lives of their families. One of the project coordinating team expressed that they had always considered the ability to access healthy local foods as something that was reserved for the privileged and wealthy. With supporting the growth of more producers in the area and the expansion of the Finland Farmers Market, as well as the community Wild Rice Processing Center, it has made accessing healthy food not only affordable but even more realistic and easy to access than driving to major grocery stores to shop. Several folks disclosed that in the summer they don't even have to leave to buy their food and are able to source all of their food right here in town, while supporting local producers. This not only supports our community's health, it also has a significant impact on our carbon footprint. With more people buying their food locally the more we keep that money in our local economy and are able to support one another in a sustainable way. This is our goal: to be a healthy sustainable community. Through this work, we are making that vision a reality.