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Creating genuinely inclusive local food systems results in greater and lasting positive changes for communities and the environment

Inclusive local food systems build community and harmony, while providing healthier diets, cleaner environment and stronger economy.

Photo of Kayla Yang-Best
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Seasoned Specialty Foods, impact accelerator, founder of co-retailing, generates more revenue for growers and processors.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

While this is not a multi-stakeholder entity, we do partner with many organizations. For example: 1. Impact Hub – MSP - a global community, consultancy and creative space, working at the intersection of innovation and society to collaboratively create impact with an entrepreneur mindset. It offers entrepreneurs a unique ecosystem of resources, inspiration, and collaboration opportunities to grow impact. Its mission is to accelerate social impact by: i) curating experiences that activate economic participation; ii) cultivating peer learning and cross industry collaboration; iii) connecting to a global network of changemakers; and iv) building a state-of-the-art collaborative work space for entrepreneurs and innovators. 2. The Market Entry Fund - enables equitable participation of traditionally marginalized and underrepresented entrepreneurs in food growing and manufacturing, by providing needed scholarships and supports that help them enter and compete better in the marketplace.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://seasonedspecialtyfoods.com/about-us

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Saint Paul, Minnesota

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The Twin Cities, Minnesota (known outside as Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota includes a diverse 7-county area).

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Seasoned Specialty Foods is located in St. Paul, MN, but serves the whole region and has potential to grow across the state and beyond. At its core, Seasoned Specialty Foods is an R&D site, working on new models to ensure that local farmers and small scale processors are included in the Twin Cities food system. It is currently testing co-retailing – a new grocery model that gives back 100% of the retail sales proceeds back to the local grower/processor. 

The Twin Cities is the best place in Minnesota - more than any other place -- for what were working on - equity, inclusion in food systems and markets. Also, the local food growing and processing community (collectively referred to in our submission sometimes as “food producers”) is robust. The close proximity of rural (farmlands with large and small operations) and urban markets and consumption needs and patterns make it an interesting, unique and complex ecosystem of inter-dependencies that give us more realistic data and variables to see a more complete picture. It is a very unique place – a progressive and innovative place.

Kayla Yang-Best, our founder, is from St. Paul, and was a food producer before she started co-retailing. She and members of the team are deeply rooted in the food community as well as other communities – including the philanthropic, education and nonprofit communities – which are also very robust – and with whom we can partner and collaborate.

Kayla is a member of the large immigrant community in the Twin Cities, in particular, the Hmong community. Many immigrant groups have made the Twin Cities home for 30-40 years.  She is also part of the local philanthropic leadership – providing strategic direction and resources to address the most pressing issues in the region. Kayla and our team’s families live and work in the region. We rely on and know firsthand the local food system. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The Twin Cities region in Minnesota comprises of 7 diverse counties: Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott and Washington. It is a major metropolitan region built around the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers and is known outside the region as the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area – after its two largest cities, Minneapolis to the west and St. Paul (the capital) to the east of the Mississippi River. Minnesota is located in the Midwest region of the United States and is referred to as the “land of 10,000 lakes” for its many lakes and rivers.

The Twin Cities is home to over 3 million people or over half (nearly 56%) of the population in the state. Roughly 70% of the population is of European (Scandinavian) descent, and 30% people of color and/or of indigenous roots – including African American, Native American, to Asian Americans, African-descent and Hispanic/Latino. (Source: Metropolitan Council Data). Over the past 3-4 decades, the newer immigrant and refugee groups—particularly Hmong, Somali and Mexican populations—have brought distinctive and exciting foods, music, art, handiwork and more  --- including farming techniques and global commodities to the region.

Agriculture and Economy:  At a glance, the Twin Cities is booming with industry – home to almost two dozen Fortune 500 and large private companies like Cargill and Carlson Co. It ranks as the second largest medical device manufacture center in North America and the fourth-biggest U.S. banking center, based on total assets of banks headquartered there, ranking behind New York, San Francisco, and Charlotte, N.C. metropolitan areas.

But uniquely, the state (and the region) is part of the United States of America’s heartland, which means that you’ll see farmlands stretching across the horizons as soon as you depart the two large cities of Minneapolis, and St. Paul and head to cities in the nearby rural counties in the region. Rural and urban in the region can be as close as 10 miles apart – with vastly different lifestyles, industry, economy and more.

It consistently ranks among the top producers in the US with about 1000 agricultural and food companies, providing more than 340,000 jobs for its population and contributing to about $75 billion to the state’s economy annually.  (Source: Farm Flavor).

Food & Culture:  Taking its place among the nation’s great food destinations, Minnesota serves up loads of unexpected discoveries and crave-worthy dishes. Along with hearty, all-American fare and inventive craft beers—and yes, some seriously delicious lefse, or Norwegian potato tortillas—you’ll find dishes representing a spicy melting pot from around the globe, as well as ultra-local Native American cuisine. 

For example - inside a former lumber warehouse, Hmongtown Marketplace, which has been a neighborhood fixture since 2004, has hundreds of vendors and a seasonal outdoor farmer’s market. There, you’ll find pastel-colored boba or bubble teas; khao piak sen chicken soup flavored with lemongrass and tapioca noodles; and hard-to-resist rice-flour doughnuts filled with sweet bean paste and topped with sesame seeds. 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

5000

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

3113338

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

A few years ago, I started a food production company making Asian meal kits and bone broth using local farm ingredients. The changed demographics in MN created a ripe market for new foods. The demand was growing, but I didn’t see these or similar CPG food products from local producers of color in the supermarkets—at a time when the local food movement was growing significantly. I knew local food production would be complex and challenging, but nothing prepared me.

The local food movement in MN isn’t new, but picked up momentum only in recent years. For all the enthusiasm, it is challenged by uncertainties and questions around environmental sustainability, health, equity and more. It seems, success varies based on geographic, population and economic reasons. Food producers are heavily regulated and must choose from a lose-lose market proposition: sell direct retail (B2C model) – get higher margins; but face significant retail logistics hurdles; or sell to the traditional grocery system (B2B at wholesale prices) and get dramatically lower margins.

For food producers of color and of indigenous roots, the challenges have additional complexities - such as access to finances, technology and data, to make informed and competitive decisions. Equity work is direly needed. For example, in the Twin Cities farmers markets, 50% of vendors are Hmong, but few CPG products in stores are from them. The segregation of foods in stores into “ethnic” classifications is limiting, confined to one aisle and poorly stocked. It is a huge equity issue and a big missed opportunity for the local industry and consumers.

If we keep going at this rate (no changes) the small players and critical sub-systems – at the local level -- will be regulated out, become financially devastated through the process, shut down, or worse, sell out to the top food companies out of need – and the power and ownership in our food systems will fall into further and tighter consolidation under even fewer and fewer corporations. By 2050, it may not be too far from science fiction to believe that with artificial intelligence (AI) and global environmental degradation, the future may look like this, if we did nothing: humans and animals take food pills made of synthetic nutrients to satisfy biology only. Food and eating (and the economy, the culture, art and community that derived from it), as we know it today, may cease to exist altogether in a nightmarish future. People are alone and isolated.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

My vision is to create equity in the food systems, starting with creating an inclusive local food system.  We need to equalize and balance the power dynamics and spread the decision-making to all players at the beginning of the value chain – the local growers (farmers) and small processors.  For example, when we distribute power and control over pricing, we will put more revenue (resources) in the hands of those players, and we can dramatically impact many of the larger issues in the system.

When growers-farmers get fair and competitive pricing – they are likely to have the revenue they need to live on and then some to reinvest in their practices. Practices that can be more friendly to the environment – practices that will be more sustainable over time because they are directly connected to the land and the people.  Native American people for example, abundantly and sustainably lived off the land and for the land for thousands of years. It is part of their being and way of life – until they were stripped of land, culture, rights and more. Right here in the Twin Cities, many are going back to finding those roots and rebuilding. Let’s help them be successful and let’s learn from them. Distribute power and decision to the those who know what they’re doing. Its been with them for thousands of years.

Similarly, the Hmong people and Latinos in the Twin Cities, have farmed and processed foods naturally most of their lives back in the old country, and brought that knowledge here. But the system, whether that be through policies (such as food regulations, zoning, lending, property rights and everything you can name) or the capitalist mindset (of commercialization, materialism, and individualism over community, sharing and cosmic connection and health), we have boxed them into using only the practices that continue to pull people and land apart. Distribute power and decision to the those who know what they’re doing. Its been with them for thousands of years. 

Equipped with the desire (a vision) to see the Twin Cities food system transform into one that authentically includes and engages all of its diverse people, cultures and their connections to food and land, I set out to learn and build a broader network.   In 2017, I tested a new grocery model called co-retailing, which gives 100% of the retail sales proceeds of the food products back to the processor and grower.  It is showing results after two years, but it is the just the beginning of the journey to realizing an equitable food system in the Twin Cities.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

In 2050, the rural/urban; race/income divides in the Twin Cities are gone. There is real community across the region. We see harmony between nature and people, and still technological growth and innovation in civilization continues to evolve.

Farms in the Twin Cities are booming with farmers and practices from different backgrounds and cultures. They’re learning from each other and they are in tune with the environment. They have simple, affordable and available technology – e.g. solar-powered AI-equipment (similar to userability and cost of an iphone today) to inform them of the impact they are having on soil, climate, people, and more. The AI offers alternatives to their practice/behavior, if some action is not having the maximum positive impact. 

Farmers and local processors of all backgrounds are working together seamlessly, with equal power with governments and retail stores (which won’t look like today – but smaller and everywhere in all neighborhoods, stocked equally with healthy, fresh and local foods that all can afford. People eat differently and feel differently. Their health; the health of others and the environment, are top priorities. The profession of “local food production” both growing and small-scale processing are economically and environmentally sound, and because of that, we have cleaner air, and cleaner water. Fishery in the 10,000 is booming. The parks, lakes/rivers are flourishing and all people have access to nature.

Growing and eating fresh and healthy occurs everywhere – in urban homes as well as rural; in racially diverse and low-income families. The growers, processors and consumers are from the community – and that means all people. One can walk into the “grocery store/market” of the future and find nourishment that appeal to one’s culture and tastes made from farmers and processors who resemble one’s own cultural identity or of the population. 

The above vision seems simple. Life/nature should be that simple and in harmony.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Our main food system today is part of an industrialized system. A system that prioritizes fast, highly processed foods that need minimal preparation and are manufactured from the cheapest possible ingredients produced in massive quantities on far-away feedlots and highly mechanized, chemically-intensive farms. This system delivers a lot of calories that cost relatively little at the checkout line but with hidden a price tag in health care and environmental damage that comes due eventually. And eventually is here.

Obesity, diabetes among other health issues, especially among the poor in the United States (the Twin Cities is no exception), has been on the rise for decades. Environmental chaos is on the rise. We see and feel it in climate change, natural disasters – fires, floods, etc, in polluted waters and erosion. What did we expect when food must travel across a continent to get to us, spewing pollution and waste energy along the way? According to federal research, 17% of U.S. energy use goes to the food system – for shipping. Long-distance food also fosters massive agricultural operations dependent on dousing cropland with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.  (Source:  Mcknight Foundation report, 2012).

This is not about keeping food where it is grown/made or that we don’t need big ag or big food systems. We do. With them, we are more likely to help feed parts of the country or parts the world where hunger persists. With them, we can address issues like access. What we don’t need (at the cost of community, health, the environment and more), is a few big ag. in a mega system (high up in the clouds) where they control more than 90% of everything – including the economic benefits of it. That must change.

A regenerative and nourishing food future must include local food systems. At a more localized and inclusive level, we are more likely to distribute the economic benefits of food and ag more equally. We can realistically address the interrelated challenges in our food and ag system (because we’re directly connected to it). Advocating for inclusion of local foods and systems is an old notion – already been done or is being done – quite successfully in some cases, you might say. So why do the challenges in our food system persist? It’s more complex, but the shorter, more simple answer, I believe is that local food systems (local movements) are fairly young, and for all their innovation and community-centered approaches, they have not been inclusive. That is the case in many local movements across the U.S., and it is true here in the twin Cities.

My vision takes the local food movement farther and deeper to include segments of the population that many local communities, including the Twin Cities, left behind when the local food systems took off in the last 20-30 years. In the Twin Cities, when it skyrocketed in early 2010, large segments of the population – namely poor people, people of color, Native people, and 1st and 2nd generation immigrants, and mostly women, were left out.  Today, at least two decades later, they are coming to this highly disadvantaged, unable to participate and enjoy the benefits of the local food system.

Why local food systems and why “inclusive” food systems? When local food systems are inclusive of all people and practices where they exist, the benefits of local food systems (described below) can have broad sweeping impact and be lasting. If they are not inclusive, I envision that local food systems, no matter what their benefits are, will just be another system, and similarly, benefit some people and things, while negatively impacting others. A truly inclusive local food system brings:

Better Taste:  when you live in the Twin Cities –the middle of the United States – anything that is not local has traveled on average 1,500 miles to get to you. That is a lot of hours. Naturally, locally grown foods are going to taste fresher.

Safety:  of those 1,500 average miles that your food took to get to your table, how many hands and surfaces has it passed through? Contamination risks are high.

Variety:  there’s no place for delicious heirloom and heritage foods in the industrialized food supply, which prizes mass-scale standardization over diversity and regional delights.

Healthier Diet:  it is said that the nutritional value of food evaporates due to lengthy shipping and the over-processing done to prevent spoilage. Beth Dooley, Minneapolis author of the cookbook The Northern Heartland Kitchen, notes that a bag of spinach loses at least half of its key nutrients on the trip from California to the Twin Cities. The long-distance, high-calorie, high-preservative food that dominates grocery shelves is linked to obesity and a host of health problems – suffered more by low-income families and children. The annual health care cost for diabetes alone is more than $147 billion – 20% of America’s total food budget!

Cleaner Environment:  Pollution and other waste energy from shipping accounts for nearly 17% of the U.S. energy use.  Pesticides and synthetic fertilizers from massive agricultural operations also contribute to environmental degradation.

Stronger Economy:  buying local keeps wealth flowing through our community, rather than being siphoned off to mega-farms or corporate headquarters elsewhere. Even in a major farm state like Minnesota that is home to some of the world’s largest agribusiness companies, 90% of our food comes from somewhere else, which adds up to S11 billion dollars lost according to the Minneapolis Health Department.

Enable local capacity:  local food supports small farms which opens up opportunities for more people to make a living on the land. Small-scale agriculture in outer parts of the Twin Cities and around its edges shows promise for creating green jobs and checking the growth of urban sprawl.

Sense of community is also present when farmer’s markets and other local food opportunities bring us together with our neighbors, our farmers and local processors. It’s natural to want to know the people who grow and make our food for us. This can boost rural Minnesota’s economy and help bridge the state’s urban-rural divide, as well as racially/economically divided neighborhoods.

 The local food movements across the U.S., including the Twin Cities region, continue to grow. They are already robust. We must continue the momentum, but we must acknowledge the gaps and make sure we address them, so that we can realize the full benefits a localized food system – not just for ourselves, but for all people and the land that we all live and depend on. We must create unbiased private and public policies and regulations and equitable economic opportunities.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email
  • Conference/event

6 comments

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Photo of Village Development  Center (VDC)
Team

Hi, I want to create a network with you.
Email;- vdcrangpur@gmail.com

Photo of Kayla Yang-Best
Team

Hi! of course. my email is kayla@seasonedspecialtyfoods.com.
What do you think of our submission to the Food Prize.
I am reviewing VDC's work. Great work.

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