Keeping It Local

Menomonie Market Food Co-op awards grant to local farms for projects

Rebecca Mennecke

Racing Heart Farm
Racing Heart Farm

The Menomonie Market Food Co-op recently awarded $3,000 to local farmers as a part of its Fund Our Foodshed grant. 

The grant offers small farms the opportunity to expand aspects of their businesses in ways they otherwise may not be able to, said Becca Kleist, the co-op’s outreach and education coordinator. 

The Menomonie Market Food Co-op invites local farmers who are involved with the store to apply for a grant, asking applicants to detail their projects and expenses as a part of the application process. A committee at the co-op then chooses projects they see as beneficial to the community, Kleist said.

The grant is funded by the round-up at the register program at the co-op, encouraging a stronger relationship between consumers, distributors, and farmers. “We want it to be a grant program that is beneficial to all parties,” Kleist said. 

At the end of May, the Menomonie Market Food Co-op split the funds between three farms: Winnowburrow Farm and Racing Heart Farm, both in in Colfax, and Rising Sun Farm and Orchard in River Falls.

Bonnie Warndahl and her husband, Josh Warndahl, the owners of Winnowburrow Farm, plan to purchase a dehumidifier for their drying room. In Wisconsin’s humidity, it can be tricky to dry out beans completely in a timely manner, Bonnie Warndahl said. 

They also plan to use the grant funds to build a grain bike to thresh beans more efficiently. This bicycle-powered thresher removes beans from their pods at a rate of 10 pounds per minute. By hand, Warndahl said the process yields about one pound of beans per hour. 

This process is important to their mission of collecting heirloom seeds to preserve different varieties of foods, Warndahl said. 

“Our food varieties are going extinct,” Warndahl said. “The more you dig, the scarier it gets.” 

Maintaining diversity in food crops is also important to Lindsey Baris, the owner and operator of Rising Sun Farm and Orchard, which is the first certified organic “you pick” farm in the area. They grow at least 30 types of vegetables and 10 varieties of apples; raise livestock including lambs, chickens, and pigs; and make their own syrup and honey. 

Every growing season, Baris and her husband, Ryan Browne, who co-owns the farm, thin out the apples in their orchards to prevent crowding and insect infestations. 

Picking up the fallen apples is a long process, Baris said, so they plan to use the grant funds to invest in a mobile pig pen, allowing them to move the pigs around the orchard so they can eat fallen apples and prepare new growing areas.

“I think all the co-ops wish they could do more like this,” Baris said. 

Small farms have a more difficult time completing projects, Baris said. Usually it comes down to either not having the time or not having the money. 

“When we have a project, it takes years to implement it,” Baris said.

Les Macare and Els Dobrick, the owners of Racing Heart Farm, a local, small, no-till vegetable farm, will use the funds from the grant to install a hand-washing station for their prep room. “That’s like, A-1 food safety,” Macare said. 

Macare and Dobrick are also purchasing a CoolBot – a device that creates conditions similar to a professional-grade cooler but at a fraction of the cost. 

“I think it’s great that co-ops are seeing the value in investing in small farms,” Macare said. 

Last year, the Menomonie Market Food Co-op distributed the money to five recipients: Mary Dirty Face Farm, Baruk Yak, Bifrost Farm, Deutsch Family Farm, and EB Ranch. 

Rachel Henderson, the owner of Mary Dirty Face Farm, used the funds to build movable fencing for lambs so they could graze, contributing to the fertility of the soil. 

“It was one of our goals to have something that was effective but also easy to move,” Henderson said. “Last year, they were great. They were really effective.” 

As for the grant program, Kleist said it’s something she hopes the co-op continues as long as it can.  “It’s been kind of cool to see how their project is helping their farm,” Kleist said. 

For more information about the Fund Our Foodshed grant and the recipients, visit the Menomonie Market Food Co-op’s website at www.mmfc.coop.