Sprout is more than a multi-use food facility comprised of a food hub, licensed kitchen, and marketplace. It is also a place for creating memories, inspiring creativity, and creating connection between local growers, artists, and the community. Located in Little Falls, Sprout is the largest food hub in their region, with a main goal of “keeping growers growing and supporting the family farm.” (Note: A food hub is a central place where local food can be gathered, stored, processed into other foods, sent to other places, and/or marketed.)
They commit to their goals by creating avenues for underrepresented growers, such as Amish and Latino farmers, to easily market their product, receive proper food licensing certifications, and celebrate their culture with the public. Along with Sprout’s monthly markets, the hub provides cooking classes that feature local and professional chefs, workshops to help growers and artists gain and refine knowledge and skills, a rentable certified kitchen, and storage for community members who are making foods in the certified kitchen.
The Growers and Makers Marketplace, periodically hosted throughout the year, features local food, art, demonstrations, and entertainment. At the market, local farmers, artists, fiber producers, blacksmiths, and entertainers gather together to celebrate and sell their local products. A unique feature of the marketplace is the storytelling barn. People of all ages and backgrounds are invited to step into the rustic, miniature barn to videotape their answer to a food-related question of the day in their native language. The stories captured in this barn showcase unique stories of community members and the cultural diversity in Minnesota more broadly.
At the Growers & Makers Marketplace, food demonstrations in the kitchen provide hands-on learning experiences for the public. With a unique format that partners community cooks with culinary experts, these demonstrations celebrate cultural heritage and culinary art. In the past, their kitchens have been full of participants learning about traditional Mexican cuisine, brewing Somali tea, hand making sambusas, and exploring tamarind chili sauce. These experiences give the community an opportunity to diversify their culinary skills and give both local and professional chefs the chance to feature their culture’s cuisine.
Shared-use kitchens are another outstanding service offered by Sprout to food entrepreneurs in the nearby area. The certified kitchen space is a boon for entrepreneurs since they offer the capacity to scale up beyond cottage food production. Grants from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and other funders allowed Sprout to support entrepreneurs making value-added foods through facility upgrades and other equipment purchases. The kitchen, coolers, freezers, and supply storage areas can be rented by local growers and makers. Sprout staff are also a helpful resource to navigate licensing options and regulations with renters to prepare them for meeting with their retail or wholesale inspectors.
Sprout is continuously refining and aspiring to provide more features that help the community. Their farm to table meal - the Harvest Dinner - features a farmer at every table telling their farm story to guests. “Local foods focus on culture and heritage,” said Sprout’s Facility Utilization Director Natalie Keane. “Sitting and sharing a meal with a farmer helps to build a relationship.” When asked why one should support local food systems, Sprout Executive Director Arlene Jones told us that “it is our neighborhood where our children are raised. We need to keep our money local, our agricultural land in production, and compensate growers for their commodities so they can earn a decent living.” Support of Sprout's initiatives comes from a grant awarded to Region Five Development Commission by ArtPlace America’s National Creative Placemaking Fund. For more information about Sprout and their commitment to accessible, healthy foods, check out this YouTube documentary video.