You want to be an Ag city? Great. Start here:

A diversified economy is somewhat of a modern phenomenon. As technology and transportation progressed, location wasn’t as large a factor when it came to production of goods. Hallstatt, Austria was pretty much solely built for the salt mines and plenty of cities in Appalachia are still employed by coal.With these industries other merchants make their way to town. Restaurants, brothels, hotels, bars, you name it. They all show up.

I think there’s something romantic about this notion. Everybody works towards this one industry that sustains the city. Fragile? Yeah, kind of, but romantic nonetheless. I don’t think agriculture is as flimsy as salt mining, though.

Greater Mankato Growth recently announced that they want Mankato to be an Agriculture focused city. Developing a hub for agricultural innovation and business. I actually think it’s a pretty good idea and looking at their Agribusiness page, I have to admit I’m impressed.

Hey, after all, the Jolly Green Giant looks down on our river valley.

Ok, before I go further, this might not be on urbanism so much as my other posts…

The question that now lies before us is “how?” How do we become this hub? Well, I have some ideas.

ORGANIC, LOCAL FOOD

This is a gold mine, people. For years we’ve been shoveling god-knows-what into our gullet and now we’re finally asking for something with a little less essence of Roundup to it. Oh, and maybe that it was grown not in China.

Maybe you knew, maybe you didn’t, but Minnesota sits on some of the best soil in the world. West of here a bit you can find black gold, Chernozem, but there are deposits in the Minnesota River valley as well. Check the map: cMDrytB The soil in these parts is perfect for growing crops and there’s a hankering for organic, locally loved and sourced food. In my big idea brain, I see an “Organic Valley” (yeah, trademark, I know) stretching from Le Sueur to New Ulm, dotted with small farms growing all kinds of produce. Not to mention, now is a pretty good time to keep things local.

Here’s the bonus, it’s a great opportunity to bring young families and farmers, who care about the environment and the food we eat, into the area (more on that below.)

We don’t need more corporate farms, we need the little guys. It’s happening elsewhere and they’re winning.

Ok, I’m going to make a plug for Valley Veggies right now, they’re doing exactly what I’m talking about. If we support these kinds of farms, it’s only a matter of time until all the innovation and technology we seek follows right along. Maybe we’ll get our own Co-op.

YOUNG PEOPLE

Ok, I don’t want to get into the whole “young people jobs” thing, but I can tell you this: from what I’ve seen and the people I’ve met, we (millennials) are willing to work and we want to take pride in making something meaningful.

Enter young people stage left..or right, whichever, I don’t really care where they come from just get them in here!

Young people are in need of jobs and last I checked, the whole world needed food. There’s even been some talk about forgiving young farmer’s student loans, which to me, makes a lot of sense.

Really, just take a minute to Google news about young farmers and you’ll see a whole slew of ideas. The point is, we need more of them. We could help them obtain land from older farmers or start new farms growing whatever the heck they want.

Take a ride on the Red Jacket Trail sometime, there’s tons of land just waiting to be farmed by some tattooed hipster who rides a fixed-gear plow.

Young people spur enterprise and innovation, ya know, the kind of stuff we’re looking for in an Ag hub. That’s why I think it should be GMG’s or whoevers prerogative to attract young, bright, talent to the area to actually farm.

If you do that, technology will automatically follow because that’s the demographic who knows how to use it. This would all lend to an awesome community which will kick-start the migration of more young people.

FOR THE LOVE OF GARLIC INVEST IN THE FARMER’S MARKET

Ok, there are a few things in Mankato that really, really get at me. One is the destruction of Front Street, one is the river wall, but the Mankato Farmer’s market holds a special place in my heart.

Up until last year, the Mankato’s farmer market was held at the Madison East Mall in a section of it’s unused parking lot (which is like all of it.) It wasn’t the worst spot, but certainly not the best. Now, much to the dismay of everyone I talk to, it’s in the Best Buy parking lot. Arguably one of the most unimaginative, boring spots possible in Mankato.

I mean no offense to the Farmer’s market group by saying that, but there’s no way I’m the only one who’s asked you to bring it downtown. I’ve already written about where I think it should go and if we’re so gung-ho about taxing ourselves, why not use some of that sweet bonding money to build something like Detroit’s East Market?

thanks PPS source

thanks PPS source

Look at that. Can you imagine what it would be like to have a farmer’s market near downtown and more importantly, near the Children’s Museum? It would be incredible.

Downtown Farmer’s markets just make sense. If we give them a place for the summer and then use the same space in the winter for recreation, it would be a win/win for the whole community.

ENCOURAGE “COOL” AGRICULTURE.

Imagine you’re in the Wine Cafe, you’re having a beer and talking to some random person about what they do for a living:

“So what do you do for a job”

“I grow organic hops and sell them to local breweries across the state.”

Jaw, meet floor. Imagine how cool that would be. This person is growing step one of your beer. BEER, guys.

We’ve got some local wineries thanks to Cold Climate Grapes (watch the whole thing, it’s good.) We could add a few more and while we’re at it why not a hops farm? Or grains for whiskey and vodka? They’re doing it at Prairie Spirits up near Princeton and we’re way cooler than some wannabe MSP burb.

BRAND IT RIGHT

I know we came out with this whole “Mankato: Now Playing” brand which is great and all, but if we’re going to be an Agriculture city, then we need to brand it right and own the manure out of it.

This is my vision for the state:

Duluth: Mining, Forestry, Fishing
MSP: The Big City
Rochester: Medicine
Mankato: Agriculture
St. Cloud: Uh… ?

We can rock this, we can be the Ag city. We can make it cool, we can feed the state and we can take heaps of pride in our MSA. We just need the right branding and the right message to really make it stick.

FOCUS ON THE CITY

Let’s not forget who we are. We’re not a rag-tag band of farmers trying to market our product to the rest of the state. We’re a city darn it, we need to act like it.

The less land we take up with edge-of-town expansion, the more room there is for farmers. And while we’re using our land better, why don’t we double down on the whole Urban Agriculture thing? I mean, what kind of Ag city doesn’t allow backyard chickens? We should probably get on that with the looming egg crisis and all.

We’ve got a huge potential for a “food city” as well. Growing public fruit in parks for people to take would certainly accent the Ag part and would double down on healthy living.

If we want to be the Ag city, then “city” needs to be just as important as “Ag” I don’t know exactly what GMG’s vision for an Ag city is, but hopefully they’ll incorporate a few of the aforementioned ideas. I know I’m not the only one who believes this is an amazing opportunity for Mankato.

How do I know these ideas would work? I guess I can’t say for certain, but look at Friesen’s. They followed the trend of homemade and local and as you know, they are killing it.

Or look to the East. Southeastern Minnesota are re-inventing themselves and it’s working out pretty well.

I look forward to see what this new venture has in store for us, but remember, no one takes pride in giant corporate agriculture, just like no one takes pride in fast food joints. Keep it local.

About Matthias Leyrer

Matthias Leyrer is a resident of Mankato looking to restore a fraction of its old glory. He writes about the economic, aesthetic, practical and financial issues facing the city of Mankato going forward.