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Live at the MRA: Success Stories for Working Landscapes

Rural communities are part of the vanguard of new ideas promoting small-scale sustainable production and use of energy and food. One of the challenges in expanding and scaling up these ideas is getting success stories out there and allowing others to benefit from their experience. At the Midwest Rural Assembly this afternoon, four communities shared their stories.

Cheryl Landgren of Milan, Minnesota described the town’s efforts to launch a Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU) in partnership with IATP’s Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy.Milan is a small farm town with a growing immigrant community. They are hoping to host the country’s first rural, smalltown SEU—a community-led initiative to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy. An SEU is designed to be a one-stop shop to secure advantages of the new green economy encompassed in energy efficiency, renewable energy and biomass production. The SEU will identify funding resources, engage in public education, set up a revolving loan fund and invest in energy savings. Milan is in the early stages of developing an SEU, but ultimately it will be community governed and controlle, thereby allowing Milan to control its energy future.

Martin Kleinschmit discussed a three-year test project with 10 Nebraskan farmers focused on carbon sequestration. In this project, farmers grew a number of different crops to store carbon in the soil—emphasizing crops with longer root systems and longer growing seasons. He emphasized that there are more than just climate benefits in building carbon in the soil; these types of crops can help retain water and build the soil for future crop production.

Jacob Limmer gave his unique perspective as the owner of the Cottonwood Bistro in Brookings, S.D. and the operator of nearby Glacier Till Farm. Jacob talked about the challenges of sourcing local foods (usually from multiple farmers with different billing methods), the challenges of farming for local markets and the need to find off-farm work to keep the farm going. He emphasized the need for improving collective local food distribution systems—which would allow buyers to more easily source local foods and provide larger, more consistent buyers for farmers.

And finally, Linda Meschke of Rural Advantage told attendees about efforts in Madelia, Minnesota to use renewable bioindustrial processing to provide a market for new crops (outside of the corn/soybean rotation). The town went through a public process to set priorities for the new facility and agreed to emphasize both community investment, perennial crops and local sourcing (within 25 miles). The project could bring multiple benefits to the community, including: water quality, renewable energy, habitat preservation, greater sustainable agriculture, and keeping wealth within the community.

There are many stories like these being shared at the assembly—where interesting ideas continue to grow.

—Ben Lilliston