Allison Rian and the Aitkin Farmers' Market Food Hub
Article: by Kathleen Rykhus
Allison Rian and her husband Scott Rian grow potatoes, greens, corn, eggs, produce, and microgreens on a small operation, AlliCat Farm, in southern Aitkin county. In 2020, Allison also took on the position of the Aitkin Farmers’ Market Food Hub Manager, a role that also helps promote community regeneration and sustainability.
Aitkin County is located 2 ½ hours north of Minneapolis. With a dispersed, low income, and older population, many in the area experience a lack of access to healthy food, education, health care, and transportation.
With a quiet tenacity, Rian has spent years working tirelessly to address these issues through the farmers’ market food hub. The mission of Aitkin Farmers Market Hub is "to increase local food security and food equity by providing access to all demographic groups". The market and online hub both accept SNAP, supplemental Food Assistance Program as a form of payment, which not only helps the market to improve food equity in the area, but also increases the sales and income for local farmers.
Building relationships has been the focus of the food hub from the start. Working with the area Statewide Health Improvement Partnership representative Hannah Colby, Rian began building on the relationships Colby formed and utilized key agencies like Aitkin County CARE, Coordinating Area Resources Effectively. CARE in turn used its relationships with senior facilities, service groups, and home visitors to identify seniors in need of food support and deliver fresh local foods directly to them in the form of Market Share Boxes, a type of CSA box with a variety of fruits and vegetables aggregated by the hub from several different local producers. Through the feedback of those initial customers, Rian got the idea to offer other products, like Veggie Sides (smaller portions of produce) and even cut produce through the hub.
The time Rian and Colby put into building relationships in the community has paid off in other ways, too. Aitkin was a pilot project for Farm to School. It took some time but eventually the relationship became a win-win situation for both the food hub and the school district.
Other wholesale customers of the Aitkin Farmers’ Market Food Hub include an area nursing home which has started placing orders online, and a local restaurant, The Joint.
Allison is an inspiration to other Farmers’ Market Food Hubs involved with the aggregation project, especially the newer hubs. Sara George, project coordinator with Renewing the Countryside said “Allison openly shares her struggles as well as her successes with the other hubs, which has encouraged them to not give up. She has been a fantastic mentor for them to lean on and she comes up with creative ideas to make connections”.
Allison Rian, showing support for locally sourced produce