Region Nine Growers Network

Region Nine Development Commission (MN)

A core tenet of economic development recognizes that the geographic clustering of similar businesses can help regional economies become more competitive and resilient. Though intuitively it might appear that similar businesses would cannibalize each other’s sales, proximity helps businesses develop more efficient practices, grow their supply chain, and build a larger customer base that can sustain more output from their industry over time. Moreover, businesses can cooperate with each other to share best practices and create a broader ecosystem of sellers and buyers that increases the overall strength of their industry.

Region Nine Development Commission (RNDC) undertook a planning process in 2016 with the goal of increasing the resiliency of the agricultural sector in the south-central Minnesota region it serves. Through this effort, staff discovered that the region had a significant opportunity to grow its cluster of small sustainable farmers. Sustainable farming—an umbrella term for a collection of agricultural practices that seek to meet society’s present food needs without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same—is generally practiced by smaller farmers with limited resources and less access to markets and supply chains than large conglomerates enjoy. In RNDC’s nine-county region, sustainable farmers were an important part of the local agricultural ecosystem, generating value for the communities they served with fresh food and intentional ecological practices.

Planners at RNDC recognized these benefits and sought to help grow the cluster of these small sustainable farmers in the region. They launched a series of listening sessions with existing farmers that led to the creation of the Region Nine Growers Network. The Network serves as a space to bring together an array of sustainable farmers across the region with monthly meetings held outside the growing season and support services from RNDC. At the meetings, farmers share updates, present to each other on pertinent topics, and conduct brainstorming sessions to solve common problems. RNDC staff make themselves available to facilitate discussions and connect farmers to outside resources like funding opportunities and business-to-business introductions.

The growing network, which currently has over 20 members, is funded in part by USDA and National Resources Conservation Service grants that aim to grow the local foods economy and increase opportunities for emerging farmers. RNDC staff work to accomplish this by facilitating connections with restaurants and grocery stores and providing space at a local community farm for emerging farmers to hone their craft. This year, five new historically underrepresented farmers were recruited to join the network through the community farm initiative. The Network’s continuous growth demonstrates its value to farmers, who in turn deliver fresh food with sustainable practices that benefit local communities and help fulfill the potential that the cluster of farms brings for the whole regional economy.

“One of the biggest things that people always talk about is that they’re with people doing the same things as them, which makes it easy to learn a lot from each other,” says Sabri Fair, Associate Planner at RNDC. “It’s one of the more unique things that we’re doing right now; it’s new for us and new for our community, pushing the boundary of local food work.”

This case study was written by Dion Thompson-Davoli, NADO RF Research Fellow


Contact Karron Grant

Applications cannot be saved and returned to at a later time. It is recommended you compile all of your information in advance in a word processor and cut and paste into the application below.

2023 Impact Awards

The primary applicant must be a NADO member. Project partners, both NADO and non-members, can be recognized under "Project Partners" below.

Primary Project Contact:
This person will be the designated point of contact for all future awards-related correspondence.

Organization Address

Project Location (if different from Organization Address)

Executive Director

Additional Organizational Information
Please upload your organization's logo which will be included on the winning project award certificate.

Project Information
This title will be printed on the award certificate for winning projects and in all 2022 NADO Impact Award materials and cannot be changed.

Project Summary & Questions
Please craft clear, thoughtful, and engaging responses to the following questions. Use the following sections to tell us how your project has made an impact, such as its use of creative funding mechanisms, efforts to create efficiencies or reduce costs, unique partnership models, and emphasis on building resilience and/or enhancing your region's quality of life.

For award-winning projects, the information provided below may be used verbatim to inform project descriptions that will be published in the 2023 NADO Impact Awards materials and included on the NADO website.

Please submit at least one photo showing your project in action. Please keep file size to a minimum (<2Mb) and use JPEG format. If uploading multiple files, ZIP files prior to submitting. If you have trouble uploading images they can be directly emailed to Brett Schwartz at [email protected]. Include the project title they correspond to in the subject line of your email.

Note: Submitted photos may be used in NADO Impact Awards materials and in other NADO published materials with credit to your organization. Please also consider submitting photos for NADO's 2023 Photo Contest, which will be held this summer.

Your application is not submitted until you are directed to a confirmation page. If you have any questions or are unsure if your application has been submitted, please contact Brett Schwartz at [email protected]

Contact Melissa Levy

Contact Krishna Kunapareddy

Contact Andrew Coker

Contact Lara Gale

Contact Katie Allison

Contact Jack Morgan

Content Questions Form

Registration Questions Form

Hotel Questions Form

New Speaker Inquiry

Job Listing Inquiry

Joe McKinney serves as Executive Director of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO). Headquartered in Washington DC, NADO provides advocacy, education, research, and training for the nation’s 500+ regional planning and development organizations.

Joe has thirty-one years of experience having served in city, county, regional, national association, and government management since 1991. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy Analysis from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a candidate for a master’s degree in Public Administration from UNC-Chapel Hill.

McKinney has provided congressional testimony on numerous occasions regarding the importance of regional development organizations in helping shape the nation’s economic growth. He is nationally recognized for promoting innovative solutions in areas such as planning and economic development, workforce development, transportation and transit, and aging services.

Contact Danny Tomares

Contact Dion Thompson-Davoli

Contact Ciara Ristig

Contact Bret Allphin

Contact Brett Schwartz

Contact Carrie Kissel

Contact Scott Brown

Contact Jamie McCormick

Contact Joe McKinney

Contact Krystal De Leon

Contact Brittany Salazar

Contact Laurie Thompson

Contact Mirielle Burgoyne