"This probably wouldn't have happened ten years ago," says Mark Muller, a director at the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. He is talking about the donations currently flowing into the institute's Sow the Seeds Fund, which will benefit farms in eastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin that were damaged by last month's floods.
A donation drive for the fund is under way at more than a dozen food co-ops from the Twin Cities to Milwaukee -- including the Willy Street Co-op, where donations benefit the Sow the Seeds Fund as well the flooded Kickapoo Exchange Natural Foods Co-op in Gays Mills. Donations also can be made online.
"Before, people didn't have this kind of connection to their local farmers," says Muller, "but now they do, thanks to farmers' markets, CSAs." Also collecting donations for flood-devastated farms is Madison-based Family Farm Defenders.
Muller can't say how much his organization has raised so far, since the co-ops are still turning over their donations. (The fund has raised $6,000 from its web site alone.) Once the money is counted, though, he says that as much of it as possible will benefit farmers in flood-affected areas of Wisconsin and Minnesota that have been declared federal or state disaster areas. He does say, however, that there are administrative costs he hadn't foreseen, like credit-card charges for on-line donations.
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy established the Sow the Seeds Fund last year, to distribute grants to farms and farming organizations. Until the floods the fund had "kind of sputtered around," says Muller, "but we realized we'd developed this mechanism, so why not use it for flood relief?"
The work of the last few weeks, he notes, has been a "crash course in dealing with the IRS," as organizers decide on the rules that will determine which farmers get help. That help will probably come in two phases: one to address immediate problems -- fencing needs, for example -- and a second to "try to provide the infrastructure" to get farmers back on their feet.
"It's been heartbreaking to hear the farmers' stories," says Muller. "Hearing those stories has touched a lot of people."