Across the Field: Regions Connecting for Rural Innovation – Promising Strategies
By Jane Leonard

In addition to the Rural Urban Connections project now underway in Minnesota, Minnesota Rural Partners, Inc. is also working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Partners for Rural America (PRA) and the nation’s State Rural Development Councils on a special effort to establish stronger partnerships with key institutions at the state and multi-state regional level and to encourage communities to work together at the multi-state regional level.  Four convenings will be held across the U.S. this spring.

The North Central Regional Convening is scheduled for May 4-5, 2010, in Madison, Wisconsin.

The theme is “Regions Connecting for Rural Innovation – Promising Strategies” and includes:

* Small Business Development (including entrepreneurship)
* Infrastructure (including energy and broadband)
* Tourism (including local food systems)

The convening will focus on USDA key priorities that are also critical issues facing the region and to address these issues with a local and regional strategy to:

 –Promote the creation of new partnerships and regional collaboration
–Enable regions to share “best practices”
–Focus on regional partnerships to enhance rural program delivery and shape rural economic development policy

 Conference outcomes will become implementation plans for each region.

Participation is key – this is our region’s opportunity to ensure USDA hears local views and concerns. You can help by attending the convening and/or help identify participants who need to be at the table.

For more information, contact:

Rick Rolfsmeyer
Wisconsin Rural Partners, Inc.



–The Community Assistantship Program is pleased to announce a summer 2010 grant program. The grant will allow rural communities to hire a student to work on a project defined by those communities. The deadline for project proposals is March 15, 2010. Approved projects will run from May 31, 2010 to August 29, 2010.   Winning communities will review job applications and select the student who best meets their needs. For details on how to apply see the attachment or apply on line: 
Eligible organizations include community groups, organizations, and local governments outside the seven county metro.  The Community Assistantship Program (CAP) provides applied research assistance to community-based groups outside the Twin Cities Metro Area. The research and technical needs of community organizations are matched with the support of talented students. The idea is simple: get the resources of a great University working with communities to address the significant issues facing the people of Minnesota. CAP projects typically place students in a community defined and directed part time research assistantship for one semester or over the summer. Students are selected by and report to the community organization. Throughout the project students are supported by a community supervisor, faculty and community mentors. 

Community POWER (Partners on Waste Education and Reduction) Grants
The Solid Waste Management Coordinating Board (SWMCB) has made these grants available since 2001 to support community-based waste/toxicity reduction and recycling projects.  In 2010, $168,000 is available to fund approximately fourteen projects of up to $12,000 each. It is anticipated that a minimum of one project will be funded in each SWMCB county. 2010 applications are due March 15, 2010.

To download the 2010 Grant Guidelines, visit the web site below, or click directly on

 Contact the Project Manager, Laurie Gustafson, at 651-252-1487 or with questions. 

Residential Solar Rebates (Electric, and Hot Water) available from MN Office of Energy Security.  Rebates up to $10,000 per home are now available to Minnesota homeowners who install qualifying solar electric and solar hot water systems.  Rebate reservations are available on a first-come, first-served basis for solar systems that are installed at an applicant’s primary residence by a licensed contractor that meets program participation criteria.  Download detailed application materials for either the Residential Solar Electric Rebate Application or the Residential Solar Hot Water Rebate Application from   

–2010 Smart Growth Implementation Assistance Program: Letters of interest due April 9, 2010.   EPA is now accepting letters of interest for the 2010 round of the Smart Growth Implementation Assistance (SGIA) Program. EPA, with the assistance of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation, is offering direct technical assistance from national experts to communities, tribes, regions, and states that want to incorporate smart growth techniques in their development. EPA is also interested in identifying and documenting innovative solutions to complex problems faced by communities as they seek to incorporate smart growth practices. EPA expects to select up to 4 applicants for assistance this year.   For more information about the SGIA program, go to  

 NOTE: Those interested in exploring collaboration with the MPCA in their application to EPA for the SGIA program are invited to contact Philipp Muessig, MPCA, at or 651/757-2594 

–DSIRE is a comprehensive source of information on state, local, utility and federal incentives and policies that promote renewable energy and energy efficiency. Established in 1995 and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, DSIRE is an ongoing project of the N.C. Solar Center and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council.  Go to:   


The 16th Annual AIBL (American Indian Business Leaders) National Business & Leadership Conference at Fond du Lac will be held April 8-10, 2010.  AIBL supports and promotes the education and development of future American Indian business leaders. AIBL’s spirit of success stems from four guiding principles: Education, Leadership, Experience, and Culture.  AIBL is the only American Indian non-profit organization solely dedicated to empowering business students in the United States. Our programs are designed to engage students in activities that stimulate, enhance, and expand educational experiences beyond traditional academic methods. All students are encouraged to participate in AIBL regardless of race, academic major, or career objectives. To learn more about the 2010 conference go to:

–Leadership GPS: Pathways for Great Leaders will be held April 27, 2010 at 9:00 AM – 4:30 PM at the Hungry Bear Banquet & Conference Center in Bemidji. You’ll learn how to develop the skills for successful leadership through:

  • The inspirational journeys of our keynote speakers
  • First-hand advice on advancing in a leadership role
  • Networking opportunities and
  • Exciting panel discussion with area leadership program directors and leaders.

Register Now for the second annual Northwest Minnesota Foundation Regional Summit!

–Bicycle Tourism Summit – Thursday, April 29, 2010.  This one-day educational and networking event will be held at Breezy Point Resort near Brainerd. Topics include: creating bicycle tours and events; using area trails and bicycle routes to increase tourism; and success stories from bicycle tour operators, lodging properties and businesses that are already capturing this market. Watch for more details as speakers and topics are confirmed at:

–Living Green Expo Opportunity for Travel Destinations.  The Living Green Expo will be held on May 1 & 2, 2010 at the Minnesota State Fair grounds. Featuring the best in green, attendance at the event has surpassed 25,000 in each of the past two years. Green travel destinations are encouraged to apply to exhibit at Early bird rates end March 15, 2010! If you have questions, contact Jan Joannides, Minnesota Environmental Partnership, 651-789-6571 or

—-SAVE THE DATE: June 9-10 for the Symposium on Small Towns and Rural Urban Gathering “Finding Solutions and Redefining Communities.” The theme for this year’s Symposium on Small Towns will focus on leadership, capacity building, and practical solutions for improving small-town communities and strengthening rural-urban connections. In tough economic times, the importance of connecting with people and ideas outside of our local situations becomes vital.

Participants in the 2010 Symposium will learn about:

  • saving money by reducing energy costs and waste;
  • filling empty storefronts; and
  • creating effective partnerships and collaborations to address issues facing rural communities.

The University of Minnesota, Morris Center for Small Towns and Minnesota Rural Partners, Inc. and their Rural Urban Connections project are pleased to co-host this event. The Symposium will be a one day event on June 10, 2010. The Rural-Urban Gathering will be held on the evening of June 9, 2010 hosted by Minnesota Rural Partners, Inc. The focus of the gathering will be on the newly developing Rural-Urban Partnership Council with its emphasis on education, workforce and entrepreneurship to increase innovation and wealth creation. Both events will be held at the University of Minnesota Morris campus.  Scholarships are available to those who might need assistance with the already low cost to attend.  More information about the Symposium and the Rural-Urban Gathering is on our Web sites at:  and or call 320-589-6451.


We are looking for Bankers in Minnesota that would serve on the Business Plan Competition review, as well as sponsors for this amazing conference that attracts and features our brightest minds in Indian Country.  The 16th Annual AIBL (American Indian Business Leaders) National Business & Leadership Conference at Fond du Lac will be held April 8-10, 2010.  AIBL supports and promotes the education and development of future American Indian business leaders. AIBL’s spirit of success stems from four guiding principles: Education, Leadership, Experience, and Culture. 
AIBL is the only American Indian non-profit organization solely dedicated to empowering business students in the United States. Our programs are designed to engage students in activities that stimulate, enhance, and expand educational experiences beyond traditional academic methods. All students are encouraged to participate in AIBL regardless of race, academic major, or career objectives. For more information, please contact:  Bryan Jon Maciewski, Faculty Business, Fond du Lac Tribal & Community College at 218 879 0821 or email:  To learn more about the 2010 conference go to:

–The Minnesota Design Team ( is seeking architects, landscape architects, planners, and people with historic preservation expertise for the Team’s visit to Crosby and other Cuyuna Iron Range Communities April 22 – 24, 2010.  The Minnesota Design Team (MDT) is an all-volunteer organization that was born of ideals and dreams in the early 1980s. Originally conceived by a small group of architecture and landscape architecture students interested in town planning and design, the MDT today is a well established and respected group of over 300 volunteer professionals.  The MDT assists communities in planning and designing a viable, appropriate future. The MDT works not only with design issues like main street improvements, but also with the fundamental planning process that allows communities to take the initiative in continuing to plan a future that reflects their dreams and interests.  This visit focuses on Crosby but also includes the surrounding cities of Ironton, Deerwood, Cuyuna and others, working to create a regional vision.  The activities will start the evening of Thursday, April 22, and will end the evening of Sunday, the 24th, although many will stay for breakfast on Sunday, the 25th. There will be one team meeting prior to the visit.  Contact Josh Tolkan for more information on becoming a team member at

–Improve the University of Minnesota’s Services to the Tourism Industry!  The University of Minnesota’s Tourism Center wants to serve you better. To do that, they need your input. Please take 3-5 minutes to share what you know, like and can be improved about their services. By understanding your needs and their performance, the Tourism Center can plan for future educational offerings and product development. Go to:  and complete the questionnaire. For more information contact Ingrid Schneider at


Wealth Creation in Rural America, a project of the Ford Foundation, is based on the premise that low-wealth rural communities can increase wealth, broadly defined, through the use of a triple bottom line approach to development. Experience suggests that development focused solely on economic outcomes often results in depreciation of both environmental and social assets. A balanced approach to development— what we are calling triple bottom line development – benefits the economy, the environment and social inclusion simultaneously.

Practitioners engaged in cluster-based strategies, value chains, entrepreneurship development, and triple bottom line community development financing were selected to undertake this work because they each offer a proven contrast to more conventional and less systemic approaches to rural economic development. We understood from the start that these practitioners represent approaches that are necessary, but are not sufficient to achieve our goal.

We have completed the first two phases of this work. Phase One was an assessment of existing practice. Phase Two was a place-based regional learning experience. While we still have a long way to go and many unanswered questions, we believe there is value in sharing what we have learned from the very first phases of our work.  For more information go to: 

AMBER WAVES, March 2010, Vol. 8, No. 1 Amber Waves presents the broad scope of ERS’s research and analysis. The magazine covers the economics of agriculture, food and nutrition, the food industry, trade, rural America, and farm-related environmental topics. Available on the Internet and in print, Amber Waves is issued in print four times a year (March, June, September, and December). The Internet edition, or “eZine,” includes links to web-only resources, such as podcasts and additional articles. See

Economic Recovery: Lessons Learned from Previous Recessions.  The rates of employment loss and unemployment in the recent recession are about the same in metro and nonmetro areas, but based on previous recessions, nonmetro employment may recover more slowly. As in past recessions, manufacturing-dependent nonmetro counties felt the effects of the recessions sooner than other nonmetro areas. Unemployment rates continue to be lowest for the college-educated in both nonmetro and metro areas. See

Access to Affordable, Nutritious Food is Limited in “Food Deserts”.  Some neighborhoods in the U.S., particularly low-income ones, have been dubbed “food deserts” because residents do not live near supermarkets or other food retailers that carry affordable and nutritious food. Low-income residents of these neighborhoods and those who lack transportation rely more on smaller neighborhood stores that may not carry healthy foods or offer them only at higher prices. A lack of healthy options could lead to poor diets and to diet-related conditions such as obesity or diabetes. If low-income households in food deserts can only purchase food at higher prices, they may be more prone to food insecurity—not having enough food for active, healthy living. See

The U.S. Food Environment Atlas at: shows food environment factors—such as store/restaurant proximity, food prices, food and nutrition assistance programs, and community characteristics—interact to influence food choices and diet quality. Research is beginning to document the complexity of these interactions, but more is needed to identify causal relationships and effective policy interventions.  Objectives of the Atlas are to:

-assemble statistics on food environment indicators to stimulate research on the determinants of food choices and diet quality.

-provide a spatial overview of a community’s ability to access healthy food and its success in doing so.

Updated Model Sustainability Ordinances can be found at: . Following a directive from the Minnesota Legislature, the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (then part of Minnesota Planning, and now part of the Minnesota Department of Administration) published a 313-page guide From Policy to Reality: Model Ordinances for Sustainable Development in September 2000 – This guide offers legal tools to help local government steer changes in their communities that reflect the aspirations of their comprehensive and other plans. Communities can adapt these model ordinances to their own special circumstances.

During 2008 and 2009, the MPCA funded the development and updating of these model sustainability ordinances through a grant to CR Planning (   The following updated model sustainability ordinances can now be accessed at each in PDF format:

  • Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance
  • Agriculture and Forest Protection District
  • Model Community Conservation Subdivision District
  • Downtown Mixed-Use District 
  • Energy Efficiency Ordinance 
  • Highway Commercial District 
  • Landscaping and Maintenance of Vegetation 
  • Local Food Networks 
  • Natural Resources Performance Standards
  • Design Standards for Pedestrian-Oriented Districts and Corridors
  • Planned Unit Development Ordinance 
  • Solar Energy Standards 
  • Stormwater and Erosion and Sediment Control Ordinance
  • Travel Demand Management Performance Standard
  • Transit-Oriented Development 
  • Village Mixed Use District  
  • Model Wind Energy 

— Tools for Rural Communities for Active Living.  Active Living can be defined as a way of life that integrates physical activity into daily routines, like walking to the store or biking to work (according to Wikipedia: ) The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been supporting research in this area over a period of several years, and has supported the development of Rural Active Living Assessment (RALA) Tools to help assess the physical environment features and amenities, town characteristics, community programs, and policies that could potentially influence levels of physical activity among residents in rural communities.

The web site  describes these tools, which are each downloadable at the site, as follows:

The RALA tools include three separate components: Town-Wide (18 town characteristic questions and inventory of 15 recreational amenities, Program and Policy (20 questions), and Street Segment (28 questions) Assessments. These three assessment instruments are designed to be used together and provide a comprehensive measure addressing many of the unique factors believed to be important to active living in rural communities.

Interestingly, according to a policy brief at the site (Active Living for Rural Youth –, childhood obesity and inactivity are significant and growing problems in many rural areas where the prevalence of obesity and overweight has been shown to be 25 percent higher than urban rates, even after controlling for income, race, physical activity and other known risk factors. This points to the relevance of active living efforts in rural areas, which have not received the focus that urban and suburban areas have.

The Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI) has published an article called “The President’s Budget FY 2011: What’s in It for Rural America?” that discusses the proposals targeted for rural areas and people.  To read the article, go to: