ASHLAND, Wis. – Food sovereignty. Food resilience. Sustainable Agriculture. We hear those terms frequently.

Food sovereignty is the right of people to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, according to the National Family Farm Coalition. It also includes their right to define their own food and agricultural systems.

Food resilience is the ability of the food system to adapt to crisis and still provide adequate food for people.

Sustainable agriculture seeks to meet food needs while preserving our natural environment for future generations.

But that all sounds abstract. If only there was a place where one could see it in action – to touch it, reach out and grab it, and hold it in one’s hands.

That place exists in far northern Wisconsin. Northland College was founded in 1892 by the United Church of Christ, also known as Congregationalists, to help educate children of immigrants and Native Americans living on the south shore of Lake Superior. The college was built in the midst of the desolation left after the northern part of Wisconsin was clear-cut of timber. Red-clay mud was visible for miles from campus, from horizon to horizon.

In those early days the college adopted a credo partly visible on its seal, “A Highway Shall Be There.” The whole credo doesn’t fit on the seal. It’s Isaiah 35, the whole chapter. That in part is why the students, faculty and staff of the environmental liberal-arts school seek to lead on a high path through the world’s current desolation.

The Hulings Rice Food Center on the Northland College campus incorporates growing food on and off campus, with practices that can lead to food sovereignty, resilience and sustainable-agricultural practices.

“The food center became operational in 2017, first to meet the needs of the college,” said Todd Rothe, food-center manager. “The college wanted to serve more local food. The only way to do that was to figure out how to preserve and store foods that would be served during the winter. We have a commercial kitchen. Wrapped around that was the idea of making the facility available to the community, for folks working on value-added food products, or who are working on new products. They can work on recipes, or business plans (and) brands, and then head out to the marketplace. This place enables entrepreneurs the ability to get started without a large loan and overhead.”

People who have crops and ideas about products to make out of them can find help at the center.

“You come directly to us and we will help you figure out all of the steps along the way,” Rothe said. “It can be as simple as renting kitchen space for a day, or longer. The longer you commit to working in the space to create a product, the less the hourly cost for the space. Hourly cost to use the kitchen ranges from $25 to $11 per hour. We’re trying to encourage people and set them on the path for success. We can help people network, work on the (Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection) licensing process, and we can mentor through the business-planning process. We can help plan marketing and financing.

“We have been awarded a grant to work on a regional hazelnut project. Over two years my colleagues will be working on products using hazelnuts. They will work to perfect products and I will crunch numbers to see what is viable for business. I am excited to see what we develop. There is much potential in perennial hazelnut production.”

The food center also houses the equipment to process hazelnuts for growers in the Upper Midwest. Raw nuts are shipped from southern Wisconsin and Minnesota to the Northland College Campus for processing. Those nuts are later made into oil and flour for sale regionally.

“We are an educational institution,” Rothe said. “We have classes taught in our kitchen. We offer classes to the broader community. We partner with the Ashland Area Development Corporation, the Workforce Investment Board to offer culinary classes. We partner with The Brick, a local food shelf. We have worked with the Food Sovereignty Project at Bad River (Band of Lake Superior Chippewa).”

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To be continued …