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Cultivating Solidarity and Sustainability in Central Minnesota

by Shee Yang

A smiling person stands behind a table with open cardboard boxes on it, facing two people who have their backs to the camera and are reaching into the boxes. In the background there's a banner that reads "Sprout," and two barn quilt designs hanging on the wall.
Photo Credit: Angela Anderson
Some produce featured at the Ideal Green Market.

Rural communities are often misunderstood and underserved. Organizations like the Region Five Development Commission (R5DC) exist to fill that gap and improve economic development in rural areas. Learn more about how this organization is co-developing strategies to improve quality of life for all residents in Central Minnesota.

One of the nine RDCs established in Minnesota in 1969, the Region Five Development Commission (R5DC) is tasked to provide aid to the community and local governments in their specific region. For the past 50 years, RDCs have continuously worked to understand the physical, technical, social, and economic needs of their communities. These unique organizations perform a variety of services, serving the public by partnering with state and federal agencies, obtaining and administering grants, and building community-wide relationships.

One of the most important aspects of an RDC is to understand the communities they serve—from the least to the most influential populations—and put together strategic and comprehensive planning that not only eases the immediate challenge at hand, but develops permanent, and often legally implemented, pathways for economic and social improvements.

Region Five Development Commission serves the five counties of Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd, and Wadena accounting for about 172,000 people. The organization has been in the region since 1973, and has developed programming around climate planning, transportation, and economic and community development.

Although traditionally homogenous, the five-county region has experienced an increase in its diversity rate in recent years. The region has seen their Black demographics triple since 2000 and the Latino and mixed-race demographics increase by 130%. The R5DC saw a new wave of need and important work and rose to the challenge of learning how to build cohesive communities no matter where they stretch.

Boxes of various vegetables and fruits in front of a vibrant green wall, and a large sign that reads "'A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is a reality'-John Lennon."
Photo Credit: Angela Anderson
Some produce featured at the Ideal Green Market.

Region Five Development Commission programs like the VetCSA Project and Good Food Access Program work to address the needs of people living in food deserts. The Good Food Access Program offered training sessions to employees and operators of small food retailers, such as corner stores, convenience stores, farmers’ markets, mobile food markets, co-ops, and retail food outlets. Other such programs providing access to food, and transportation also exist. However, the work extends further.

To better meet the needs of the communities R5DC serves, they developed a Comprehensive Regional Economic Development Strategy with community input, stretching from 2022 to 2026. The strategy documents the existing conditions of the five-county region and maps out a plan for social and economic development in the years to come. The plan states, “We must ensure that the region can avoid, withstand, and recover from economic shifts, natural disasters and impacts of climate change.”

The plan also considers the essential nature of implementing efforts to best serve their diverse populations. “We will continue to work towards empowerment of communities through equitable decision making, fostering authentic relationships and community connections, including different perspectives, and improving accessibility and inclusive participation that leads to a greater sense of belonging across the region.”

R5DC recently hosted the region’s first equity campaign, Cultivating Communities Summit. The campaign will serve as a reflection of the work R5DC has always been dedicated to: serving communities facing the toughest challenges. In this first step, R5DC has invited community members, elected officials, law enforcement members, and environmental advocates, to join them in learning and sharing ideas on how to create a more inclusive community for all who live in the region.

Listening to community voices is the first step in developing permanent and more equitable changes in the region. Region Five Development Commission is co-developing strategies to improve lives and garner support for the safety of all its residents.

Region Five Development Commission was part of the Community Creativity Cohort 2, a group of 40 organizations that are making art central to their community-building efforts. The Cohort was funded by the Bush Foundation and operated by Arts Midwest from 2019-2022. Check out our History to learn more about this program. This story was created in partnership with NewPublica.