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Guest Commentary: Support local businesses this holiday season

By Tim Penny

President and CEO Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation

This time of year is traditionally a time of giving. Minnesotans in particular are known for their charitable contributions – a fact that was solidified recently during Give to the Max Day when Minnesotans set a record by giving more than $30 million to local schools and nonprofits. In addition to November being a charitable time of year, it is also the launch of the holiday shopping season. At Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) we know that Minnesotans will extend their generosity by supporting local businesses during this particularly difficult year.

At SMIF, we know that small businesses are the backbone of our communities and local economy, and for many of them, this is a critical time to help keep them afloat. In addition to safely shopping at retailers that are still open, we know that many people will be buying gifts online. While online shopping has historically been an easy way to purchase items that are not available locally, this year it will be important to find ways to use that platform to purchase gifts from local places. Buying gift cards from places like restaurants, breweries and fitness or yoga studios that are currently closed to the public is a great way to support them during this time. Many local retailers also have gift cards, online stores and curbside pickup as an option this year for those who would prefer to shop from home.

Local foods businesses are another dynamic sector that rely on the holiday shopping season as an important source of income. Since 2014 SMIF has been supporting the FEAST! Local Foods Marketplace, which traditionally brings more than 1,500 people together to shop for holiday gifts from local food vendors. This year, while there will not be an in-person shopping component, there is a robust online marketplace where people can shop from 40 Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa vendors. This allows people to shop from home while still supporting local, small businesses.

More than 400 items are available through the FEAST! Online Marketplace, including jam, honey, bread, maple syrup, chocolate, coffee and tea. There are also many unique products like hazelnut oil, kombucha, smoked salmon patties and wild rice sausage. The marketplace is open now through Nov. 29 with curbside pickup in Rochester at Graham Park on Dec. 6. SMIF partners with Renewing the Countryside and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to host FEAST! each year to encourage shopping that will have a major impact on these area producers.

This holiday season looks different for everyone in a lot of ways. When it comes to holiday shopping, please consider shopping local. These entrepreneurs are our friends and neighbors and we give thanks to them as they continue to contribute to the vibrancy of our region during this difficult time.

To learn more about the FEAST! Online Marketplace, visit www.local-feast.org.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions. You can reach me at timp@smifoundation.org or 507-455-3215.