Who The Folk?! Ariel Kagan

This week, we’re joined by Ariel Kagan, a strategy and innovation specialist at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Ariel and I talk about how she got into this field, the importance of agriculture to the state, and a new report on kosher meat that she helped lead into publication, on this week’s Who The Folk?! Podcast.

You can read an excerpt below, but for the whole interview (which you are really going to want to hear), please listen or subscribe to the Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Stitcher, with more to come later soon. Please subscribe, rate, and review. Check out the show page where you can catch up on previous episodes. And of course, if you have suggestions of others who would be great subjects, let us know!

So you are employed at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture as a strategy and innovation specialist. So tell us all what exactly that means.

It is very vague. It means I get to do a lot of interesting things. So I work in our domestic marketing division. We’re really thinking about how to bring value to Minnesota producers, expanding markets, finding new crops, new uses new applications, and also identifying market opportunities for Minnesota farmers. And so within that, we get to do a lot of different projects. Right now I’m working on a project about emerging farmers, which is all about folks who maybe haven’t been represented as well in Minnesota agriculture. So immigrant farmers, and women, and young farmers, veterans, and that’s a report that will also be coming out this spring for the legislature.

What led you to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture?

I grew up here in St. Paul and moved out east and got involved, after college, in food and ag policy. I spent a lot of time in D.C. working on different issues – sustainable food systems, everything from fisheries to urban ag to how does sustainability fit into the dietary guidelines? And then I decided at a certain point that it was time to come home and move back to Minnesota, and was really lucky to find this position with MDA because I do feel very strongly about contributing to my home state and trying to make our agricultural system better and more effective.

How large an industry is agriculture in the state?

I think that the stats are somewhere around 20 to 25 percent of our economy is ag related. So we’ve got 68,000 Farms in Minnesota and about 100,000, 110,000 farmers on those farms. Then beyond farming, we have a huge industry related to food and ag. So we have all these big businesses like Land O’ Lakes, Cargill, Syngenta, other businesses that are based here. And then all of your ag providers, the Farm Credit banks and your John Deere, shops around and in Greater Minnesota and veterinary care. So it’s a really large part of our economy.

You were one of the project leads on the Halal and Kosher Minnesota Meat Market Assessment which came out last week. So from a high level takeaway from that, what is your assessment in terms of the opportunities that that may be there for Minnesota farmers?

It will probably not price any of your listeners to hear the answer, which is it’s complicated. We did not get to a final sort of number, in the report, and I think that that’s good, because I think that these markets are complicated. The best way to approach something is to understand its diversity and complexities and then try to figure out how to wrap your head around it.

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