In 2004, a number of local organizations launched Green Routes, a statewide green tourism initiative in Minnesota. Green tourism emphasizes the natural and cultural resources of a given area, showcasing locally grown food, locally made products, environmentally friendly inns and B&Bs, cultural attractions, and outdoor recreation that minimally affects the environment (hiking, biking, canoeing, birding).
“[The idea was that] Green Routes would become a way for travelers to plan itineraries and select destinations that would support their values and allow them to support like-minded businesses with their travel dollars,” explains Jan Joannides, executive director of Renewing the Countryside, the parent organization of Green Routes. Renewing the Countryside works to strengthen rural areas by championing and supporting those who rejuvenate the countryside through sustainable and innovative initiatives, businesses, and projects.
The first two Green Routes took place in West Central Minnesota along the Upper Minnesota River (from Montevideo to Granite Falls) and East Central Minnesota (along the Highway 18 corridor from Onamia to Isle). Between the two routes there are 37 businesses listed, including restaurants, farmers markets, state parks, nature centers, museums, studios, shops and accommodations. The green businesses are featured in the widely-distributed Green Routes brochure and on the website at www.greenroutes.org.
Over 200 businesses in Northwest, Northeast, Central and Southeast Minnesota will be featured in Green Routes materials that will be unveiled alongside the launch of the new Green Routes website at the 2006 Living Green Expo.
“The response to the calls for nominations in the upcoming Green Routes regions has been astounding,” Joannides says. “Every day we get one or two calls from business owners asking how they can get involved in Green Routes. This is the best feedback we could’ve asked for.”
Businesses are chosen by a locally based Advisory Committee that issues a “call for nominations.” After the businesses apply, they are selected based on the following criteria—green businesses: contribute to the local economy by employing local residents, use local products and growers, and support other local businesses; conserve natural resources by reducing the use of nonrenewable resources or energy-efficient appliances; use sustainable or organically-produced products; and engage customers and visitors through active, personal, and meaningful participation in nature, people, places, history and/or cultures.
“Put another way, green businesses respect the natural world, involve the local community, and protect and enhance the quality of life,” Joannides says.
Peggy Hanson, co-owner of the Cady Hayes House B&B in Lanesboro, has met the criteria as a Southeast Green Routes destination and is anxious to see how the designation will affect business. She first heard about Green Routes through the Experiment in Rural Cooperation, one of the University of Minnesota’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships.
Those organizing Green Routes asked Hanson to participate due to her active involvement with the Lanesboro Farmers Market and her hard work for sustainable economic development in small Southeast Minnesota towns.
“My particular passion is strong local food systems,” Hanson says. “They are a key component of healthy rural economies and healthy people.”
Those who want to step out of the “big box world of sameness,” in addition to those who want to support efforts to build the local economy and protect the environment, Hanson says, will determine the success of Green Routes.
“Many guests are interested in what makes our town or business unique,” Hanson says. “My guests appreciate being served food that we have purchased from local farmers or grown ourselves. Last year my husband grew five kinds of melons in our garden. People love learning about and tasting the different varieties.”
Visiting local, rural businesses can help Mom and Pop shops stay open for years and years to come.
“Urban dwellers should consider the idea that the decisions they make with their travel dollars could have a significant impact on the continued economic viability of that charming little town with the great B&B, cute café and antique shop they love to visit,” Joannides points out.
Green Routes direct consumers to establishments that share their values.
Joannides comments, “As consumers, every dollar we spend is effectively a vote in favor of a company’s way of doing business.”