So what is a food network, anyway?
Communities across the country have established local, regional, and issue-specific food and agriculture coalitions, often referred to as ‘food policy councils,’ ‘community food partnerships,’ or ‘food networks.’ These groups pursue systems and policy changes that can enhance the health and vitality of our food supply.
In Minnesota, we have more than 20 of these food networks. Some—such as Homegrown Minneapolis—are formal, advisory bodies to local government. Others—such as the Cass-Clay County Food Systems Advisory Board or the St. Paul/Ramsey County Food and Nutrition Commission—have joint powers, advising multiple county, city, and township units of government. Further, groups like the Metro Food Access Network involve myriad organizations working together on focused policy agendas.
Most food networks—regardless of their specifics—are volunteer-driven initiatives that bring together people with a shared passion for improving healthy food access and creating prosperous food and farm economies. These networks cover nearly every corner of the state, encompassing tribal nations, rural farming communities, suburban and urban settings. Their potential effects include:
- Creating healthier food environments
- Building food skills in communities
- Developing robust regional food infrastructures
Over the past several years, University of Minnesota Extension staff and countless community volunteers have worked together to strengthen these networks, undertaking food access assessments, providing leadership and feedback for the Minnesota Food Charter, and implementing Food Charter strategies of their choosing.
Today, Minnesota’s food networks have a unique opportunity—to leverage their collective expertise, resources, and best practices to join forces as part of the Minnesota Food Charter Network! Created to foster shared action toward mobilizing local, regional, and statewide support for Food Charter strategies, the Food Charter Network can advance statewide policy priorities that reflect the needs and interests of local and regional food and agriculture coalitions.
So—what does it all mean for our existing networks? Together, they can pursue policies that reflect their interests and needs, such as strengthening Farm to School or farmers markets, generating economic development resources, and fueling the growth of food and farm-related enterprises. Through the Food Charter Network umbrella, food and agriculture coalitions can leverage the power of numbers to motivate state government to actively support their priorities, and collaborate on targeted, shared priorities that will increase the health and prosperity of all Minnesota communities.