By Jaycie Thomsen, Minnesota Food Charter Network Intern
Nearly five years ago, passionate food system advocates began organizing thousands of stakeholders in listening sessions, interviews, and events to create the Minnesota Food Charter, a document to help all Minnesotans gain access to healthy, safe, and affordable food.
In the five years since the Minnesota Food Charter went public, great strides have been made to bring people together to work on food systems change. However, it is a known fact that effective and lasting systemic change does not happen overnight. For this reason, the work of the Minnesota Food Charter is just as important now as it was when it was created.
Although Minnesota ranks 4th in the United States for the lowest percentage of households that are considered food insecure at 9.7%, one in eight children still struggle with hunger. In 2016, more than fifty percent of households using food shelves were families with children. Childhood hunger can lead to a host of developmental challenges, from cognitive and physical growth impairments to social and behavioral struggles.
In regards to healthy food access, according to the Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota ranks 7th worst in the nation for the share of residents with low access to healthy foods, with approximately 1.6 million Minnesotans having low retail access to healthy foods. Food accessibility takes distance and economic barriers into account, or the proximity to a full-service grocery store.
With that being said, there is good news to be celebrated. During the 2016 legislative session, The Good Food Access Program was established at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA). According to the MDA, “The purpose of this program is to increase the availability of and access to affordable, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food for underserved communities by providing financial support and technical assistance to open, renovate and expand the operations of grocery stores and small food retailers.”
In addition, the number of farmers markets has increased four times in the span of 15 years, with almost 200 markets spanning the state (Minnesota Grown Directory). Almost 90 Minnesota farmers markets across the state accept EBT, or SNAP dollars, allowing SNAP participants to purchase fresh produce and goods. About 80 of these farmers markets also participate in “Market Bucks”, a Minnesota Hunger Solutions Initiative program that doubles EBT benefits up to $10.
To get kids excited about healthy foods, a big push for school gardens and Farm-to-School programs has been made. Between 2013 and 2017, Minnesota has invested over $1.8 million in the farm-to-school grant program, allowing over fifty percent of Minnesota school districts to be engaged in these programs. What’s more, there are nearly 200 school gardens growing in Minnesota, giving children the opportunity to learn about where their food comes from and have a hand in growing it.
The strategies in the Minnesota Food Charter have been a key component in addressing hunger and food security issues throughout Minnesota. Our work is far from over and we are still fighting to ensure that all Minnesotans have reliable access to healthy, safe, affordable food in the places they work, learn, live, and play.
For more information about the Minnesota Good Food Access Program visit https://www.leg.state.mn.us/docs/2018/mandated/180212.pdf to read the legislative report.