Envisioning the Possible

Minnesota Food Charter listening sessions and interviews provide a wealth of input on improving access to healthy food for all Minnesotans.

The Minnesota Food Charter is a public process designed to identify policy, systems and environmental changes that can help steer Minnesota’s decisions related to healthy foods access far into the future. More than 130 Food Charter Events took place across Minnesota, identifying barriers as well as opportunities and strategies that could improve access to healthy food for all Minnesotans. A series of listening sessions and key informant interviews have augmented this public input process.

Important understandings have emerged from these listening sessions and interviews with stakeholders and decision-makers from schools, child care facilities, healthcare providers and community agencies and organizations. Listening sessions have enabled these stakeholders to exchange their perspectives and ideas with each other, producing insights around healthy food access in these types of institutions across the state.

The primary goal for hosting these ‘setting specific’ discussions and interviews is to surface detailed barriers and strategies that will inform the development of five Leader Guides: one each for healthcare, worksites, schools, childcare and community. These Leader Guides will serve as companion documents to the Minnesota Food Charter.

“The listening sessions and key informant interviews have really brought out the passion people have for making the food environment better—they have collectively identified where to start and how to make it happen,” says Tim Jenkins, food access coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Health.

Many organizations and stakeholders have participated in these interviews and listening sessions, including: the hunger-prevention community, farmers, healthcare providers, child-care policy experts, University of Minnesota Extension Service community nutrition educators, food-safety inspectors, representatives of large and small worksites, restaurant operators, community and school gardeners , employees of economic development centers, the Alliance for a Healthier Minnesota and representatives of government food assistance programs, among others.

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Obtaining meaningful, relevant input in the listening sessions and key-informant interviews depends on partnership, collaboration and a welcoming process.  For example, Extension Service educators and others have reached out to communities throughout the state who are most impacted by health disparities associated with access to healthy foods.  Such outreach is critical to the effort to include the voices of all Minnesotans in the discussion about how to make sure everyone has access to healthy, safe and affordable food.

“The listening sessions and Food Charter Events have created very valuable conversations from all different voices and perspectives.  It is really important that the process has incorporated cross-sector opinions on food access and affordability issues in our state,” says Emily Eddy White, programs manager for the Emergency Foodshelf Network.

Input from listening session and interview participants has been detailed and rich. Some of the overriding themes and ideas include the need for guidelines for food retailers on how to be a “healthy retailer” including what types of foods to carry, how to market those foods better, and what strategies increase consumer knowledge of healthy foods. Other ideas include increasing healthy food grown by nearby farmers, providing a supportive food safety infrastructure for farmers and wholesale buyers, and programs to improve consumer food skills.

The sessions have also revealed healthy-food assets across the state. A regional chain of convenience stores—KwikTrip—offers healthy foods at their stores, accompanied by an effective fresh produce promotional strategy. A variety of retail stores offer precut fruits and vegetables as convenience foods. Minnesota Extension Service features nutrition education at farmers markets across the state, and WIC is encouraging retailers to stock healthy food items. Federal policy changes have yielded important improvements to school food across Minnesota.