Director, PartnerSHIP 4 Health
Making big changes to a community’s food system can’t happen overnight, and it can’t happen without the collaboration of myriad people and organizations.
According to Gina Nolte, the best way to ensure healthy, affordable, safe food access for all Minnesotans is through perseverance and partnerships. And she’s leading the way at PartnerSHIP 4 Health—a collaboration of community partners in Becker, Clay, Otter Tail, and Wilkin counties working together to create an environment that supports health—where she serves as Director. Food availability is one of the strategies Gina focuses on.
“PartnerSHIP 4 Health is reconnecting people with healthy foods and giving communities the tools they need to help residents make healthy food choices,” Gina told us. “We focus on healthy, affordable food because it’s a staple of health. Without a nutritional base, people are more vulnerable, and they face more challenges. I want everyone to have every opportunity to be healthy.”
A Decade of Partnerships
Gina has worked in public health for 10 years, and began working in the area of food availability through her work with Minnesota’s Statewide Health Improvement Programs (SHIP). She says that she’s learned a lot from her colleagues in Minnesota and North Dakota in the last decade as they have worked together to form the Cass Clay Foods Systems Initiative—a partnership between the city of Fargo, North Dakota/Cass County and Clay County in Minnesota to improve healthy food access for people in the Fargo-Moorhead region.
“I believe there is a win-win when we do the right thing with all of our food systems,” Gina said. “In my role with the Cass Clay Foods Systems Initiative, I set up meetings between growers and buyers. Together we have conversations about the opportunities and challenges that go along with connecting local food systems to organizations and institutions such as the public schools. I love how our Cass Clay Foods System Initiative is facilitating local economic development.”
Creating Meaningful Conversations
For Gina, her work is all about connecting the right people and starting meaningful conversations. “I’m proud that the conversations we’ve been having in our grower and buyer meetings led one of our partners, Lakes Country Service Cooperative, to develop the Fresh Connect Food Hub,” Gina explained. “This project created new opportunities for growers to sell healthy and locally grown foods to buyers in the public school system, among others.”
Gina says she’s also proud of the implementation of the Cass Clay Foods Systems Advisory Commission. Over the last few years, she’s helped assemble a policy advisory group that has worked on these issues of food availability from a multi-jurisdictional perspective, which includes two states, two counties. and four cities. The Commission is a separate public entity that advises policy makers and elected officials in the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area on issues of food safety, nutrition, access and affordability.
Aligning Goals and Outcomes
From bringing together local food producers and buyers to strengthening farmers markets, it’s all about partnerships to Gina. And in order for those partnerships to thrive, Gina says partners need to come together with common strategies, while also recognizing that even though their goals may be aligned, they may still be slightly different.
“Partnerships are at the core of this work, and in my experience, it’s important to include members from a variety of disciplines, interests, and approaches in the process,” Gina said.
Because at the end of the day—strengthening the local food system and positively impacting the health of our communities isn’t a short-term, one-strategy process. It takes a community and a plan, and Gina is helping lead the charge.