Senior Public Health Specialist, Minneapolis Department of Health
Knowing what to eat is important, but having access to healthy food options matters too. While it’s easy to find healthy foods at a supermarket or co-op, residents in some communities must shop for groceries at corner stores, gas stations, and other general retailers where nutritious choices are often very limited.
Kristen Klingler, Senior Public Health Specialist for the Minneapolis Health Department, works to make food availability a priority for the city of Minneapolis. In her daily role, she coordinates the implementation of numerous strategies designed to support policy, system, and environmental changes that increase access to healthy foods—particularly in low-income populations and communities of color.
“I believe that local public health agencies have a responsibility to ensure that healthy food options are available in every community,” Kristen said. “I’m excited to work with so many passionate people every single day who are committed to addressing this issue of food availability, and who are making our city a healthier place to live.”
A Growing Movement
When Kristen first arrived in Minneapolis eight years ago, the city had a small but growing movement that was focused on building a healthy and equitable local food system. She calls herself lucky for getting involved in the movement early on.
“I was inspired to get involved in food availability issues after former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak asked the Health Department to lead a new initiative called Homegrown Minneapolis,” Kristen explained. “This initiative promotes collaboration between Minneapolis city staff and community residents around strengthening our local food system. I jumped at the chance to help lead this effort since it complemented my previous experience in obesity prevention. The project also allowed me to explore some new areas of personal interest including food policy, sustainability, and social justice.”
After Homegrown Minneapolis, Kristen had the opportunity to lead additional healthy food projects for the city. She helped launch SNAP/EBT at all of the Minneapolis farmers markets, and coordinated revisions to the city’s staple foods ordinance. She also assisted Minneapolis Public Schools in expanding its farm-to-school program, and ran the “Plant an Extra Row” campaign to help connect gardeners with food shelves that were looking for fresh produce donations.
“Each of these new projects reinforced for me how healthy food availability is critical to individual and community health,” Kristen told us. “Every day, I’m reminded of how important it is for everyone to have access to nutritious options. I have lived in other places, and in comparison, Minneapolis (and Minnesota in general) is doing so much to support healthy food availability! It’s exciting for me to live and work in a place that prioritizes and encourages this work.”
Staple Foods Ordinance
In Kristen’s accomplished career, she is most proud of helping revise the city’s staple food ordinance—which now requires 260+ licensed grocery stores to stock a significant amount of healthy foods, including fresh produce, whole grains, and lean proteins. The ordinance helps to ensure that all Minneapolis residents have access to healthy foods, no matter where they shop. The staple foods ordinance is especially important in low-income communities where residents must often rely on corner stores, gas stations, dollar stores, or pharmacies to meet their basic grocery needs.
“While unhealthy foods are abundant in these kinds of stores, nutritious foods are often limited. Revising the ordinance required a great deal of time and energy from Health Department staff, along with significant support from community members,” Kristen explained. “We are proud of the impact of this local policy change on healthy food availability in Minneapolis. Our staple foods ordinance is the only one of its kind in the United States. Other cities have expressed interest in replicating our model to improve the nutritious food options in their own communities.”
Kristen is often asked how others can get involved in creating a healthier community for all. Her answer is simple: Speak up, and start asking for more healthy options.
“Whether you’re in a corner store, a restaurant, at your child’s school, at your worksite, in a hospital cafeteria, or at a local food shelf, you can let the people in charge know that you want to see a wider variety and abundance of healthy foods,” Kristen said. “It’s often the case that the healthy neighborhood food supply won’t significantly increase until people start making demands. Once you let local businesses and leaders know that you want and need healthier foods, then you can help them to figure out how to achieve that goal.”
Because if a community has good food availability, according to Kristen, then it should be easy for all residents—regardless of their zip code or income—to find and choose affordable and nutritious foods.