Food Charter Input: You Talked, We Listened

Since the Minnesota Food Charter first engaged with residents across the state in early 2013, the public response has been exciting and informative. In just 11 short months, the Food Charter has connected with more than 2,000 Minnesotans at 130-plus events. In addition, more than 400 online responses have been compiled and, most recently, the Food Charter’s MindMixer online engagement platform has engaged with nearly 100 individuals resulting in dozens of participant ideas.

The information obtained through each public engagement initiative will serve as the foundation for the Food Charter drafting committee as it begins to create the Food Charter document in 2014.

“I got involved with the Minnesota Food Charter because of my interest in cancer prevention – just 5% of cancers are hereditary,” said Warren Larson, Director of Public Affairs at Sanford Health, and Minnesota Food Charter Steering Committee member. “The food choices we make have a profound impact on our health. The cure for cancer will come, in large part, from how we as a society address prevention.”

Here’s a quick look at some of the important data points collected through the Food Charter public engagement process so far:

Food availability is a top concern. Bottom line, Food Charter event participants say healthy food is simply not readily available in many Minnesota communities. Participants say getting healthy food should be easier to do in the communities where they live and work. In addition, they say many communities lack a variety of affordable places where they can get the healthy foods they want.

Participants frequently cite the need for farmers markets to be more widely available where they live. They also suggest that healthy foods be available and more convenient through vending machines, convenience stores, concession stands at schools, and at restaurants.

Communities need to be able to access healthy foods, too. Many people say they struggle to access healthy foods in their communities. In some situations, communities with a high number of low-income residents don’t have stores with high quality, affordable, healthy options. Other challenges to accessibility include transportation concerns like unsafe or nonexistent bike paths and sidewalks; stores and locations that don’t provide easy access for the elderly or people in wheelchairs; and winter weather conditions that prohibit individuals to get to certain stores that offer health food options.

People lack basic food skills and awareness. Healthy eating in Minnesota doesn’t come naturally to a significant portion of the state’s population. In addition, there’s a missing educational component to help people learn the relevance of gardening, meal planning, shopping for/selecting healthy foods, establishing a food budget, food preservation, and understanding the overall food system.

To solve the educational need, Food Charter event participants suggest a variety of options, from early childhood to K-12 educational programs to community education classes designed to help residents learn about the food system in their communities.

Food affordability and food infrastructure are two additional issues that have driven a variety of excellent ideas from people across the state who have participated in Food Charter meetings.

Most recently, the Food Charter has been gathering inputs using the Minnesota Food Charter MindMixer engagement platform. This online web site dedicated to gathering recommendations from residents throughout the state, continues to be perfect medium for individuals to share their ideas about specific food topics.

For example, MindMixer feedback will help Food Charter committee members better define key issues and define food terminology the Food Charter document will better resonate with the population. This feedback will also enable the Food Charter document to address specific issues, such as how Minnesotans can solve the food time crunch (when families find themselves too busy to access healthy foods).  Many ideas generated on MindMixer will help frame answers to the questions of accessibility and affordability, as well.

The Minnesota Food Charter MindMixer public engagement platform will continue gathering input through January 31, 2014. In addition, the Food Charter will conduct six in-person input sessions at various locations across Minnesota on January 22.

And, the Minnesota Food Charter will host a meeting at 9 a.m. on February 19, 2014 at the Emergency Foodshelf Network (8501 54th Avenue North, New Hope, 55428).

“The Food Charter will play an important role in the future health of our state,” added Larson. “With the success of our Minnesota Food Charter, Minnesotans will benefit with healthier food options and a State with less cancer.”

Through these public engagement initiatives, the Food Charter document published in 2014 will address the most critical issues facing Minnesotans and provide specific how-tos that enable schools, child care, worksites, communities and healthcare organizations enhance efforts to ensure healthy, affordable foods are available to all.