Food Charter Ground Game in Full Effect: Featuring communities and individuals across the state working to make healthy, safe, and affordable food accessible to all

For years, people across the state have been working across sectors, across communities, across county lines, across Indian Country, to ensure healthy, safe, and affordable food is accessible to everyone. From hunger relief to family farms, we’ve made significant progress over the years towards a healthy food future for Minnesota.

The launch of the Minnesota Food Charter served as a launch pad—the platform upon which we could base the rationale for our work. But importantly, the Food Charter represents a collective, cross-sector agreement about what a healthy food future for Minnesota looks like—and it gives us a roadmap to get there.

This month, we want to share with you a few stories we’ve heard of individuals and organizations doing great work to make food more accessible, more affordable, and more available.

Leech Lake Band of OjibweLeech Lake Tribal College Logo

Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe (SHIP), Leech Lake Tribal College, Cass County Public Health (SHIP), and AmeriCorps Vista held a Minnesota Food Charter launch event, inviting the community at large with a particular emphasis on student input. Working with faculty at the Tribal College, the group incorporated attendance at the launch event into class syllabi, and offered extra credit to students who went above and beyond by helping with meal preparation for the event.

The discussion focused on a few key areas—in particular, the group addressed barriers and strategies they believed were specifically affecting the reservation relative to Food Skills, Food Access, Food Affordability, Food Availability, and Food Infrastructure.  They defined the most urgent problems affecting their community, and identified what Food Charter strategies would best address these challenges.

A resounding theme was shared interest in developing systems for growing their own food; conversations centered on processing, preserving, cooking, having a greenhouse, and starting community garden.  There was also a notable amount of interest in bringing a farmers market back to the community.

Here are a few exciting results from the event:

  • The tribal college has hired a staff person to work on a community garden at the college, including raised beds and a greenhouse
  • Amanda Shongo (SHIP Coordinator for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe) will lead 18 food related gatherings at three LLBO Early Childhood centers
  • The group has been asked by the LLBO Child Care Providers Coordinator to host another Minnesota Food Charter conversation specifically to address barriers and strategies affecting childcare providers.

The Leech Lake group hopes to create greater awareness of the issues, and help facilitate greater collaboration between groups to make food issues more of a priority politically and socially.

Cass Clay Food Systems Advisory Commission

Cass-Clay Food Systems Advisory CommissionFood system leaders from public health and Extension in Clay County, Minnesota, and Cass County, North Dakota, as well as the Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan Council of Governments (a local metropolitan planning organization) leveraged the Minnesota Food Charter to help establish the Cass Clay Food Systems Advisory Commission. This important work supports the Food Charter strategy related to bolstering and supporting local food policy councils.

The Commission is the first food policy council in the Red River Valley formally affiliated with a unit of local government, and brings together elected officials representing six local jurisdictions—encompassing two states, two counties and four cities—with food system leaders in the community to collectively work toward improving healthy food access through evidence-based policy and planning.

The Cass Clay Metropolitan Food Systems Plan will be used as a foundation for the work of the Commission with emphasis on the areas of urban agriculture, food access, infrastructure and economic development. The inaugural meeting of the Commission was held on March 25.

Metro Food Access Network Action TeamsMFAN

The Metro Food Access Network (or MFAN) works to leverage collective capacity of partners to advance equitable access to healthy food for all Twin Cities metro residents. The group is currently focusing on three key areas related to Food Charter strategies: Hunger, Land Access, and Comprehensive Planning—using a planning process that leveraged Food Charter strategies as key priorities.

To address the Food Charter strategy related to increasing the availability of healthy, culturally-familiar foods at community food banks and food shelves, a group of local public health, Extension SNAP-Ed staff, and hunger relief agencies are working to develop a list of promising practices to support food shelves in developing a healthier food shelf environment.  Once completed, the document will be used by local public health and SNAP-Ed Educators to assist food shelves in implementing relevant practices in their sites.

The Food Charter also includes a strategy that encourages movement towards creating state-level policies and investments that support and minimize risk for Minnesota farms that grow healthy, costly and/or vulnerable crops, such as fruits and vegetables. To address this opportunity, MFAN is developing a whitepaper for policymakers and funders regarding land access barriers to growing food in the Twin Cities metro region.

Finally, a sustainable healthy food system cannot be created without a comprehensive view of all interconnected components, including overall infrastructure and transportation. MFAN’s Comprehensive Planning Action Team is beginning to plan their work to understand how they can strengthen the connection between active living, food access, and comprehensive planning in the Twin Cities metro region.

Midway NestMidway Nest

In the Hamline-Midway neighborhood, locally grown food just isn’t easily accessible. Community members have been meeting for years to discuss how to create more opportunity for growing and distributing more local food options via community gardens, seed exchanges, and other ideas. As the conversation developed further, the group began discussing what it could look like to have a brick and mortar space dedicated to local foods. In 2014, the group was awarded at $10,000 grant from the University of Minnesota Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Institute (HFHL) to undertake research and planning required to make this change in the Hamline-Midway community.

The working title for the space is the Midway Nest—a local foods business where residents can gather to enjoy a meal at the storefront bakery/café, to collect and distribute local CSA produce, and to afford start-up food entrepreneurs a venue to craft and market their ideas. They’re also envisioning a community meal center, which can unite residents regardless of their income, race, or age to share and explore the neighborhood foodways. In order to make this vision a reality, thanks to the HFHL funding, the group underwent a period of research and development to create a business plan to make the Midway Nest a reality. The group has identified key market segments, ideal goals based on input from residents, and next steps, including:

  • Reconvening with stakeholders to identify individuals and groups to carry the work forward
  • Finding available physical space in the Midway neighborhood
  • Finalizing the business model and choosing tax status, and
  • Refining an inclusive outreach strategy, ensuring diversity in age, race, and income level

“Food Hubs have so many definitions,” said Kate Mudge, one of the Midway Nest leaders. “We have no co-op, no farmers market. We have community gardens, but no place for community gardeners to go to get more help and information, or to network. None of our corner markets have produce. The point of all of this is to get access to more local food.”