Minnesota Communities Play Role in Foods We Grow and Eat

Minnesota Food Charter Public Input Findings: Community Setting

This month, Dr. Kathy Draeger, Statewide Director for the Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships at the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Food Charter Steering Committee member, will host our “Third Thursday” webinar: “For Our Healthy Future: Communities And Healthy Food Access.”

It’s widely recognized that food access is not just a health issue — it’s also a community development and equity issue. As we gathered public input in 2013, community members and organizations that serve Minnesotans, like restaurants, food stores, and other public facilities, described challenges and opportunities associated with healthy food access.

Later this year, the Minnesota Food Charter document will share recommendations to improve access to healthy foods in Minnesota communities.

What Minnesotans Say About Healthy Food Access in Our Communities

Minnesotans participating the Food Charter pointed to three main healthy food access issues in their communities:

  • Healthy food can be challenging to prepare if you lack time, money, or skills
  • Getting to healthy food – on foot, bike, bus, by car, or otherwise — can be difficult in some places
  • Having a better infrastructure for growing and distributing healthy foods within our communities would improve our access

Growing, Cooking and Eating Healthy Food

Most (83%) Food Charter respondents agree that many people simply lack the knowledge needed to purchase and prepare healthy foods on a budget. What’s more, nearly 75% of respondents agree that people don’t truly know what a healthy diet is. This knowledge gap leads to poor eating habits.

“The kinds of [food] programs and their structure is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Communities must be involved in the process to help us discover how to really improve access.” –Public Input Response

One strategy proposed by Food Charter participants to close the “Food Skills Gap” includes developing community education classes for adults, students, and preschoolers focused on healthy eating, cooking, and where food comes from. Other classes might include instruction to help Minnesotans learn to garden, plan meals, and shop more effectively.

Providing Access to Healthy Food

Getting to affordable, healthy food is a key piece of the food system puzzle in Minnesota. While residents of larger cities across the state are more likely to have numerous grocery store options with healthy, fresh food, people in greater Minnesota may face a 30-mile drive to the only grocery store in the county and still have minimal healthy food options when they shop there. This problem becomes even more serious in places where there is no public transit or when people lack their own transportation. Individuals who don’t own a car may only plan trips to grocery shop once or twice a month — forcing them to rely more on processed, shelf-stable foods or unhealthy items offered at nearby convenience stores.

Food Charter participants proposed several solutions to these accessibility issues. Community planning decision-makers can work with local communities to locate food retailers and farmers markets on public transit routes to improve access for residents who rely on public transit to get around. Providing incentives to small grocers to sell healthy foods and promote healthy food options in their stores could also improve access to foods that benefit our health.

Improving Food Infrastructure

Food Infrastructure encompasses how we grow, process, distribute, and sell foods. Food Charter participants pointed to several barriers associated with our food infrastructure that limit access to healthy foods in Minnesota communities — from long, frigid winters to marketing, government policy and regulations. Some respondents indicated that state and federal regulations discourage production of fresh fruits and vegetables, while others say nearby farmers do not grow enough healthy fruits and vegetables for local consumption. In addition, for people who wish to grow their own food in gardens, access to land can be an issue.

“Let’s make sure decision makers see the connection between our food systems, the production system and the health of the people and the land. It’s one system.” –Public Input Response

Food Charter participants offered several possible solutions to enhance food infrastructure including policy and systems changes that will create a healthy food infrastructure, as well as incentives and new nutrition policy spanning local, state and federal levels.

Whatever the changes, it’s clear that how we prepare healthy foods, get access to healthy food options and approach our food infrastructure going forward will have a dramatic impact on access to affordable, healthy foods in communities throughout Minnesota.

Mark Your Calendar Now

The Third Thursday webinar, “For Our Healthy Future: Communities and Healthy Food Access,” webinar starts at 11 a.m. on March 20. Click here to tune in.  Mark your calendar and hear more about these findings gathered from 2,000 people who shared their input during the Minnesota Food Charter public input process.

If you’re unable to participate in our monthly Third Thursday webinar, you can still watch the recorded versions of the webinars.

Thanks for your continued support of this important work in our communities!