Mobilizing Food Networks in Minnesota

Across the country, communities continue to innovate and connect with the shared aim of improving reliable access to safe, affordable, healthy food. In Minnesota–under the umbrella of the Minnesota Food Charter Network–and beyond, many continue to advance state policy, work through local government channels, create new policies and priorities in organizations, and foster powerful collaborations to ­improve food skills, create healthy food environments, and build the food infrastructure needed to get us there.

The Minnesota Food Charter describes 99 proven policy and systems change strategies, identified by thousands of Minnesotans. So, we have the list of ingredients for change, but how do we operationalize that change? What is the broader strategy to weave and mobilize an interconnected base of people to achieve these strategies? What’s been accomplished thus far?

Taking a look at the bases already organized and doing work is one helpful way to identify what’s already primed and ready and what kind of engagement work is still ahead. Here are some examples of the kinds of bases that are already organized and what they do to advance strategies that align with the Minnesota Food Charter:

Minnesota Food Funders Network For several years, numerous funders of all sizes and priorities have worked together to support the Minnesota Food Charter, the Food Access Summit, and other important efforts. This growing network has statewide reach. They are in dialogue, in partnership, and supportive of the Minnesota Food Charter Network and many strategies that align with the Minnesota Food Charter.

70+ Food Networks Statewide, there are more than 70 food-focused networks of all scales and sizes. Some are there for like-minded folks to meet and talk about food issues. Others focus on a key issue such as hunger relief, while others are affiliated with a local unit of government or have a regional or statewide policy lens. Thousands of people are affiliated with or connected to these networks.

Hunger Relief Food pantries, food shelves, and food banks alike collaborate on a variety of healthy food access initiatives and also support statewide organizations such as Hunger Solutions to advance state policy that encourages access to healthy food across Minnesota for those with the least access.

Farmers Markets State and local associations of farmers markets, in partnership with state agencies such as the Minnesota Department of Human Services, the Minnesota Department of Health, and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, are working together to foster the prosperity of family farmers and increase access to healthy food for limited resource Minnesotans through program such as market bucks and SNAP/EBT at farmers markets.

Local Public Health For several years, the state legislature has funded local public health agencies–present in every community across Minnesota–and the state Department of Health to implement policy and systems change strategies designed to improve healthy eating behaviors. Strategies include healthy vending machines, farm to institution, community gardens, and more. Furthermore, local public health practitioners are organized within the Minnesota Public Health Association, which includes thousands of members working in a variety of settings to increase access to healthy food.

Many of the stakeholders who are part of the above networks and sectors are in relationship with each other. The Minnesota Food Charter Network offers them a strategic way to work with each other, communicate with each other, and strategize together.

What’s ahead?

There are a few key areas of strategic opportunity that organizations and organizers alike can consider as we all work together to create prosperous communities and leave a healthy food legacy for future generations:

Economic Development Minnesota has so much going for it when it comes to resources and expertise in the sector of economic development. From state government to regional and local organizations, agencies, and units of government, aligning economic development leaders from diverse contexts in support of the Food Charter could unleash powerful resources and energy to implement many of Food Charter strategies.

Natural Resources State, regional, and local agencies and governments, combined with a variety of NGOs and stakeholder groups, committed to environmental health and conservation, can be powerful partners to align with. For example, the Minnesota Food Charter contains a strategy for increasing state funding for tickborne illness prevention and treatment. Stakeholders on the natural resources and environmental side of the equation are obvious partners for such an effort. Or, Food Charter strategies focused on new perennial cropping systems for large-scale production, such as the Forever Green Initiative, are an important connection point for conservationists, agricultural organizations, and soil and water quality entities.

A key question as we look across the growing Minnesota Food Charter Network and the existing, diverse bases that are currently organized, is ‘who’s missing and how and where does the Food Charter intersect with other interests?’ As we look ahead to the future of the Minnesota Food Charter, considering which bases still need to be organized and their strategic potential for advancing relevant Food Charter strategies should be a core undertaking to lead to ongoing success and impact.