Better Food Gets Closer in Minnesota

Better Food Gets Closer in Minnesota Click to Enlarge

STAPLES, Minn. - The name says it all: the Good Food Access Program helps small food retailers reach people in parts of the state with limited access to healthy and affordable foods.

The retailers can be mom-and-pop grocery stores, food co-ops or mobile kitchens. Innovation is part of the plan. Cheryal Lee Hills, executive director with the five-county development commission based in Staples, said the need is great.

"Let's help these access points understand who's in their community and how they can serve those folks in a way that makes money," Hills said; "and stretch a little bit into some areas that maybe, you know, they don't have that expertise to do."

The Good Food Access Program was created by the Minnesota Legislature in 2016 and is run by the Department of Agriculture. Grants range from $5,000 to $75,000, and can help with marketing, H.R. needs, computer systems or other technical assistance. The deadline to apply is March 14.

Later in the spring, the Good Food Access Program will offer grants for equipment. Last year, those grants paid for new coolers for fresh vegetables and, in Hills's area, a grocery store on wheels know as a Mobile Market.

"The Mobile Market will go to areas of our region that are food deserts, and will stop at nursing homes, daycare providers, other areas to sell fresh commodities from growers in my region," she explained.

Another of the 2017 grant recipients was the White Earth Nation in Northwest Minnesota. Zachary Paige, food sovereignty specialist with the tribe, said they're installing new vegetable coolers in two convenience stores and buying a refrigerated truck that will also house a kitchen.

"What we're trying to do is grow locally produced, organic, indigenous foods that have high nutrients and also will be available to people at a closer range," Paige said. "Walmart and Central Market in Detroit Lakes, they are up-to 50 miles away for some people."

Paige and others say poor diet is a major factor in the diabetes and heart problems that disproportionately affect White Earth. He said he expects the grant's incentives to help more people grow and eat healthier food.

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