More than 340,000 Minnesotans face both distance and income as a barrier to obtaining healthy, affordable food such as fruits and vegetables, low fat dairy, whole grains, and lean meats and poultry.1 This problem is only worsening with 61% of Minnesota counties losing grocery stores since 2007.2 Limited access to healthy, affordable foods results in disproportionately higher rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other diet-related health problems.3 It is also one of the key contributing factors to the health disparities that currently exist in Minnesota among many communities of color.4
Last fall, the American Heart Association and the Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition obtained a Voices for Healthy Kids grant to create a healthy food financing policy solution to address this state-wide problem. We knew that such programs in other states were successful where grocery stores were reopened in low access areas, improving good food access and revitalizing local economies.
In true Minnesotan fashion, we decided to do things a little differently. Based on feedback garnered during our ongoing community engagement and in accordance with the Minnesota Food Charter, we knew that solely reopening grocery stores would not be the answer. Working with partners across health, food insecurity, agriculture, and community-investment interests, we proposed the Good Food Access Fund which would be established and funded by the Minnesota Legislature. It would provide grants, low-cost loans, and technical support for food-related enterprises in areas of the state where people don’t have the ability to choose healthy, affordable foods. Those enterprises could include new or enhanced grocery stores, mobile markets and farmers’ markets, fresh food refrigeration, and other innovative community-driven solutions.
We introduced the Good Food Access Fund bill at the beginning of the Minnesota legislative session in early March. We expected this to be an introduction/education year for the Good Food Access Fund – but WOW!!! Thanks to our amazing chief bill authors, Senator Dan Sparks and Representative Rod Hamilton, and the work of all our partners, the bill got so much more attention and support than we anticipated. The bill went on a whirlwind tour of 6 committee hearings in 6 weeks! The last of the hearings, was before the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Equity, a new committee that represents the first time the legislature has taken a serious look at addressing racial disparities. The Subcommittee included our bill in their budget recommendations and appropriated $5 million in one-time funding!! This is far from the finish line and a final win is still a long ways away with many hurdles – but this is a HUGE accomplishment! The next few weeks of the legislative session will tell whether this $5 million appropriation becomes a reality.
Our success this year really speaks to how relevant and important the issue of food access is in Minnesota; it crosses partisan and geographic divides. It’s not just an economic issue, it’s a health and equity issue as well. We have sent the message that improving food access is a priority in Minnesota! Thanks to all of the YTC members who have responded to our Action Alerts! We look forward to your continued support as we move forward! Please like and follow the campaign on Facebook for more information!
 Mattessich, P. & Rausch, E. (2016).Healthy food access: A view of the landscape in Minnesota and lessons learned from healthy food financing initiatives. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and Wilder Research.
3 Manon, M. & Kim, E. (2012).Food for every child: The need for more supermarkets in Minnesota. The Food Trust. www.healthyfoodaccess.org/resources/library/food-for-every-child-the-need-for-more-supermarkets-in-minnesota