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Cold Weather Doesn’t Keep People from Food Access Summit

By Serdar Mamedov, Extension Educator — Health and Nutrition, and Suzanne Driessen, Extension Educator — Food Safety

Despite the very cold weather (16 degrees below zero) and long travel time for some, the 2016 Central Minnesota Food Access Summit on December 15 at Central Lake College in Staples, MN brought together over 80 people with food-related professions and interests from throughout the region.

The summit was a forum for wide-ranging conversations about access to healthy food in Central Minnesota. Attendees learned about resources to support a healthier and more affordable food system in their local communities. It was amazing to see a broad representation of different community sectors, including farming, food production and distribution, public health, agriculture research, and many others. Residents from communities and tribal nations also attended. Here are some highlights from the summit.

'Process Paralysis'

The day started with a conversation around change. What are the benefits of changes? What are the challenges of change? Maggie Adamek, Ph.D., works across Minnesota and the nation helping food access networks and organizations. She has witnessed many groups who are stuck in the process phase, noting this as “process paralysis” — lots of process without progress. Process and planning are important, she said. However, action steps need to be defined and taken to move the change process forward. Initiatives without momentum often fizzle.

Effective food network teams keep momentum moving forward. At the conference, five skill sets were identified that result in successful community food system outcomes. Teams should identify and recruit members who have one or more of these five skills:
  • Content expertise
  • Change literacy
  • Collaboration skills
  • Cultural competency
  • Communication skills
To hear more about about change and food access work, check out this 2013 recording:

Minnesota Food Charter

The summit also featured discussion of a tool to guide the work of food access advocates and educators — the Minnesota Food Charter. Michael Dahl, director of the Minnesota Food Charter Network, told summit attendees he encourages use of this tool to plan, create actions steps, or write grants for affordable and safe food for all Minnesotans. This tool outlines goals, challenges, and strategies in five areas related to food, as identified by feedback from thousands of Minnesotans. These are the five areas:
  • Food skills — the foundation of healthy eating.
  • Food affordability — enough money for enough healthy food.
  • Food availability — enough healthy food for all.
  • Food accessibility — healthy food is easy to get.
  • Food infrastructure — growing, processing, and distributing safe, healthy food.

Dahl said that educators may find the Minnesota Food Charter a great resource to use when writing business plans, year-end assessments, and plans of work.

Shared Resources

Many resources were shared at the summit, from on-the-ground resources in grant research and writing to putting policies into practice. An example of an on-the-ground resource is the Sprout Food Hub in Little Falls. This hub aggregates products from 60 small family farms. Eight school districts, area health care facilities, and restaurants buy these local products. The hub’s building has 10,000 square feet, housing a licensed commercial kitchen, a warehouse, commercial freezers, and refrigerators. Local food entrepreneurs lease the space to make and store their products. These entrepreneurs sell these products at the Sprout Growers and Makers’ Saturday market. Attendees learned that food entrepreneurs not in the area Little Falls area can find the commercial kitchen closest to them here: Shared Commercial Kitchen Directory.

Working to Make a Difference

Overall, the issues of access to healthy food in Central Minnesota do not have easy solutions. It takes the efforts of many dedicated and passionate champions to change the food environments for our most vulnerable populations. Fortunately, many in Central Minnesota recognize the food access problem, care about community health issues, and are working to make a difference.

Special thanks to our funders who made this event possible: Initiative Foundation, Statewide Health Improvement Partnership, and Central Regional Sustainable Development Partnership.

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