Approximately 1.6 million Minnesotans — nearly 30 percent of the state’s population — lack access to healthy food because of how far they live from a grocery store that supplies fresh fruits and vegetables. The lack of access to healthy and affordable foods has resulted in significant health challenges throughout the state, including among communities of color and the state’s large Native American population.
To remedy the problem, the Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition proposed the creation of the Good Food Access Fund (GFAF), 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.
“The goal of the Good Food Access Fund is to help make healthy, affordable food choices possible for communities that currently lack access to those foods, thereby giving Minnesotans of all ages and in all regions of the state the tools they need to help improve their health and well-being,” says Rachel Callanan of the Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition, a 25-member group established by the American Heart Association to mobilize advocacy efforts around priority state policies to help all children achieve a healthy weight.
Legislation creating the program was quickly and enthusiastically sponsored by the chairs of the Senate and House agriculture committee, respectively a Democrat and a Republican. Co-sponsors included both urban and rural legislators. Callanan says that the legislation’s broad bipartisan and geographic support showed that legislators clearly recognized the gravity of the food access problem in Minnesota.
The 2016 legislative session was supposed to be a building year for eventual passage of the GFAF but momentum grew rapidly due, in part, to the release of survey findings by Minnesota Extension. The survey found that 62 percent of rural grocery store respondents intend to own their store for 10 more years or less and the vast majority do not have a transition plan in place to help assure the store will continue to operate.
In the final hours of the Minnesota legislative session, legislation creating the GFAF and housing it at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture was approved. The program also received $250,000 in seed money to get it off the ground.