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Nonprofit Research on Access to Healthy Food in Minnesota

February 21st, 2012 by admin Leave a reply »

Overview

Philanthropedia is currently partnering with Minnesota Philanthropy Partners to conduct research to identify expert-recommended high-impact nonprofits that increase access to healthy food in Minnesota, in hopes of raising more awareness on this topic.

 

Did you know that two-thirds of the nation is overweight or obese? Supporting healthier eating habits and educating families and individuals about nutritious food choices are key components to fighting the obesity epidemic.

Scope of Research

In preparation for this research, we spoke with ten experts to better understand the issue area of access to healthy food in Minnesota. Their insights have helped define the scope of this research. (Thank you to those of you who offered your time and expertise!)

For this research, we are asking experts to recommend up to four nonprofits doing high-impact work across the state of Minnesota, and up to two start-up nonprofits that have the potential to do high-impact work.

In particular we are asking experts to recommend nonprofits that are:

 

  1. Working in the emergency food system
  2. Addressing geographic access problems
  3. Engaging in the agricultural policy system
  4. Working with school food programs
  5. Supporting farmers markets

 

1.    Emergency food system

The emergency food system is an established system in which the government, corporations and other donors provide monetary or food donations to food banks. The donated food or purchased food then gets distributed to the food shelves, food pantries, and organizations with meal programs.

One of the largest factors that limit the emergency food system from providing food to people in need is the lack of capacity of food shelves and other partner organizations to house the food stuffs. This particularly affects fresh produce donations because their shelf lives aren’t as long as dry goods. Another issue these organizations confront is to what extent they provide ethnically specific food. Minnesota is home to large populations of Somalis, East Africans, Southeast Asians, Latinos and Eastern Europeans. Providing food that is a part of a family’s traditional diet is not only culturally sensitive, but it can reduce the amount of wasted food that comes from giving families foods with which they are unfamiliar. Food shelves and food pantries often try to provide ethnically specific food, but they must balance the desire to accommodate ethnic palettes with the increased cost of stocking such items. Recently, there has also been a growing demand for healthier food options within the emergency food system. However, food distributors often struggle to meet this demand because they are often unable to control the type of food that is donated.

2.    Geographic access

For many years, low-income urban and rural communities have faced limited opportunities to purchase healthy food. The term food desert is often used to describe areas with severely limited access to grocery stores and healthy food options. For example, some residents on reservations in Northern Minnesota live almost an hour round trip from the nearest grocery store. Often, residents in these areas rely on expensive, fatty, processed foods sold at convenience/corner stores. At times, these corner grocery stores buy produce directly from the closest available large grocery store. As a result, the cost of produce at these convenience stores is highly prohibitive and the supply is low. One means of addressing this problem is by providing corner stores access to lower cost produce in order to increase their healthy food supply. City planning can also help low income communities gain access to healthy, affordable food in the long term.

3.    Reforming the agriculture system

It is important to understand the significant role that food and agricultural policy play in ensuring access to healthy food; in many ways policy drives nutrition.  For example, federal policies heavily subsidize corn and soy production. As a result, a large majority of food in the U.S. is a by-product of corn and soy (e.g. high fructose corn syrup).  Whereas, the production of fresh fruits and vegetables and food production on small family farms get very little institutional support.

Those supporting access to healthy food work to increase support for a variety of produce items as well as advocate on behalf of local, family farms.  Without these smaller farms, healthy produce would be severely limited. Types of support for local farms might include technical support, raising awareness of what subsidies are available, and also helping farmers advocate for themselves.

4.    School food programs

Schools are both one of the largest institutions that distribute food and a great place to educate about healthy eating habits. As a result, the “farm to school” movement developed to help schools purchase fresh produce from local farmers. Additionally, several organizations have developed programs to educate students about healthy eating so children can learn new habits and also potentially influence their parents’ eating habits.

5.    Farmers markets

Minnesota has a vibrant farmer’s market community which can be a great source of healthy, fresh food. However, most vendors at these markets aren’t equipped to accept food stamps. Therefore, to align incentives, there is a new effort underway to help vendors be able to accept and process food stamps. These markets play an important part in supporting local farmers and in making healthy food an affordable option.

 

Additional Research Details

In addition to the five areas outlined above, we are encouraging experts to consider the following types of organizations when making their recommendations:

  • Food banks, food shelves/food pantries, meal programs
  • Research organizations
  • Policy and advocacy organizations
  • Nutrition education organizations

Participation in the Research

Therefore, if you are a nonprofit expert working in the field of access to healthy food in Minnesota, you should have received an email from us with a link to our survey. The survey will be open until mid-March, 2012. We hope you will share your perspective and insights! If for some reason we have missed you and you think you have a valuable perspective to offer, please contact Jasmine Marrow at jasmine.marrow@guidestar.org, and we would love to send the survey to you to include your insights.

Additionally, we invite your feedback and thoughts about how you might frame this type of work. For those readers less familiar with this topic, we hope you learned something new and will check in again when we have the results of this research. Thank you all for your participation!

 

 

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