About 1.6 million Minnesotans – nearly 30 percent – lack access to healthy food because of how far they live from a grocery store that supplies fresh fruits and vegetables.
That's according to a report released Wednesday by Wilder Research and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
These residents usually live in rural areas, have low incomes, or are seniors or people of color.
Access in the Twin Cities
While the new Wilder report focuses on statewide numbers, food deserts are an issue in the Twin Cities as well.
According to survey results presented by the Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition, 46 percent of those who live inside the Twin Cities metropolitan area say their food choices are somewhat influenced by the lack of stores selling healthy food nearby.
This map below shows in red which areas of the Twin Cities are in the greatest need of fresh food access:
Access in Greater Minnesota
Then there's Greater Minnesota, where the problem is more pronounced.
The Healthy Kids Coalition survey found 55 percent of respondents living outside the Twin Cities metro area reported that their food choices are influenced a lack of nearby healthy food options.
In February, the University of Minnesota released a study on rural grocery stores that reported 28 percent of people in rural areas must travel 30 or more miles to get to the nearest grocery store. The report also found that the majority of rural grocery owners intend to own their store for less than 10 years and do not have a plan to transition their business.
Competition with large chain grocery stores is their most significant challenge, said that U of M report. High profit costs and narrow profit margins were also cited as challenges.
Click here to look at the Star Tribune's interactive map of food deserts throughout Minnesota.
What's behind the food crisis?
Around the Great Recession from 2007-2012, nearly half of Minnesota counties lost at least one grocery store. The areas affected were primarily rural communities, according to the Wilder report.
But the crisis didn't stop there. 2014 was the year that Minnesota's grocery store landscape was turned upside down. Rural grocery stores struggled – many were on the verge of bankruptcy or had to close, especially in towns with 700 people or fewer.
The Wilder Research report listed food regulations, licensing requirements, low populations and limited infrastructure as barriers in the food dessert crisis, noting that policy changes could address some of these hurdles.