Minnesota has a food desert problem: Here's what's being done to address it

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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, according to a report released last week by the by Wilder Research and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

The areas where people live inconveniently far from fresh produce are called food deserts. Some of these places are in the Twin Cities, like near the University of Minnesota (read more below), but the problem is most pronounced in the rural areas of Greater Minnesota. Read more about that in our previous story on food access here.

The Wilder Research report listed food regulations, licensing requirements, low populations and limited infrastructure as barriers in the food desert crisis, noting that policy changes could address some of these hurdles.

However, some communities have already been taking the initiative to address food crises on their own.

Projects to address food deserts

There are several efforts around the state to try to address the issue:

After losing their local markets, some towns have turned to food cooperatives and other initiatives to provide more options and eliminate food deserts.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota notes Lakeshirts Inc. in Detroit Lakes, the Anach food co-op in Milan, and The Open Door Pantry in Eagan are among some community-driven solutions to help close the grocery gap – another term for food deserts.

Providing transportation has also been a focus.

Last summer the City of Duluth opened the Grocery Express – a new bus route with grocery bins that connects neighborhoods in food desserts to a Super One Foods store. Ten weeks into the Grocery Express trial, the results of the program were deemed positive, according to the Duluth News Tribune.

Last month, the University of Minnesota launched a food shuttle program which takes students to stores at the Quarry in Northeast Minneapolis, reported the Minnesota Daily.

The Good Food Access Program is an initiative to provide funding, incentives, low-cost financing and tax breaks for new food stores offering healthy and affordable options in food deserts. The Waldock and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota is encouraging lawmakers to set aside $10 million program, said Public News Service - MN.

A Senate committee considered the proposal on Wednesday, reported the Star Tribune. The bill would include grants for farmers markets, limited-hour stores or even mobile grocery trucks that circulate among high-need areas.

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