MN Lawmakers Asked to End Food Deserts

One in four children in Minnesota lacks access to healthy food, simply because he or she lives in areas where grocery shopping choices are limited.

The Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition last year pushed legislation to address so-called food deserts in rural and urban areas, and now a bill to fund such legislation is being introduced at the State Capitol Thursday.

The Good Food Access Fund would provide loans, grants and technical assistance to existing or new business owners to offer healthy, affordable food.

The bill’s co-author, Rep. Rod Hamilton, says more than 340,000 Minnesotans face both distance and income barriers to getting fresh produce, low-fat dairy products and other healthy options. He adds one in four are children, and one in five are seniors.

“First, we were thinking, ‘Let’s just put it in and get people talking about it,’ and we’ve received all kinds of support,” he states. “And we were very thankful that other legislators agreed with us and we were able to get it passed last legislative session.”

Hamilton says just more than 60 percent of Minnesota counties have been losing grocery stores since 2007.

The University of Minnesota Extension Survey did a survey of grocers and found 6 in 10 plan to own their business for another 10 years or less, and don’t have a plan in place for who will operate it after they retire.

A win for kids and seniors

Cheryal Hills, who heads the Region Five Development Commission, calls the Good Food Access Fund a well put together program that is a win for children, older Minnesotans and economic development.

“We have seen programs not done well, right, in our state – let’s be honest about that,” she states. “The thing I love about the Good Food Access Fund is the intentional focus on trying to bring lots of different minds together to think about what’s the best approach.”

According to the Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition, limited access to nutritious, affordable food results in a variety of health problems, including higher rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

And a poll commissioned by the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota found almost half of Minnesotans say not having a store nearby that sells healthy foods directly affects what they eat.

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