Food Deserts: A Reality

November 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 


In researching Farm-to-School implementation plans, it just so happens that I am researching all food issues because the principles of access to healthy food daily are relatable to school and family circumstances, justice and equity, food availability, and transportation.

A term that frequently pops up is “food desert.” This phrase describes a geographic area in which nutritious food is either unavailable, unaffordable, or inaccessible. In particular, it is strongly linked to low-income neighborhoods. With this in mind, I dare you to check out the official USDA Food Desert Calculator.

Shocked? Me too. The problem is more than just a geographic location of the store; part of the definition is difficult to quantify because of personal transportation, or lack thereof. Does the bus system stop right at a grocery store, or do you need a car to get there? Or is it that you might live across the highway from a store, but the bus system would require two hours of riding to arrive there, so crossing the highway is faster? There’s an instance in which a local church member said, “Ever since that gas station closed, there’s no food available in this neighborhood.”

Is Food Affordable?

Affordability is another concern. Not every store has the best prices for the fresh items, and why spend on those items if a pre-packaged meal is half the price? If you’re walking or relying on the bus, you’re probably not getting the bulk item deals. There are many factors that contribute to this issue. It seems overwhelming, but there are some personal action items we can do to help.

  • Honestly, I think the best thing you can do is check in with elderly or disabled neighbors or family. For example, my grandparents no longer drive, so we take turns bringing them to the grocery store and delivering batch meals. Be especially concerned during the winter months. It takes just a little time out of your day to help your disabled neighbor or homebound grandmother.
  • Anyone can use the MN Food Helpline at no cost. The hotline resource staff can determine eligibility to food assistance programs and provide instructions on how to apply for it. It’s completely confidential.
  • The Food Helpline might recommend local programs such as the Food Shelf or Fare for All to make your dollars stretch. (PS: Everyone is welcome to participate in Fare for All! Our staff loves it! )
  • Start a vegetable garden, either personal or neighborhood. I’ve seen a woman do a “Sharing Chair” where she puts the extra produce out for anybody to take. Neighborhood gardens are a fun way to build community too!
  • If you are able, volunteer for Meals on Wheels, community meals at churches, food shelves, or the Salvation Army.
  • Consider buying extra sale items to contribute to the local food shelf, and maybe even make it workplace competition to see who can donate the most. Buy one get one free? Yes please!

Keep learning about these issues and brainstorming creative solutions. The United States has enough food to feed everyone, but the problem is distribution and waste. A food desert is redeemable; if every person reading this post could commit to helping one neighbor, we could start a movement!

emily-photoThis blog was written by Emily Ackerman.

Emily is the current MN GreenCorps member serving with CentraCare Health Foundation in the BLEND offices. Her project this year will be incorporating Farm-to-School initiatives into four sites within the St. Cloud area. Her education background includes a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology with hopes to attend PA school in the future. She is a self-described foodie with an interest in local gardens and creating better access to healthy food!

Help Make Healthy Food Available to All Minnesotans

January 6, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Good Food Access Fund

For many of us this time of year is a joyous time. Time to enjoy family and friends. Time in the kitchen cooking delicious and heart-healthy foods for our loved ones!  We are extremely lucky to have easy access to affordable, healthy good foods. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for everyone.

According to the American Heart Association – Minnesota, nearly 900,000 Minnesotans, including over 200,000 children, live in areas where they don’t have access to “the basics” —fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, and lean meats and poultry. That is unacceptable.

We need your help to make healthy food available to all Minnesotans!

Please take a minute and sign the petition asking your lawmakers to support the Good Food Access Fund which will help bring healthy, affordable food to all Minnesotans. Where a person lives in Minnesota shouldn’t determine whether or not they have access to healthy food options.

Without access to good and essential foods, people are forced to rely on diets made up of heavily processed foods that lack the nutrients to help children grow up strong or adults stay healthy. This problem means that residents, particularly those in lower-income communities, face much greater challenges finding fresh produce and other foods necessary to maintain a healthy diet. This limited access to healthy foods also results in disproportionately high rates of obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related health problems which contribute to the estimated $2.8 billion each year Minnesota spends on obesity-related healthcare costs.

Sign this petition!

Please sign this petition and urge your lawmakers to support the Good Food Access Fund which will help bring affordable, healthy food to communities across our state. This funding will also help decrease health care costs and stimulate economic development in rural and urban underserved communities across Minnesota.

We will continue to keep you updated on the progress of the Good Food Access Fund in 2016.

Happy New Year!
BLEND – John, Kathy and Mackensey

[Guest Blog] Take a Walk!

October 28, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

Dr. Ken HolmenThis is a guest blog by Ken Holmen, MD.

Dr. Holmen joined CentraCare Health on January 1, 2015 as the President/CEO. He is responsible for providing leadership and strategic direction of CentraCare Health and its 9,000 employees, for the establishment, maintenance and enhancement of quality health services in accordance with the mission, philosophy, and values of the organization. CentraCare Health includes 6 hospitals, 7 long term care facilities, 18 clinics in 11 communities in Central Minnesota and a Family Practice Residency Program affiliated with the University of Minnesota.

Dr. Holmen holds an MD degree from the University of Minnesota Medical School and is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist.

Take a Walk Blog by Dr Ken Holmen

Take a walk! Take a hike! Remember those words from TV shows and movies from years past? It turns out – we should.

Back in September, the Surgeon General announced his Step It Up! Call To Action to Promote Walking and Walkability which aims to increase walking across the nation by calling for access to safe and convenient places to walk and wheelchair roll.

I like to walk, not only for the exercise but also for some other reasons. Many times I am walking with someone else – family member, friend, or even maybe walking with someone you don’t know well. This is a great opportunity to be really present with that individual – no multitasking. Other times – when walking alone – silence is golden (though certain other sounds may be around us).

Ahhhh, this is good!

When walking my other senses that seem frozen when I am inside seem to wake up – smells, colors, sounds – all much more alive. As I walk, my mind seems to enter a different zone – one that is more peaceful and less hectic. As I settle into the rhythm of walking, I feel less stiff and constrained.  My breathing and diaphragm expand, my back and leg muscles stretch out, and the body (even as we age) says – “Ahhhh, this is good”.  And sleeping after a walk – ummmm.

Say “‘Hi” – you’ll feel better.

One other thing to mention. When walking we look about and notice things, and see other things.  How about that awkward moment when you meet someone you don’t know.  Do you put your head down, and walk by?  Do you mumble?  Or do say – Hi, or Good evening.  After I do greet someone, I feel better. My sense of community and sharing has been refreshed, and that feels good.

So – Take a walk, Take a hike – with someone you care about.  Open your senses.  And if you are alone – enjoy the peace, but if you meet someone – step outside your comfort zone and share a Warm Greeting.  It’s good for you.

Kenneth Holmen, MD
President/Chief Executive Officer
CentraCare Health

Rolling the Statewide Pedestrian System Plan into Action!

October 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Statewide Pedestrian System Plan

As part of Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) work to achieve the Minnesota GO Vision, MnDOT has teamed up with the Minnesota Department of Health to develop a Statewide Pedestrian System Plan.

Happy streets mean healthy communities: they’re good for health, for business and for the environment. The Statewide Pedestrian System Plan will recommend policies, projects, and programs that will help make walking and rolling safe, convenient and desirable for all in Minnesota.

Walking and Walkability

The timing for this plan comes at a time when walking and walkability are at the national forefront.  Back in September the Surgeon General announced his Step It Up! Call To Action to Promote Walking and Walkability which aims to increase walking across the nation by calling for access to safe and convenient places to walk and wheelchair roll. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to safe and convenient places.  This plan can help address those barriers and will include recommendations for state, regional and local partners from transportation engineers to city councils to public health practitioners.

But first – we need to hear from YOU!

Whether you walk to work, to the corner store, or just for fun, we want to know what makes walking enjoyable or challenging for you. Where would you like to walk? How far do you walk? What would make walking easier for you?

We need your help!

Tell us what YOU think. Please take the pedestrian surveys on what makes your community walkable (deadline: Midnight Sunday, October 25th) and features to improve your walking experience. (deadline: Midnight Sunday, November 29th)

Join the open discussion, and learn more about the project today!

Find us on twitter @MinnesotaGO and by using #mnwalks

Thank you for your help and ongoing support!
The BLEND team – John, Kathy and Mackensey

Funded and unfunded bike/ped projects in Minnesota

February 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Bike Ped Project MapA first of its kind research project has produced a statewide interactive map showing funded and unfunded pedestrian and bicycle projects in Minnesota. The map, which can be updated as more information becomes available, is designed to show statewide interest and demand for improving pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure in Minnesota.

This map is a powerful tool in the statewide discussion over long-term funding for transportation infrastructure in Minnesota,” said Erik Petzel of Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition, which provided the funding for the map’s creation. “By illustrating both funded and unfunded pedestrian and bicycle projects, this map shows a high volume of projects that went unfunded due to a lack of resources.”

The findings illustrated by the map mirror recent statewide polling, which shows that Minnesotans are walking and biking more.  According to the scientific poll, 70% of respondents said they or members of their household walk daily or at least once a week in their community—and more than a third said that they or members of their household walk every single day. An additional 22% of respondents said they or members of their household bicycle at least once a week in their community and 6% said they or members of their household bicycle every day.

The map includes project specific data for funded and unfunded pedestrian and bicycle projects, including Safe Routes to School projects; cities and counties that have adopted policies or plans for Complete Streets; and cities that have been awarded designation as Bicycle Friendly Communities.

To view the interactive map and for additional project details, click here!

How can you use this map to promote bike/ped funding in Minnesota?

  • Show your legislator: The online map allows you to print a map of your legislative district. Just use the “Search By” box and find your district from the drop down menu. Don’t know your state legislative district? Find it here. Get that map into the hands of your state representative and state senator, either in person, by mail or by email (just save the map of your district as a PDF when given your printing options). Let them know that the map clearly shows community interest in improved pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure but a lack of resources has meant too many great projects have gone unfunded.
  • Attend a local in-district gathering and show your legislator.
  • Attend the Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition Lobby Day!
  • Post these example Facebook posts on your timeline…don’t forget to tag you state legislators!
    • Demand for better pedestrian/bicycling infrastructure is statewide. Just look at this interactive map that shows funded and unfunded bike/ped projects from every corner of MN. #FundBikePedinMN #MoveMN
    • Minnesota’s Safe Routes to School program helps kids become active by providing safe conditions for them to walk or bike to school. Unfortunately, demand far exceeds state funding. Use this map to find the projects in your community that could become a reality if the MN Legislature includes dedicated money for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure this session. #FundBikePedinMN #MoveMN

As the 2015 session heats up, watch for more information on how you can utilize this map to support efforts this year to pass a comprehensive transportation funding bill that includes resources for improving pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure in Minnesota.

Thanks for reading!


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