North Market will be a hub for healthy foods, healthcare and community wellness in the North Minneapolis food desert.
By Janice Hoppe-Spiers
“Food deserts are defined as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas,” the USDA says. “This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets and healthy food providers.”
About 23.5 million Americans live in food deserts, including 6.5 million children, according to the USDA. The areas lack large grocery stores or supermarkets selling fresh and healthy options and are often in low-income areas where people are living on tight budgets. Higher levels of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other health-related issues are found in food deserts because residents are buying a lot of processed foods from convenience or liquor stores.
Minnesota ranks seventh in the nation among the top-10 worst states for access to healthy food. About one-third of its population has no grocery options close to home, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and Wilder Research. North Minnesota, a community of 67,000, is served by 36 corner convenience stores and one supermarket – it is a food desert.
“The lack of access to nutritious food here has big consequences, from higher rates of diet-related illness to students who are less prepared to learn,” the Pillsbury United Communities (PUC) reports. “It’s a complex problem linked to gaps in business investment, mobility, health education and economic opportunity.”
Addressing the Needs
PUC works with underestimated populations across Minneapolis to foster the resilience and self-sufficiency of individuals, families and community as a whole. The organization created a first-of-its-kind proposal to address the challenges in North Minnesota with a goal of “closing the food and health gap and becoming a model for similar efforts nationwide.”
The North Market is a non-profit social enterprise that combines nutritious food, healthcare services, community wellness events and education. “By weaving together these components, we build a strong platform to address upstream health factors and improve health outcomes in the community,” PUC says.
Construction on the $6.3 million social enterprise will begin in March and North Market is expected to open its doors in September/October 2017. Because a supermarket alone won’t solve the food desert that is North Minneapolis, PUC will own and operate the North Market to provide a full-service grocery experience and hands-on guidance to help families make the most of every visit and meal.
North Market is being funded by donations, but PUC expects it to be self-sustaining in its second year of operation. “Our unique business model affords us lower operating and tax expenses and allows us to raise capital to support the business without loans,” PUC explains.
A Look Inside
The mission of North Market is to provide access to nutritious, affordable food close to home. There will be relevant offerings based on cultural preferences and no tobacco or liquor sales will be available. The space will also dedicate aisles of the grocery store for products from local entrepreneurs.
Access to health services will allow residents to link grocery shopping with everyday health. Residents can schedule appointments with on-site dietitians, as well as medical professionals and pharmacists. Proposed services include a health clinic and pharmacy and a Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition clinic.
North Market will be a place for the community to take advantage of its services, events and education program during one visit. The goal is to promote a culture of healthy eating. Health navigators and WIC specialists can help patrons find foods that fit their dietary needs and stay within budget. A farmers’ market will offer seasonal foods and cooking classes can help residents understand what to do with their purchases.