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Creating a hyper-local food system in North Minneapolis | by the community, for the community

A self sufficient urban food system, building health, wealth and social change as a model for all economically disadvantaged communities.

Photo of Amy Shanafelt
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Appetite for Change

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Pillsbury United Communities, small NGO (https://pillsburyunited.org/) City of Minneapolis, government Northside Fresh Coalition, coalition of over 50 North Minneapolis food based organizations, businesses, and community members (https://northsidefresh.org/) Greater Twin Cities United Way (https://www.gtcuw.org/)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://appetiteforchangemn.org/

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

North Minneapolis, Minnesota.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Members of this visionary team represent the constituency affected by the food system that we are working to change. For example, Two of Appetite for Change’s co-founders, Princess and LaTasha, are North Minneapolis residents and leaders in the African American community. The majority of AFC staff - and every youth we serve - identifies as African American. In just 8 years of operation AFC has gone from a start-up organization with an operating budget of less than $25,000 to a $3 million organization that employs 60 staff (39 FTE), with an additional 35 youth participating in paid employment training program. AFC has quadrupled in size since 2014, and has become a leader in grassroots, community based work on the Northside.

The history of Pillsbury United Communities in North Minneapolis dates back to 1897, with the founding of the Unity House settlement house in the Near North neighborhood. Unity House offered a kindergarten, a night school, and spaces for community meetings and youth recreation. Throughout the 1900s expansions and partnerships provided valuable resources in the Northside, including healthcare services and 1984, Pillsbury United Neighborhood Services emerged. Shortly thereafter, Pillsbury United Communities established the Juneteenth celebration at their Oak Park Center, which continued at that location for nearly a decade and remains a vital tradition in North Minneapolis. Our most recent Northside development is the establishment of North Market, which opened in December 2017.

The Northside Fresh Coalition (NSFresh or Northside Fresh) is also led by the community we are organizing. Almost all of the members of the Operations Team (the network’s leadership body) identify as Black, and they are also Northsiders. Similarly, the action teams that do the organizing and work of the coalition are led by BIPOC and Northside residents.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Once a Jewish community, North Minneapolis experienced a transition that many US urban communities witnessed, with real estate investment moving to the growing suburbs where White Americans were concentrating, leaving communities like the Northside forgotten and labeled as slums. The community watched as North Minneapolis transformed from local businesses to big franchize, including fast food. Designated a HUD Promise Zone in 2015,  the community now exhibits characteristics typical of such regions: high rates of unemployment and poverty, economically ignored and passed by in terms of revitalization; high levels of crime, long-term vacancy and abandoned properties; and pervasive health disparities. 

Despite these challenges, North Minneapolis has numerous assets. The community has many leaders and elders who are committed to changing the food system, building ecological and health equity, and have decades of activism experience. The Northside is often called “The Village” in reference to the African Proverb “It takes a Village to Raise a Child”, the community is determined to see their children develop in a healthy, vibrant place. Similarly, the community comes together to celebrate each other, and the work being invested in the community - from the community. North Minneapolis organizations offer resources through events like Fit for Fun held by NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center, Family Day hosted by Minneapolis Urban League, FLOW the ARts Crawl. Juneteenth, celebrated in North Minneapolis for decades, originated in 1865 and is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. All of these gatherings create a sense of strong community ties, and a celebration of the people who live and love North Minneapolis. 

North Minneapolis has a thriving nonprofit community made up of many agencies and community-based groups dedicated to making our neighborhoods safer, healthier and more sustainable. Other community assets include strong cultural groups, powerful youth voices, food justice initiatives, urban farming inertia and influential arts groups. Similarly, our diverse group of partners brings to the table cultural wisdom, human and social capital, and a variety of valuable resources.

Our community aspires to have a community owned food system that works to mitigate the impacts of climate change, preserve high quality green space and land tenure, and build sustainable farming and agricultural practices while increasing access to fresh, affordable and culturally relevant foods. We have seen individuals make changes, which influences their social circle and then those same community members come together to hold the system accountable to invest in their work. Growing, cooking and serving food is at the center of many movements in North Minneapolis, where the elders and youth meet in the middle with visionary energy to create innovative solutions.  

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

16

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

60000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

North Minneapolis is a community comprised of 75% people of color, with many residents experiencing pervasive, persistent poverty and health disparities. With high rates of unemployment and poverty, at 21.84% and 40.33% respectively; North Minneapolis is economically ignored and passed by in terms of revitalization. The community experiences high levels of crime; long-term vacancy and abandoned properties; and general disrepair of the built environment.

Labeling the community a “food desert” only tells part of the story. The Northside is more of a “food apartheid”, despite many assets in the food economy, including urban farmers, entrepreneurs and small food businesses the community experiences historical and pervasive, inequitable systems that have perpetuated an unjust and unhealthy food system. Some of these include: lack of land access or permanency, soil contamination and erosion, statutes, ordinances and regulations that make urban agriculture less accessible for people of color or low-income individuals, and the lack of regulation or enforcement around creating an equitable built food environment. Furthermore, while North Minneapolis is under-represented in healthy food options, it is also a food “swamp”: large amounts of energy-dense snack foods and fast foods vastly outnumber healthy food options. In 2013 AFC youth conducted a food-assessment along West Broadway Avenue, where they found 36 fast food, carryout, fried-food restaurants, or convenience stores.

A recent local economic assessment revealed that Northside community members are spending a high proportion of their food dollars outside the community, what is called "leakage"—46% of the community’s spending on food places ($17 of $37 million) is currently spent outside the community. Leakage indicates that Northside residents are not finding what they need in the neighborhood, and local money is not supporting local businesses, weakening the community’s economic health.

Furthermore, health disparities in Minnesota are both a public health and economic crisis - these preventable disparities cost the economy an estimated $2.26 Billion annually. Many of these disparities are concentrated and perpetuated in neighborhoods like North Minneapolis. Left unaddressed, by the year 2050 Minnesota will have lost over $45 Billion. 

Left unaddressed, historically rooted oppressive systems stand to continue to diminish the potential North Minneapolis to experience revitalization. By 2050, health and economic disparities will have plunged into an unsustainable state - requiring vast healthcare investments and unimaginable cost to Minnesota as a whole. 

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Appetite for Change was born out of 8 community cooking and dialogue sessions that engaged over 400 community members. These sessions birthed the flagship program, Community Cooks, which continues to engage nearly 550 individuals every year. Community Cooks gives AFC the opportunity to engage in a continuous feedback loop to hear about immediate and long-term issues, work to address them, and hear how we are doing as we go. Addressing the pervasive barriers experienced by Northside residents means showing immediate results - a job, a meal, a social connection. We envision every facet of our strategy providing these immediate and tangible results through the literal growth of food, jobs and opportunity.

A high priority of this vision is to influence policies that currently inhibit community progress. For example; limiting fast food outlet concentration, providing opportunities for urban farmers to lease to own vacant lots, funding new urban farming and small food businesses, reducing licensing fees for healthy food retailers - including mobile markets - and updating antiquated zoning policies to open access to new and innovative healthy food options (farmers markets, fruit vendors, mobile produce markets). Big wins in these policies will pave the way for our community led movement to take shape.

Appetite for Change is a designated local hub through the world wide Social Gastronomy Movement (https://www.socialgastronomy.org/hubs) and we are leading the rebirth of the Metro Food Access Network (https://www.metrofoodaccess.com/). These relationships position AFC and our partners with a regional and global system of leading food system work. Furthermore, Lead organizations have a long history engaging the local philanthropic community, such as our vision team member Greater Twin Cities United Way. We have incrementally secured support toward our vision and plan to continue our deep relationships with these funders while seeking out new funding partners with the goal of gaining enough support to realize our entire vision by 2050. 

Another key partner in this movement is the City of Minneapolis Health Department, committed to improving the availability and affordability of healthy food across the city. Since 2009, the city's health department has been actively involved in efforts to improve access to healthy foods across multiple sectors. The city has partnered with community organizations, including AFC and PUC, to improve the community’s ability to grow, process, distribute, and consume healthy food. For example, AFC staff have been involved in the development of the new Minneapolis Food Action plan and are helping to ensure that it aligns with Northside priorities and existing efforts, and most importantly, that community voices are heard throughout the process. In partnering on this vision, the city is committed to continuing its history of pooling resources to address shared interests and goals related to healthy and local food access.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Our vision is a fair and equitable hyper-local food system that benefits African Americans and low-income people in North Minneapolis. In this system, any person can access the financial, social, and health benefits from participating in the local food economy. We envision a racially just system with an awareness of intersectionality, knowing that the community is made up of individuals facing many different forms of inequity. 

This vision supports the long-term, holistic health of individuals and the community by reconnecting with vital food traditions, providing employment, supporting entrepreneurs, and facilitating important dialogue about social change. Our visionary team will scale already proven successful work to revitalize commercial corridors, introduce urban farm plots to all corners of the community and bring neighbors together through engaged urban farming and community cooking and dialogue. Most importantly, youth are at the center of this vision, motivated to join our vision through employment and job training opportunities. Once engaged, youth spread messages about participating in the local food economy through their social networks - further increasing engagement and the opportunity to gain full scale community commitment. 

Once realized, this hyper-local food system will reduce North Minneapolis food economy “leakage” by 20%, providing over 6 million more dollars spent within the hyper local food economy in North Minneapolis. This shift in reliance on the external food system drastically improves community sustainability in the face of the inevitable threats of climate change. Additionally, this system produces products and people valued as assets in surrounding communities, creating a system of exports and imports with other local communities thus strengthening the broader regional economy.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Through strategic leadership from the two backbone organizations, our vision is to develop shared large scale projects and scale existing initiatives through shared leadership to accomplish the following food system priorities:

1. All products and services benefit the community. They are resources and tools that build equity and improve access to real food, self-determination, and strong relationships for Northsiders.

2. Products and services are provided by Northside residents. We grow our own food and buy from local growers, increasing income and growing local business. Northside businesses hire Northside staff, providing training and employment to improve the economic stability of the Northside community.

3. Revenue stays in the community. The income generated from our visionary social enterprises is invested back into the community through value added programs, including urban farming, small business development and farm to retail distribution lines.

Existing programming to be scaled as a part of this vision aligns with the six integrated food system vision prize themes in the following ways:

Environment | AFC operates seven urban farm plots tended through sustainable, biointensive farming methods that nourish and regenerate the Northside urban landscape. The fresh fruits and vegetables grown supply community cooking workshops, ACFs social enterprise café and catering, and are sold at a local Farmers Market. At the Farmers Market critical relationships are cultivated between community members and local farmers, while providing support to start-up food entrepreneurs and urban farmers. In 2019, AFC produced over 9000 Lbs of produce on nearly 20,000 square feet of urban farm land. PUC operates several urban farm plots throughout Minneapolis, including a 9000 square foot urban farm in North Minneapolis. PUC has a particularly unique position of owning this North Minneapolis farm plot land, providing a sustainable and wealth building opportunity often limited among urban farmers. PUC also operates a 50 foot by 8 foot freight trailer, rehabbed as a hydroponics farm that grows the same amount of produce that would require 1.5 acres of outdoor growing space. This unit only requires an impressive 5 gallons of water per week. Our vision seeks to improve the long-term, holistic health of our land, our residents, and our community by reconnecting with sustainable agricultural practices and involving all youth and families. The City of Minneapolis owns nearly 400 vacant lots in North Minneapolis - many of which were acquired as a result of foreclosures from predatory lending during the housing bubble. Our vision seeks to bring that land back to the people of North Minneapolis - establishing community gardens and urban farm plots, as well as multiplying our existing year-round growing units like passive solar greenhouses and freight farms. 

Diets | AFC operates holistic, organic opportunities to grow, cook, eat and learn about healthy food in a community-led environment. We create a safe space for people to talk about the change that they want to see in their own food and life choices. Through Community Cooks, AFC’s flagship program, Northside residents come to cook, learn, and connect, while youth leaders emphasize the importance of healthy food. AFC also runs Breaking Bread Cafe and Catering, an affordable, healthy restaurant option in North Minneapolis. This social enterprise offers wholesome, homemade dishes, with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, and employs members of the community. PUC offers produce 365 days/year direct from their hydroponics, and urban farm to a community food pantry, weekly community meals and an innovative medically focused CSA to serve the needs of unique diets that address chronic diseases through specific foods. Integrated with our urban farming initiatives, we will offer a plethora of opportunities for engagement around healthy food. Busy lives, and constrained budgets will always be a deterrent to healthy eating, by growing the healthy food movement on every corner, and in every corner store makes it unavoidable - we envision having greens replace candy at the check out lines of local retail stores and garden parks replacing empty corners so youth have positive images and inviting environments to grab a healthy bite to eat. 

Economics | AFC trains Northside youth to become agents of community change by developing their leadership, culinary, job readiness, urban farming and organizing skills through several training programs and employment opportunities. AFC also provides adults experiencing barriers to employment with job readiness, culinary training and certification, life skills, and job placement services. PUC offers opportunities for local growers to store and package their produce, increasing their opportunities to sell produce back to the community. PUC also operates an innovative bicycle currier produce delivery service, a fossil fuel free option to move produce from growing, storing/packaging and finally to market for sale. While also serving as a job training opportunity for youth experiencing homelessness, the PUC bicycle Currier social enterprise offers health meals and a pathway to employment for community members. Our vision is built around economic growth. We envision vacant properties filling up with urban farming, food retailers, restaurants and other resident-owned businesses that are meeting the commercial needs of the community. In our visionary food system, young people will have their pick of jobs at the plethora of community-owned businesses, and thus will feel empowered to stay in their community and be a part of the transformation and movement. We see the North Minneapolis commercial corridor completely, but thoughtfully and intentionally transformed. Businesses offering all of the communities’ needs will be located on the avenue, owned by Northsiders and successfully meeting the demand of the local residents. Community economic development will be spurred by a food-based, commercial renaissance in North Minneapolis, and historians will trace the revitalization to this visionary partnership.

Culture | Minneapolis has strong cultural momentum around local produce and farmers’ market models, but many such market models are stationary and traditional, these markets are historically arranged through a "white spacial imaginary", described by American scholar George Lipsitz as an understanding of space that “idealizes ‘pure’ and homogenous spaces, controlled environments, and predictable patterns of design and behavior. Many markets are managed by non-minority led organizations and individuals who do not orient the promotion, planning and implementation around people of color. The work of AFC and PUC is rooted in the Northside and black-owned business community, and led by youth and adults of color. Our visionary Northside model builds upon existing community momentum, but more importantly builds on the inertia around supporting Northside, black-and minority owned businesses. The “local” dialogue becomes more personal with a focus on economic investment in the Northside community and spurs residents to act on this dialogue in a market space that celebrates the cultural district of Northside. Another key component of how we recognize and celebrate community culture is exemplified in the original music of the Urban Youth of AFC (“Grow Food” and “Trap or Grow”). This music, born out of frustration with the unhealthy foodscape, spreads a message of choosing health and growth over the perceived destiny of urban youth. Our vision includes using this platform to continue to spread healthy, culturally rooted messages. 

Technology | Implementing technological solutions is of utmost importance to the sustainability of the work of this vision. AFC is pursuing opportunities for year round growth through the development of a passive solar, deep winter greenhouse, as well as building and designing aquaponics units to be used for increased produce and fish farming while providing a STEM training ground for community youth. PUC uses innovative technology in their year round hydroponics farm, 20% of which is power through solar panel technology. Both AFC and PUC strive to include innovative technological solutions in the design of our programming. Working together with the Northside Fresh coalition, as farming expands in North Minneapolis - every opportunity will have an eye toward incorporating technology to ensure sustainability and the ability to grow year round. We envision a fully integrated system using technology to foster full scale year round growth. Deep winter and passive solar greenhouses will be readily accessible to community members to continue growing during inclement weather. To facilitate the elimination of food waste, we envision an integrated web-based and community organizing effort to support a produce rescue, and compost buddy system, making it easy for community members to share unused produce with families, local restaurants, and composting facilities. 

Policy | The Northside Fresh coalition has been working on a Food Justice Policy Platform since 2017 and has already had multiple major policy wins. For example, successfully advocating for nearly $1 million in additional state support for urban agriculture; passing of community gardening, farm to school and mobile food market policy changes; providing community advocacy training; and creating an innovative system for engaging elected officials in the food justice policy platform. We envision continuing this policy work at a much larger scale, with a focus on integrating youth at all levels. This movement will not be sustainable without young people leading and every member of our visionary team agrees that cultivating the power of youth is at the heart of realizing our food systems vision.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Photo of Zsofia Pasztor
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Thank you for your work. A lot of our existing work and vision have similarities I noticed. I would be happy to connect with you. We are in the Washington state area. http://farmerfrog.org/

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