The Rural Realities of Truth
Mille Lacs County is known for its flowing rivers and vast agricultural farmland. The county is within the top 10 fastest growing counties in Minnesota by population, with a majority of communities being small rural towns and hamlets; each tends to be close-knit and proud of their quaint and safe community. However, county nutrition reports reveal a grim truth that the county is situated in a food desert, where community members suffer from the 3rd highest food insecurity rates in Minnesota.
In 2013, 4 out of 5 people in Mille Lacs County self-reported that they do not eat the recommended servings of vegetables while 5 out of 6 people reported not eating enough fruit every day. While this truth is partially due because of the food desert, these low consumption rates are further exacerbated by climbing poverty rates, higher than state average unemployment rates, and higher than state average high school drop-out rates throughout the county. Altogether, these attribute to the generational chronic health conditions highly prevalent in Mille Lacs County.
Fortunately, a local business and Statewide Health Improvement Plan (SHIP) site aims to solve this problem.
A Gem in the Desert
The Farm Market Cafe is the heart beat of fresh local food produce in the northern end of Mille Lacs County. In October of 2014, they were 1 of only 5 sites in Minnesota to be awarded a competitive United States Department of Agriculture grant to expand their current efforts into an All Season Farmers’ Market. The Farm Market Cafe aims to one day serve as a local food hub, supplying nutritious and fresh produce to local school districts and health care facilities. This grant gets them one step closer to this reality and is vital to the local food environment.
SHIP has been a proud supporter of the Farm Market Cafe through the first two rounds of SHIP and continues to provide funds and technical assistance to leverage their work through SHIP 3.0. Their expansion is critical because it increases year-round access to fresh produce, affords them the ability to host community nutritional education classes, and strengthens the local economy by supplying nutritious and affordable produce to local establishments and other surrounding communities. In a region of Minnesota suffering from the greatest health disparities and inequities, The Farm Market Cafe is paving the way toward a future of sustainable foods.
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