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Colorful vegetables and price markers in boxes in an outdoor market.

Food security means ensuring ready access to enough food--and a high enough quality of food--for an active, healthy life.

Mapping the way to food security

Public engagement spotlight

By Stephanie Wilkes

Brief, Oct. 25, 2006

In May 2004, a fatal shooting at Jerry's Flower Shop on 33rd and Lyndale Avenue in north Minneapolis left the McKinley community devastated. At Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, neighbors asked Pastor Albert Gallmon, Jr. to help convert the site of tragedy into a site of hope.

Gallmon and congregation member Bernadette Longo--a gardener, former farmer, and University faculty member--talked about the idea of opening a food co-op at the site. In turn, Longo and long-time cooperative activist Angela Dawson began exploring the possibility. Longo and Dawson established the Northside Food Project as a first step to address food security issues in north Minneapolis. Food security means ensuring ready access to enough food--and a high enough quality of food--for an active, healthy life.

Dawson had been directly affected by the lack of healthy food options. She had one child with asthma, another with food allergies, and for awhile, no car. When the only nearby market with fresh produce closed, she and her children were forced to go to a gas station.

Bernadette Longo with a camera
Rhetoric faculty member Bernadette Longo

"It was also a major drug distribution hub," she says. "It just was not right. I knew I was not the only mother on the Northside who wanted to get my hands on some decent food and couldn't."

Longo, an associate professor of rhetoric in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, specializes in scientific and technical communication.

"This type of community engagement is especially important for me as a faculty member at an urban land-grant university," says Longo. "We have a fundamental mission to serve the citizens of our state."

The Northside Food Project got funding from the City of Minneapolis--specifically, from the Steps to a Healthier Minneapolis program in the Department of Health and Human Services. In addition, Longo and Dawson worked with Minnesota Food Share and won a seed grant from the University's Office for Public Engagement in 2005.

Community Food Security Assessments

The Community Food Security Assessment is a toolkit created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to assess food security within a community. It includes a general guide to community assessment and focused materials for examining six basic assessment components related to community food security. These include guides for profiling general community characteristics and community food resources as well as materials for assessing household food security, food resource accessibility, food availability and affordability, and community food production resources. Data collection tools include secondary data sources, focus group guides, and a food store survey instrument.

In spring 2006, members of the McKinley Community Association asked Dawson, now director of the Northside Food Project, and Longo to do a community food security assessment (see box, right). Through the assessment, community members would research what types of food they buy and what types they would like to buy.

Longo and Dawson used a grant from the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) Neighborhood Planning for Community Revitalization to recruit a master's student in public health to research literature on food security over the summer. Gillian Lawrence, from the U's graduate program in public health, was well versed in food security issues. The project was a perfect way to meld her personal and academic interests.

"Getting outside of the University setting helped me to see the more applied aspects of public health research," says Lawrence.

Longo and Dawson also received Office of Public Engagement funding to recruit a graduate student in rhetoric to create an asset map of food security on the Northside. One goal of asset mapping, says Longo, was to start from a positive base--the assets and resources available in the community--to work with, draw from, and pull together.

"The food situation is a pretty negative one," Longo says. "But despite all the challenges in North Minneapolis, there is a tremendous amount of assets and people who are very knowledgeable and capable, and who want to better the neighborhood."

Bethany Iverson--a graduate student in the Department of Rhetoric with an undergraduate degree from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design--spent the summer scouting 12 neighborhoods in north Minneapolis. She recorded the location of grocery stores (food outlets), convenience stores, restaurants, churches, schools, health and medical centers, parks or recreation sites and centers of youth, arts or community. Then Iverson went to the computer and created a map to illustrate the location of these food-related resources in relation to each other and to the community.

Bethany Iverson
Bethany Iverson, a graduate student in the Department of Rhetoric, mapped food-related assets on the Northside of Minneapolis. You can download the Northside Food Project asset map (247K PDF).

"It's really interesting, because once you start to map these things, you see there are actually little pockets where the community is thriving...and there are these big empty expanses where there is nothing," says Iverson. "One of the most interesting parts of doing this project is finding all of these little hidden gems."

Now that the literature research and the asset map are complete, Longo and Dawson are making plans for the next steps in the community food assessment. They're seeking the funds to hire and train community members to conduct surveys of the food security situation by going to area food outlets and convenience stores to inventory products and prices.

Another goal of the Northside Food Project is to set up a community nutrition campaign to begin introducing new kinds of eating habits and buying patterns, raising awareness of the benefits of eating fresh vegetables and of diets that are lower in carbohydrates. Right now the Northside has unusually high rates of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure, all nutrition-related conditions.

"Step one is to help folks integrate this kind of food into their diet, and that is where we are right now," says Longo. "You have a high percentage of the population receiving food stamps, so you see buying patterns where people binge and then go without. Folks will typically buy once a month and make it last the whole month, buying a lot of carbohydrates and stuff that is going to last, like processed foods."

Longo and Dawson also are getting closer to realizing the dream of making fresh food more available in Northside neighborhoods. After miles of red tape due to strict city guidelines, a farmers market was held at the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church on a Sunday in August. It was well received by community members--especially those who have been growing produce and waiting for a place in the neighborhood to sell it.

"Empowering the community by giving them venues and the resources they need to get their products out there is going to be another important way of reenergizing the community economically," says Iverson.

Learn more about food security from the Community Food Security Coalition. You can download "Urban Agriculture and Community Food Security in the United States: Farming From the City Center to the Urban Fringe" (PDF), a primer prepared by the coalition's North American Urban Agriculture Committee in 2003 (32 pp.).
Stephanie Wilkes is a junior in English and linguistics and a communications intern in the Office for Public Engagement. If you have questions or comments, please e-mail .