October 4, 2023
By Rosie Russell
Action teams are about collective power, and bringing people together to affect change.
Policy Action Team
Thanks to the diligent work of MFJN’s policy action team (and many others) who ensured four policy priorities were passed by the Minnesota legislative session in 2023. As a result…
- Millions of children in public schools across Minnesota are eating breakfast and lunch for free.
- The market box program has been expanded to use SNAP dollars and double them at the farmers market.
- Funding for the Local Emergency Assistance Farmer Fund (LEAFF) is being extended, which pays BIPOC farmers market value for food and gets it into the hunger relief system so more culturally appropriate food is available.
- More funding is available for an existing urban agriculture program that has been inadequately funded since its beginning.
That’s four for four in the Policy Action Team’s books. Their success is the result of deliberate and persistent action, directed at a cause much greater than themselves. Conversations, meetings, paperwork, and many, many calls, done by many, many hands.
While this is cause for a celebration, much unfinished business remains, and the back and forth with those gathered at the Plenum reflected this.
Some schools have elected not to participate in this program, such as Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools, and their reasons are not to be ignored. To serve free school lunches through this program, the school must be enrolled in the USDA’s National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP), which Prior Lake (and some others) are not. But, why? Because students had raised concerns about the poor quality of the food being served, and their school listened. They dropped the federal program to build something that benefitted the desires of their students, which they claim has boosted the number of students eating the school meals. However, this change in quality did come with a cost.
For those who have free meals, many problems still exist. The meals are often using heavily processed ingredients that lack essential nutrients for health and well-being. Furthermore, students are being given very little time to enjoy their food. According to an article by nutritionist Ryan Andrews, overeating can be caused by eating heavily processed foods, which our bodies do not have a long-standing relationship with. Overeating can also be caused by not having enough time to eat, as discussed in Canada’s food guide: Take time to eat.
How can policy changes leverage existing programs, and avoid reinventing the wheel? How can they distribute resources to make existing programs more effective, geographically and culturally?
Following this discussion, many were encouraged to pay closer attention to who is on the school boards, especially when casting their vote. Melvin Giles, a respected elder in the community, advised our young adults to get more involved as decision makers in these spaces. Others shared examples of models and resources that may be useful in this context.
- Fond du Lac’s school program is teaching about food and producing food in a synergistic and holistic manner. Their model could be applied elsewhere.
- A free high school curriculum provided by Johns Hopkins, called FoodSpan, includes many educational tools for students to understand the food system from farm to fork, ultimately helping them become active and engaged food citizens. Educators can use this resource to share knowledge to their students.
- Red Rabbit is an organization that provides education around the cultural heritage of food, with special attention to Black American and Brown American cultures. School boards can activate these resources, especially in places where this cultural education is most needed.
- FoodCorps is an organization with the mission to get kids culturally relevant meals by 2030.
- University of Minnesota’s Food and SNAP-Ed program provides resources to families eligible for SNAP on how to stretch their food dollars for better nutrition.
- Hennepin County’s food waste team is working with schools to prevent waste. Some of these strategies include longer lunches, holding recess before lunch, adding a spice rack for the older kids, and offering water in the classroom.
- A recently published report, Procuring Food Justice, “exposes corporate control of public supply chains and the communities reclaiming them.” (see this article)
Again and again, we heard of programs that are doing great work, and are in need of resources to gain momentum and spread impact. As the Policy Action Team looks forward, they seek interested and engaged members of the community to join them on this mission.
All good things take time, and many dedicated hands. Are you ready to join us?