With 1 in 11 MN households facing food insecurity, food shelves adapt to meed demand

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Almost one in 11 Minnesota households struggle to put food on the table.

It’s called food insecurity and Minnesota food banks and food shelves are changing to meet the demand.

Earlier this week, Second Harvest announced a major expansion of its warehouse and services at its Brooklyn Park headquarters.

Part of that expansion is an all-new emphasis on providing local food shelves with freshly-grown produce.

As volunteers pack surplus potatoes grown out of state Thursday, Bob Branham is farming something much closer to home.

In fact, it’s on the other side of the warehouse packaged in a shipping container.

There, he’s growing lettuce day and night.

“And you can see we have about two varieties growing right now.,” said Branham, the Second Harvest director of produce safety. “And they don’t have any wind, hail, rain, sun damage at all. They end up being perfect plants.” 

The plants are sent whole – roots and all – to food shelves where they’ll stay fresh for up to four weeks.

“What we’re doing as a food bank and our food shelf partners is looking more at the food health of the food insecure population, and making sure that the food we distribute to them has as much nutritional value as possible,” Branham said.

Increasingly, that means fewer canned and boxed foods and more meats and fresh produce.

The food bank business has traditionally always been at the end of the product cycle, meaning, trying to rescue food before it either spoils or expires. This now moves it to the beginning of the product cycle. And that means it’s changing how local food shelves operate, too.

At Waite House in South Minneapolis, Michele Manske is planting the spring crop, too.

For this food shelf, these aren’t just plants, but future meals.

That lettuce grown at Second Harvest is being served up for lunch at Pillsbury United Communities Food Systems.

 “So we grow this food to go into our own community cafes, but we grow it with the community as well,” said Ethan Neal, of Pillsbury United Communities. “This is the chance to teach people about food safety, how to grow plants, and it connects back people back to the food system which is really important for us.” 

All of this closes the gap between fresh food and the people who need it most.

“All of the food banks and the food shelves are looking at the same thing,” Branham added. “How do we make sure there is enough fresh foods that our food insecure neighbors have access to? That’s our mission.” 

March is Minnesota food share month, so any food or money donation to Pillsbury United is being partially matched.

To make a donation, visit their website at pillsburyunited.org.