Minneapolis project aims to increase access to healthy foods

Ten area stores will participate in the program over the next year.

Katherine Lymn

Fresh foods will soon be more available at convenience stores around Minneapolis, thanks to a new initiative. The Healthy Corner Store Program, approved by the City Council last week, will improve the accessibility and visibility of healthy foods at 10 area stores over the next year. The project comes after a north Minneapolis convenience store assessment last summer, which showed that only about a quarter of stores examined complied with the cityâÄôs Staple Foods Ordinance. The law states that licensed grocery stores must carry at least five types of perishable produce. However, north Minneapolis is not the only area that will benefit once the program is implemented. âÄúWe didnâÄôt want to just focus it on the north side, because we do have the understanding that there are other areas within Minneapolis that experience higher health disparities,âÄù said Aliyah Ali, a project specialist for the Minneapolis Department of Health and Family Support, who is heading up the initiative. The Phillips, Seward and Cedar-Riverside neighborhoods will be among the focal areas for the project. Deequ Aram, an employee of Wadajir Grocery at Cedar Avenue and Sixth Street South near the University of MinnesotaâÄôs West Bank, said offering healthy foods is very important. Many community members use local convenience stores for all their grocery shopping, she said. Some of the stores in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood already have minor produce selections. Ali said that in these cases, the city hopes to simply expand on existing food or to make it more prominent in the store. âÄúOftentimes itâÄôs just a marketing issue,âÄù Ali said. Part of the project will aim to rearrange layout to make healthy food more visible in stores and to educate the community on the availability of it, Ali said. âÄúIf you market that on top of all of that, you start to change some cultural norms,âÄù said Susie Nanney, a University professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition. âÄúItâÄôs a long road, but itâÄôs a very good start.âÄù Stores will not be forced to take part in the project. Currently, the city and the Department of Health and Family Support are putting together an application for stores to apply for participation, Ali said. âÄúStores would have to want to work with us,âÄù she said. Participants will be chosen by about mid-May, Ali said, and the program will continue through June 2011. A grocery store consultant who has yet to be chosen will work with the stores on layout, stocking and food handling, Ali said. The Corner Store Program is part of a larger health food program the city is working on, which also includes the Homegrown Minneapolis local food initiative, and efforts allow farmers markets to accept food stamps, Ali said.