University researchers help shape citywide food action plan

The new policy will aim to make the Minneapolis food system more sustainable and equitable.

Mayor Jacob Frey speaks about sustainability and food justice during the Homegrown Minneapolis Community Food Forum on Wednesday, April 17. Frey talked about access to affordable, locally grown food, utilizing community gardens and improving school lunches.

Tony Saunders

Mayor Jacob Frey speaks about sustainability and food justice during the Homegrown Minneapolis Community Food Forum on Wednesday, April 17. Frey talked about access to affordable, locally grown food, utilizing community gardens and improving school lunches.

by Emma Dill

Community members and University of Minnesota researchers are helping the City of Minneapolis develop a more sustainable food system. 

Planning efforts for the Minneapolis Food Action Plan kicked off Wednesday at a forum hosted by Homegrown Minneapolis Food Council, a committee that represents the City on food-related issues. The action plan, which will be drafted over the next 18 months, will outline goals to improve the Minneapolis food system, including agricultural production, retail and food waste. 

The action plan aims to help Minneapolis achieve sustainability goals outlined in the 2013 Minneapolis Climate Action Plan, the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan and the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact. Minneapolis signed the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact in 2017. 

Homegrown Minneapolis Food Council Local Food Policy Coordinator Tamara Downs Schwei said the new plan aims to fill food policy gaps in the City’s climate plan. The policy will also help keep Minneapolis accountable to its sustainability goals, Downs Schwei said.

“There’s a number of planning documents and aspirational commitments we made, but what we now need is the concrete and measurable framework and strategies and metrics to articulate our … food system actions,” she said.

Kim Havey, the director of the City’s Sustainability Office, emphasized the importance of food in reaching citywide sustainability goals.

“Really when it comes down to sustainability, the buildings that we have, the cars that we drive are not the things that day-to-day are really affecting our livability and sustainability as an individual,” Havey said at the forum. “It’s really about our food systems — how we get our food systems, what we’re eating.” 

Development of the food plan will combine research with community input and will occur every other month during food council meetings. Anu Ramaswami, a University professor of science, technology and environmental policy, will collaborate with the Council to draft the plan.

Ramaswami is the director of the Sustainable Healthy Cities Network, which promotes urban sustainability across various sectors, including food systems. She said the citywide focus on the food system is a “pioneering effort” because many plans examine food production in rural agricultural areas. 

“This [idea] that cities can change the whole system because we are on the consuming end is rather radical,” Ramaswami said. “We’ve shown through numbers that if we change how we consume things, we can really change the whole system.”

Dana Boyer, manager of research and innovation products at the Sustainable Healthy Cities Network, said the food plan will take a comprehensive approach, examining food production, consumption, waste and equity.

“The approach of the plan is that we’re looking at the whole system. It’s not selective in saying that this part is more important than this part,” Boyer said.

The plan will also study ways to promote social justice in healthy food access and urban farming efforts. Certain areas of the city, including areas around the University, were identified by the United States Department of Agriculture as areas with limited food access.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey told forum attendees food justice is a key component of of the City’s sustainability goals. 

“You shouldn’t need to drive a mile and a half to then spend $2.50 on an apple. That apple should be in the community,” Frey said. “You should have accessible, affordable and natural food … and I think that’s a big part of what we’re pushing for right now.”