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Small-Town MN Groceries See Boost from Good Food Access Program

One owner of a small grocery in rural Minnesota says he's seeing increased demand for healthy, ready-to-eat deli food - and a lot of grateful customers. (Chelsea Ouellet/Pixabay)
One owner of a small grocery in rural Minnesota says he's seeing increased demand for healthy, ready-to-eat deli food - and a lot of grateful customers. (Chelsea Ouellet/Pixabay)
April 29, 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Supporters of small-town Minnesota grocery stores are hoping for new funding to continue the Good Food Access program. They say the state grants help bring quality nutrition to areas that would otherwise be "food deserts," and that helps rural communities.

Corey Christianson took over one KC's Country Market several years ago, and another location a few months back. Both are in rural areas, and one is the only grocer for miles.

Christianson said affordable loans are tough to get. He received two small grants from the Good Food Access program - for badly-needed cooler, deli, and refrigerator upgrades - and local folks said he was saving the hearts of those tiny towns.

"Praise, thanks, even some tears of happiness; customers are very excited that at least the grocery store stayed open,” Christianson said. “And then, we can support others - local growers - preparing their foods, sandwiches and salads, and/or sell it whole in our produce section."

He said he now hopes to expand the delis to offer more fresh food, and maybe hire more help.

Cheryal Hills, executive director of the Region 5 Development Commission, said it has been working to start food co-ops in the counties it serves - a way to offer local products in places that don't have the population to interest a national chain. She said the grants and technical assistance offered by the Good Food Access program can have a surprisingly large impact.

"There's multiple impacts,” Hills said. “It's not only a health and wellness issue, but it's also an economic issue - having more locations for farmers and agricultural producers to be able to expand their markets."

For the last three years, the program has been funded at $250,000, which has never come close to meeting demand. In the last round, the state Department of Agriculture received over seven times more proposals than it could fund.

The state's omnibus bill for agriculture, now being considered, includes some funding, but not at levels sufficient to meet the demand. A proposal at the legislature would expand funding for the program beyond this year to support additional grants and loans for small food retailers.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - MN