Addressing food scarcity in rural Minnesota
For families in Staples, Minnesota, accessing healthy foods has been difficult. The central Minnesota community is a federally designated food desert, which means access to affordable and nutritious foods is limited. While agriculture is the area’s largest industry, crops are primarily grown for livestock feed or ethanol and are not intended for human consumption.
Faced with a lack of healthy food options, Lakewood Health System, a Minnesota hospital, sought to find a solution to improve overall community wellness. The hospital joined with partners in the community to start a food access initiative, in which health care providers work to bridge the healthy food access gap. Fresh meat and produce are dispensed at a food pharmacy located at the hospital, healthy foods are delivered to seniors and families in two area apartment buildings and the entire community is provided direct access to fresh foods through a hospital-hosted farmers market featuring produce from local growers.
Alicia Bauman, director of community health and government relations for Lakewood Health System, leads the hospital’s food access programming. “Lakewood Health System is committed to not only providing exceptional care when people need it most, but also to impacting the health of those we serve outside of our clinics,” she said. “Our community health initiatives really look at identifying our top community health gaps and developing strategies and interventions that are addressing some of those significant health concerns that happen outside of our walls.”
Of the population in Lakewood Health System’s service area, 40% lives below the poverty line and about 20% of kids are in food insecure households. A lack of food security is known to contribute to a myriad of health issues like diabetes and hypertension.
In addition to providing healthy foods to local families, Lakewood Health System has taken its program a step further and offers cooking demonstrations and educational workshops. By empowering participants with cooking skills and budgeting coaching, the hospital provides practical resources and training to help the community thrive.
Lakewood Health System’s food access programming shows what can happen when hospitals work outside their walls to provide support and improve lives. “Hospitals and health care systems across Minnesota are anchor institutions in their communities,” said Bauman. “Our community is really looking to us to provide a pathway to health and that doesn’t just include providing exceptional clinical care, it includes making sure the environment in which we live, work and play is suitable for well-being.”
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