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Good Food Access grant helps Wadena Farmers Market grow

An assortment of vendors offered fresh produce, canned goods and baked items Aug. 24 at the Wadena Farmer's Market on the Wesley Lawn near the Tri-County Health Care ambulance garage. The market meets there every Friday through October. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

A second round of funding from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) shows that a statewide program designed to help reduce the lack of access many Minnesotans have to healthy and affordable foods continues to be very popular with food retailers and others throughout the state.

About $11,000 from this source have made their way to the Wadena Farmers Market. Those funds were used to purchase a trailer as well as tents and tables to help the market function in their new location on the Tri-County Health Care Wesley Lawn. Because they were not able to keep a secure shed on site at the hospital, the funds allowed them to buy the trailer where they can store all their equipment, according to farmers market manager Les Schwartz.

Schwartz said the equipment the market is acquiring will also help them travel to other locations to provide fresh produce to areas like Sebeka and Menahga, hopefully in the near future.

The grant money also helps create a space for the SNAP/EBT payment and Power of Produce, a program that gives kids an opportunity to shop at the farmers' market, according to Ashley Bress of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

"They're also purchasing items like a generator that can be used for food demonstrations, powering laptops, etc," Bress said in an email. "Chairs and tables will also be used for classes and demonstrations. Other farmers' markets have found that when they increase food access programs (like accepting SNAP, Market Bucks, and WIC and Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Programs), they often need additional seating options for these participants."

While the market was previously in the Wadena Pamida parking lot, word that the property may sell brought the Farmers Market to look for a new location that might better serve their needs. The Wesley Lawn has provided a well shaded site that's more inviting to marketers and customers, and the produce seems to like it too.

"The shade and green space is really nice," Schwartz said.

"We want to provide access to more people with limited income," Schwartz said. Working with the county extension agency, Schwartz said the Wadena Grower's Association hopes to also offer classes to teach more people how to enjoy that fresh produce.

The Wadena Farmers Market meets at the Wesley Lawn from 2-5:30 p.m. every Friday through the end of October, pending weather conditions. They also meet from 7-11 a.m. Thursdays at Burlington Northern Park. Schwartz said there's a large variety of produce right now with fall fruits starting to roll in.

The Growers Association accepts new members anytime. Dues include a $75 annual fee. Reach Schwartz at 218-639-1941 for more information.

The Minnesota Good Food Access Program was created by a bipartisan coalition of Minnesota legislators three years ago and is designed to provide loans, grants and technical assistance to help existing or new enterprises provide healthy and affordable foods in those locations that currently lack access to such foods.

In the second round of funding, a total of $233,750 in grants were awarded to 14 different projects to purchase equipment and make physical improvements to increase access to affordable, nutritious, and culturally appropriate foods in underserved and low and moderate income communities throughout the state. More than 40 separate projects had applied for funding this year, with requests totaling over $800,000. Last year, MDA provided grants totaling $150,000 to eight of 57 projects that had applied for funding assistance

Studies show that more than 340,000 Minnesotans face both distance and income as a barrier to obtaining healthy, affordable food, and approximately 235,000 Minnesotans live more than 10 miles away from a large grocery store or supermarket. Many of the retail food outlets in these locations are aging and often in need of equipment and facility upgrades.

The lack of access to healthy foods impacts Minnesotans of all ages who live in urban and rural locations alike. Of the Minnesotans who face distance and income barriers to healthy and affordable foods, one in five are seniors 65 or older and one in four are children age 0-17.