St. Paul, Ramsey County form food and nutrition commission

The chefs and owners of two popular St. Paul restaurants will serve on a new panel aimed at increasing residents' access to local, healthy food.

Lenny Russo of Heartland and Hai Truong of Ngon Vietnamese Bistro have been appointed to the so-called Food and Nutrition Commission. The panel will advise the city and Ramsey County on issues ranging from food distribution to community gardening.

Truong says poor residents in his Frogtown neighborhood have fewer options for locally grown or nutritious food.

"You have to have money to eat right," Truong said. "And how do we change this? Everyone should have the right to have healthy foods that's not laced with a whole bunch of chemicals or empty calories."

City officials say they also want to support consumption of local food because of the environmental benefits.

Anne Hunt, the city's environmental policy director, said the group may also look at how low-income housing developments could better incorporate community gardens.

"A lot of the housing gets built and might have ornamental trees. Should we be thinking differently about planting trees that could be an orchard that's actually producing apples, for example, that the residents could have access to?" Hunt said.

The 14-member commission also includes Lynne Rossetto Kasper, host of American Public Media's "The Splendid Table."

The group will make recommendations to the city council and the county's board of commissioners. It will meet for the first time in July.

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