Study: Many Minnesotans face long trips to buy fresh food

The Country Market in Big Stone County
The Country Market in Big Stone County, which is one of many areas in Minnesota that have low access to full-service grocery stores.
Ann Arbor Miller for MPR 2012

Some 30 percent of Minnesotans don't have easy access to a full-service grocery store, a troubling fact that puts the state among the worst in the nation, researchers said Wednesday.

About 1.6 million Minnesotans have low retail access based on the distance from their homes to the nearest full-service grocery store, and Minnesota has more residents with low retail access in rural areas than any other state except Texas, according to data collected analyzed by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and the nonprofit Wilder Foundation.

An estimated 341,000 Minnesotans face both income and distance barriers to purchasing healthy food.

Researchers pointed to the demise of small town grocers in swaths of rural Minnesota as part of the problem. About 16 percent of Minnesota's census tracts qualify as federally designated "food deserts," areas with a high proportion of low- to moderate-income residents who live far from a full-service grocery store.

Low access is defined as having to travel more than 1 mile in an urban area or 10 miles in a rural area to get to a supermarket.

Overall, Minnesota ranked seventh worst in the report among states in the share of total population with access to a full-service grocery. South Dakota was No. 1 and North Dakota was No. 2.

The study, commissioned by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, acknowledged the price of healthy food remains the biggest single barrier to good eating in low-income homes and that simply growing the number of small grocery stores wouldn't increase peoples' fruit and vegetable consumption unless it was combined with other efforts to target consumer eating behavior.

Researchers recommended multiple strategies to connect people with healthy food in Minnesota, including efforts to help consumers make smarter purchasing decisions and improve transportation to stores.

They also called for initiatives to make it easier for entrepreneurs to finance, open and run operations successfully.

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