LeRoy Area Food Shelf, located in Mower County near Austin, needed to put healthier options and more accessible food access on the menu for their shoppers when they first connected with FFEN in July 2021. That was the first step toward improving their impact on food insecurity in the area. And collaborating with individuals who have lived experience with food insecurity has been the key to finding meaningful solutions.
Mower County is one of six southeastern Minnesota counties that were targeted by Channel One Food Bank’s Food System Transformation efforts. Part of that focused on a co-design process, facilitated by the University of Minnesota Design Center, and built precisely for persistent community challenges like food insecurity. This human-centered, adaptive approach to problem solving taps into the passion, energy and insights of individuals who would otherwise be left out of the discussion—the ones most directly impacted. It’s a creative and cost-effective community engagement model that shifts the paradigm away from traditional decision-makers to those who have the most at stake. And that makes perfect sense.
Through co-design and with the support of Channel One and FFEN, the LeRoy Area Food Shelf was able to identify its most pressing goals—to increase access to fresh produce and dairy foods and improve their shoppers’ experience. The food shelf had been using a dairy and produce voucher system redeemable at the local grocery store, an offering historically common at many food shelves but expensive for a food shelf and detrimental to the confidentiality of food shelf shoppers. By moving away from the voucher system to providing produce and dairy directly at the food shelf, LeRoy streamlined its shopping experience to a one-stop “grocery store” approach. Funding of $8,000 through Channel One’s Food System Transformation (FST) Funds, combined with $1,400 from the TEFAP Program (available thanks to FFEN’s partnership with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Office of Economic Opportunity) supported the purchase of glass door coolers to showcase the additional produce and dairy options now on site.
LeRoy Area Food Shelf has now been reimagined in so many ways. Through their continued relationship with Channel One Regional Food Bank, those new coolers and freezers continue to be well stocked with appropriately sourced fresh foods and proteins. And Mower County’s shoppers not only have access to additional dairy and produce items at the food shelf, but also they have four times more access to everything the food shelf has to offer, with an open invitation to shop weekly, as they need food for their household..
In a recent Food Sourcing Assessment (FSA) Report, LeRoy Food Shelf reports a 62% increase in produce pounds to 2.6 pounds per individual per visit and a staggering 146% increase in dairy pounds per person; and nearly 40% increase in assessment of shopper experience with the new systems in place. Those goals for healthier eating are indeed being met. And perhaps best of all, with a cost savings in shifting from vouchers towards sourcing the food from the food bank, LeRoy is enjoying a surge in its own organizational health, positioning it well for sustainability into the future.