In August 2021, the Red Wing Area Food Shelf in Goodhue County, together with the surrounding community, began a new chapter toward creating sustainable solutions to food insecurity in the area. First and foremost, that meant changing their current curbside pickup model to indoor shopping by choice to provide visitors with the most positive and autonomous shopping experience possible. It also meant transitioning from a volunteer-run food shelf towards hiring their first paid staff.

Goodhue 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 lived experience 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 Red Wing Area Food Shelf was able to both identify its goals and tap into critical funding — $8,000 of Food System Transformation (FST) Funds from Channel One Regional Food Bank and an additional $1,400 from the Minnesota Department of Health Safe Choice Program—available earlier this year. FFEN staff and trained volunteers, alongside food shelf leaders, spent over 40 hours creating a new, easy-to-navigate floor plan showcasing fresh foods first while creating a dignified, choice-by-category grocery store experience for shoppers. At the same time, sourcing of  fresh foods and  more culturally diverse food items  increased. In addition, Red Wing’s marketing materials were updated to reflect its full choice grocery-store shopping approach, the respectful and empowering model shoppers desired.

Red Wing’s reimagined space proudly opened for business in June 2022 and the impacts are already far-reaching. A recent Food Sourcing Analysis (FSA) Report shows that shoppers, now invited to shop as often as they like, have increased their fresh produce pounds per person by 55% to 4.4 pounds per person, per visit. They also saw an increase of 44% in the Shopper Experience Assessment score, highlighting the importance of choice in providing a positive food shelf experience. That means that Red Wing’s goals of increasing access to fresh and appealing food items in a positive, empowering, and dignified atmosphere are being realized.

While these positive impacts are being felt today, the future also looks bright for the Red Wing Area Food Shelf. Its operating cost per individual has actually declined by 29%, promising sustainability—and continued contributions to the community—well into the future.

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