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Feb 06, 2019 • By

Fueling full lives in North Minneapolis

Editor’s note: This is the latest post in our “You Grow, Girl!” series highlighting female farmers – from the northern reaches of Canada to the heartland of the U.S. From the western coast of Africa to the rolling hills of France and beyond. The series amplifies the voices of female farmers, who play vital roles in agriculture worldwide. Here, they share their unique perspectives on food, family and farming.

This post is from Greater Twin Cities United Way, which launched the Full Lives Program in partnership with the General Mills Foundation in Spring 2017. Full Lives supports a healthy and equitable community food system by in North Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Although the young women featured in the story aren’t traditional rural farmers, they are modern, urban farmers using the little land around them to nurture and feed a community.

Fresh fruits and vegetables aren’t abundant at everyone’s table: In many parts of the country, there are wide disparities when it comes to accessing nutritious food.

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In the greater Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul), this is a challenge in North Minneapolis, a diverse, urban community.

For decades residents have lacked nearby grocery stores with fresh, healthy food, which has caused many families to turn to corner stores to buy their food. That’s why in 2017, the General Mills Foundation joined forces with Greater Twin Cities United Way to launch the Full Lives Program.

The goal of Full Lives is to develop and amplify a vibrant local food system in North Minneapolis to eradicate food desert neighborhoods. Nearly two years in, 14 projects across 11 organizations have received funding, including Green Garden Bakery and Appetite for Change.

For two teenage girls in North Minneapolis – Lalah and Sanijia, who participate in Full Lives projects – the program has already made a big impact.

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Sanijia (left) and Lalah are teenagers who have learned to grow food for the Green Garden Bakery, a program funded by the Greater Twin Cities United Way in partnership with the General Mills Foundation.

The high school students are involved with Green Garden Bakery, a youth-run bakery promoting health and sustainability through selling vegetable-based desserts.

They had no prior experience gardening, cooking or baking before joining Green Garden.

Lalah got involved because it sounded intriguing. Her neighborhood didn’t have any gardens at the time. “Around parts of North Minneapolis, it is a food desert,” she says. “There isn’t a grocery store within a mile of here that I can walk to and get fresh produce.”

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That prompted Lalah to start working in the garden near her home, where she discovered she didn’t need a grocery store to get fresh fruits and vegetables. Lalah also started making connections between what she planted and what she ate.

“If you don’t know where your food comes from, you could be eating anything. But if you grow it yourself, you know where it came from.” – Lalah

Lalah says Green Garden Bakery has taught her more than how to weed or use an oven. “Without this program, some of us would never meet or connect – it teaches our community to come together and make things like the garden happen.”

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Green Garden Bakery has a stand at several local farmer’s markets, and Lalah also helps sell what she bakes. “I wasn’t really a people person before, but Green Garden taught me how to work a register and talk to others,” she says. “Now, I’m a good communicator, I follow directions, and I can do customer service.”

Lalah says she’s learned skills in the garden and kitchen that translate to real life. “Since getting involved with Green Garden I have a better attitude, I’ve learned how to be on time, and I’m more social,” she says.

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Just over a mile away, another Full Lives grant program, Appetite for Change, aims to use food as a tool to build health, wealth, and social change in North Minneapolis. They facilitate urban farming and operate a café that serves healthy food and offers employment for youth in the community.Appetite-for-Change-Logo-2018

A 17-year-old high school junior, Aaliyah got connected with Appetite for Change when she applied for a job at the café. “It was not your typical interview – it was very different. I could tell they really cared,” she says. “I got hired, and I learned working for Appetite for Change isn’t just a job, it’s setting me up for real life.”

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Aaliyah says she had no previous gardening experience – “I didn’t know much, other than that plants needed water!” – but learned to sow, weed, and harvest. Like Green Garden, Appetite for Change operates a stand at several local farmer’s markets and Aaliyah has learned to manage money, engage more easily in conversations with new people and lead a small team.

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After working in various roles at Appetite for Change, Aaliyah now serves as a youth mentor to other teens in the program. She also runs the organization’s social media channels and enjoys serving as their photographer.

“Appetite has been a great experience for me,” Aaliyah says. “In school we aren’t taught how to grow or cook food and there aren’t a lot of resources in North Minneapolis. People of color are suffering when it comes to accessing healthy food and we need to change that.”

“General Mills is committed to ensuring our hometown communities are food secure communities by supporting vibrant community food systems, and partnering with United Way enables us to accomplish this goal,” says Louise Iverson, senior program manager for the General Mills Foundation. “Youth are fundamental contributors to a strong community food system. When the skills and leadership of youth are nurtured, when they are given opportunity to participate in their community’s development, and when their voices are included, they are able to be the kinds of leaders – both leaders of today and in the future leaders of tomorrow.”

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Lalah, Sanijia and Aaliyah are just three examples of young women who are benefitting from the Full Lives program. As organizations such as these continue to develop and amplify a vibrant local food system in North Minneapolis, together General Mills and Greater Twin Cities United Way remain committed to ensuring that all residents of this community have affordable access to foods that meet their nutritional, economic and cultural needs.

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Please read our other You Grow, Girl! blog posts and learn more about General Mills, our commitment to sustainable sourcing and supporting smallholder farmers in our 2018 Global Responsibility Report.

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