IATP Leads the Way to Food Access in the Twin Cities

Sometimes I forget how cool it is to live in the Twin Cities. Oh, I'm proud of our lakes, trails, trees, farmers, restaurants, and all. But sometimes I take it all for granted, forgetting just how special this place really is. That's why sometimes it fun to get out of here and experience things from someone else's point of view.

Case in point: on a recent trip to Arizona for the 2010 Kellogg Foundation Food and Community Gathering, I offered to introduce several prominent food writers, including Jill Richardson from La Vida Locavore, to the folks from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), an organization in town whose mission states: IATP works locally and globally at the intersection of policy and practice to ensure fair and sustainable food, farm and trade systems.

I could see from Jill's reaction that knowing the folks at IATP gave my own credibility a boost, and it occurred to me that I've been taking the organization for granted. Yes, we give a percentage of our Local Food Lover program profits to IATP, and yes, I often show up at their terrific events (like the one last night with Frances Moore Lappe and Anna Lappe). But it was time to stop by and visit again.

JoAnne Berkenkamp runs IATP's Local Foods program, which is in the center of many activities related to good food access in the Twin Cities. On a recent visit to IATP's Minneapolis headquarters, JoAnne was generous with her time and helped give me some context around several of the organization's major food initiatives, including those described here.

Mini Farmers Markets

One of the cool things IATP has done in the Twin Cities is help make it feasible for mini farmers markets - those with five vendors or fewer - to open in new communities. They did it by becoming a farmers market themselves, essentially - by helping simplify and reduce the cost of the permit process, and by taking on the responsibility of oversight for these smaller markets. Many of these markets are in under served areas, including retirement communities and apartment buildings, and a large percentage of these mini markets accept Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) vouchers. 

Click here for a list of all Twin Cities mini farmers markets operating under this program and links to resources, videos, and guidelines for starting your own.

Healthy School Food

Fun times at the Midtown Farmers MarketFun times at the Midtown Farmers MarketIATP is engaged and on the ground when it comes to making sure our kids have good food to eat in school. The organization is collaborating with St. Paul Public Schools on the School Food FOCUS initiative, and is also part of the national Farm to School Network. Here's an excerpt from the IATP website:

IATP is partnering with the Minnesota School Nutrition Association to launch a major Farm to School initiative being rolled out state-wide during the 2009-10 school year. Aimed at enabling schools to connect kids with local foods, the initiative is helping schools with the staff training, procurement, student education and communications support needed to make farm to school work on the ground.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

IATP is actively working with the city of Minneapolis and its Homegrown Minneapolis initiative to help ensure that more farmers markets are able to accept SNAP vouchers (also referred to as food stamps and EBT), ensuring that families on the program have access to good, healthy, fresh food. The Midtown Farmers Market currently accepts SNAP, with several other Twin Cities markets gearing up to accept SNAP this summer.

JoAnne, like many of us in the good food movement, is both swamped and energized as she describes the work ahead. The fact that IATP is doing great work to make fresh and healthy food accessible right here in our backyard reflects well on us all.

Lee Zukor is the founder of Simple, Good, and Tasty. E-mail him at or follow him on Twitter.