Income or distance can make it hard for about 340,000 Minnesotans to get healthy foods locally. That may be why one program designed to change that has really taken off. Minnesota is ranked seventh in the nation for people’s lack of access to grocery stores or places to buy fresh, local foods.

When the state created the Good Food Access Program in 2016, it picked up steam quickly. Campaign manager Leah Gardner said the program just wrapped up its second round of funding, and businesses and nonprofit groups were lined up to get the grants. “There were about 60 applications that came in, asking for approximately $1.5 million,” she explained, “There was only $150,000 available, so only eight of those 60 applicants were actually able to receive a grant.”

Past projects that received funding range from a “mobile market” to bring food to people in more remote areas, to a local grocery store on a tight budget that needs equipment upgrades so it can expand its food selection. Gardner said she’s happy to see so much enthusiasm for the program and, “It’s been very exciting and affirming for us involved in getting this program off the ground that there really is strong demand, and we’re seeing that from all around the state.”

Gardner says there are no plans in this year’s legislature to increase funding to expand the program, but she believes next year, it’s a possibility.

The money is intended to help make technological advancements to increase the availability of and access to affordable, nutritious and culturally appropriate food, and Gardner says past applicants are welcome to apply again. The next application deadline is in about two weeks on April 19th.