Building a coalition to promote healthy food access is complex. Just ask Vayong Moua. “You can imagine all the various stakeholders at the table, anti-poverty, anti-hunger, public health, economic development, farmers,” he said. “It’s a very diverse set of perspectives.”
Moua and stakeholders in Minnesota came together to create the Good Food Access Fund, a financing initiative meant to bring healthy food to retail settings in low-food-access and low-income areas. The coalition approached the Minnesota Legislature in 2016 to try to pass a bill to create the Fund, and sought $10 million in the form of grants, loans, and technical assistance to make healthy food more available throughout the state.
“We’re not trying to bring unhealthy food into low food access areas,” said Moua, Health Equity Advocacy Director at the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota. “We believe strongly in health equity. We’re trying to make sure the food is healthy, culturally appropriate, and affordable.”
As a longtime partner of the Center for Prevention, the Public Health Law Center answered the call to support the coalition as it reviewed policy options and shaped the initiative. It provided value in other ways as well.
“[Staff attorney] Susan Weisman helped us first think about the core elements, values, and principles we wanted in a policy. She didn’t lead with technicalities or minutiae, but helped us identify what was important to us before the translation into policy legalese.”
Weisman helped to facilitate a series of listening sessions and followed up with stakeholders to make sure their interests were clear as the coalition developed policy language. “We were managing very different and very strong personalities and organizational cultures,” Moua said. “This relationship management can be tough, but it’s a role that the Public Health Law Center plays very thoughtfully and respectfully, even if it isn’t always visible.”
“The Center is like the Switzerland of public health,” Moua continued. “It is a neutral authority with the both the street cred and the skillset to create high impact public health policy.”
By the end of the 2016 Minnesota Legislative Session, the Good Food Access Fund bill was adopted with nearly all the coalition language intact. The initiative was not fully funded, so the coalition plans to return next session to press the Legislature to close access gaps in Minnesota food systems.
“We were fortunate to get that much traction. It was originally intended to be a two, maybe even three year campaign,” Moua said. “Having the Center involved with the Good Food Access Fund was critical, helping us shape our approach as well as our policy.”