Full Lives: Strengthening Community Food Systems

Categories: Program Case Study

Greater Twin Cities United Way (GTCUW) has a history of investing in the emergency food system and working with others on long-term solutions for improving food security. That’s why we partnered with North Minneapolis and General Mills to launch the Full Lives Program, which supports a healthy and equitable community food system by addressing food oppression in North Minneapolis.

The North Minneapolis Food System

North Minneapolis is a diverse, close-knit community of families, business owners, leaders, social justice advocates, artists and others who have dreams and visions for creating a vibrant, equitable, healthy and prosperous community where all can thrive. North Minneapolis also is an amazing area of opportunity where significant progress and efforts have been underway for years to improve issues related to poverty and institutional disinvestment, racism, education and health outcomes.

GTCUW believes food is a fundamental right and has a history of investing in critical basic needs through the emergency food system—including food shelves, meal programs and food banks. While this is critical for too many, it also is critical to go beyond individual-level strategies to long-term community level solutions for improving food security.

For instance, ensuring urban residents have reliable access to affordable and nutritious food calls for a constellation of diverse strategies that drive change across all dimensions of a local food system—from food growers, to producers, point of sale and consumption by consumers. Through many efforts, Minneapolis’ Northside community and local community agencies have reached a tipping point for transforming the local food system.

Full Lives Program Strategy

The dreams and aspirations for the local food systems in North Minneapolis have been growing for many years with the development of critical projects led by local nonprofit organizations like Appetite for Change, NorthPoint Health and Wellness, Project Sweetie Pie and Pillsbury United Communities, among many others.

Thanks to a gift from the General Mills Foundation, GTCUW worked closely with community stakeholders to understand priorities for improving the local community food system. Partnerships with and ideas from community members helped identify how additional resources and support could most effectively amplify and strengthen efforts to improve the local food system.

Out of these community conversations, North Minneapolis, General Mills and GTCUW launched the Full Lives Program in spring of 2017, a $1.5 million dollar grant program that helps support and strengthen a vibrant, healthy and equitable community food system by addressing food oppression in North Minneapolis. The program goals include:

  • Increase food skills, availability and access to healthy and culturally appropriate food
  • Increase consumption and affordability of healthy food
  • Support job skills development and increase incomes for low-income minority, immigrant and refugee residents

Projects are deeply community-driven, interconnected and focused on sustainable and equitable solutions to address every stage of the food system. These projects complement emergency food strategies, for example, by increasing the number of affordable food options and grocery stores, and improving residents’ ability to earn an income by providing access to food sector employment and business training opportunities for youth and adults.

Women shopping for fresh produce at Full Lives program

Full Lives Preliminary Results

The Full Lives grant program funded 14 projects across 11 organizations that are committed to creating a sustainable and just food system. Specific results on the impact of these investments will be available in spring of 2018. So far, projects that are underway include:

  • North Market: An innovative nonprofit grocery store with health and wellness services, slated to open in December in an area of North Minneapolis that lacks a full service grocer.
  • CAPI Immigrant Farm: A four-acre farm right outside the city for North Minneapolis based-Southeast Asian immigrant and refugee families to grow and sell their own produce.
  • Green Garden Bakery: A youth-run social-enterprise bakery that promotes health and sustainability through eco-friendly vegetable-based products.
  • NEON Small Business Food Incubator Program: A small business training program that helps support minority and low income residents to develop their own food business.
  • Twin Cities Mobile Market: A mobile grocery store retrofitted on a city bus that delivers low-cost, healthy produce and food to low-income seniors and residents at several sites throughout North Minneapolis.
  • Northside Fresh Coalition: A grassroots community coalition that provides organizing and advocacy efforts that are increasing the community’s capacity to advocate for and advance policies that affect how North Minneapolis residents grow, access and sell food.

The Full Lives grant program also is targeting a portion of the funding to maximize the success of these projects (capacity building). GTCUW will strategically invest in collaborative capacity building to increase the strength of the North Minneapolis community food system as a whole.


Safety Net Program Manager Alyssa BanksAlyssa Banks is a program manager at United Way where she manages strategic investments across the metro area focused on improving food security, including the Full Lives program. She is a proud Minnesotan and holds a master’s degree in Public and Non-Profit Administration from Metropolitan State University and a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies from the University of Minnesota. Connect with Alyssa on LinkedIn.

Volunteers tour Full Lives program garden

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