Minnesota Hospital Association


January 23, 2018

Essentia Health helps community members access healthy food options

Essentia Health supports farmers markets in Northeast Minnesota to increase food dollars for low-income residents who are Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants through an EBT-matching program. The Lincoln Park Farmers Market and the Hilltop Market in Duluth, as well as the Virginia Square Market, accept EBT from SNAP users as a form of payment and provide a one-to-one match of up to $15 per day. Hunger Solutions Minnesota, a hunger relief organization, provides the first $10 of the match and Essentia Health contributes the remaining $5. Last year, Essentia’s matching contributions totaled approximately $5,000.    

The benefit of the match program is twofold: low-income customers are able to stretch their food assistance dollars to purchase healthy, local foods and producers are fairly compensated for their goods. This helps to build stronger, more inclusive communities.    

During the last farmer’s market season, SNAP participants used $4,880 from their EBT cards at farmers markets in Duluth and Virginia, resulting in $10,046 circulated into the local farm economy. At the Lincoln Park Farmers Market, there were more than 100 new SNAP participants this year. A survey conducted at the Lincoln Park Market found that 42 percent of customers used an EBT card, 72 percent indicated that they had been introduced to new foods and 91 percent thought their health was impacted positively by the market.   

Along with fund matching at farmers markets, Essentia Health also partnered with Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank to transform its traditional food shelf program to be a healthier model of distribution. With a $15,000 grant from Essentia Health, the food shelf implemented the “Nudges” model of behavioral cues to make the healthy choice the easy choice in its food shelf and encouraged agency partner networks to transform their food shelves. In total, 16 different food shelves and 47 staff and volunteers were trained on “Nudges.” Since implementation on July 1, the food shelf has seen a 27 percent reduction in the number of baked good distributed and a 48 percent increase in the distribution of fruits and vegetables.    

In addition, Essentia Health stepped up to help make healthy and nutritious foods like fresh fruits and vegetables more accessible to Aurora families and seniors with limited transportation after the 2016 closure of the town’s only grocery store. Essentia, the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency, the Rutabaga Project and Arrowhead Transit launched a new bus route providing free transportation from residents’ homes in Aurora to Super One in Biwabik and IGA in Hoyt Lakes. Essentia Health in Aurora contributed a total of $6,000 to run the bus for free each week.