Miah Ulysse keeps a close eye on the foodscape of North Minneapolis. As the Policy Manager at Appetite for Change, much of Ulysse’s life revolves around Minnesota’s food equity laws and connecting people in North Minneapolis who are interested in changing a broken system.

In recent years, North Minneapolis has been known as a “food desert,” which the Center for Disease Control describes as an area lacking in access to fresh, healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Even more recently, North Minneapolis has been referred to as a “food swamp,” a less formal term that accounts for the wealth of unhealthy food options – such as fast and fried foods – that are widely available on Broadway Avenue, which is also home to Appetite for Change.

A social enterprise with a mission to build “wealth, health and social change” in North Minneapolis, Appetite for Change operates a Breaking Bread Café and several community gardens, provides cooking classes for community members, and trains and employs more than 180 staff – including youth. Breaking Bread Café is a stanchion on Broadway, and it teems with energy, ideas and – of course – delicious, fresh, healthy foods.

“We’re trying to push past the conversation of a food desert, because we’re not a food desert,” Ulysse says while at the growing lab at Appetite for Change, where tiny seedlings that will eventually be planted in one of the many community gardens start their lives. “I wouldn’t even go so far as calling us a food swamp. Because swamps and deserts are actually really beautiful ecosystems and they’re self-sufficient. They have plant life and wildlife and microbes and organisms that contribute to it being able to sustain itself.”

Ulysse and her colleagues at Appetite for Change believe that listening to their community and intrinsically seeing its worth are the foundations for building a future with more access to health foods. When the organization was new, they interviewed dozens of community members to learn more about what they wanted to see changed in North Minneapolis. The answer? They wanted opportunities to cook and eat together, to learn about healthy foods and how to use them, and to define for themselves what it means to be healthy. The driving force behind all the work Appetite for Change is doing boils down to a profound love for the community of North Minneapolis.

“And that’s a really important piece to note,” Ulysse notes, “that just because one person doesn’t view a geographic area as valuable doesn’t mean that those that are living within it don’t find value and sustenance from that community.”

Although Miah Ulysse is hopeful for the future of the foodscape in her community, she operates with guarded optimism.

“This is the time for us to be able to come up with the solutions that are going to work for the black community, that’s going to work for the North Minneapolis community, and not somebody form the outside saying, ‘This is what we need to do,’ that we can look at what goals we’re trying to achieve within our community and find ways for us to uplift members of our community to actually achieve that.”

Production Team: Alauna Yust, Chris Lange, Michael Phillips, Jonathon Camp, Miles Painter

This story was created in collaboration with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Center for Prevention as part of Building Health Equity: Health Happens in Community.

________________________________________________________________________

While issues surrounding food equity have a profound impact on communities, those issues also have a direct influence on child development. Explore more in:

Baby Brain Food: Early Childhood Nutrition

Food for Every Child: Childcare

Food for Every Child: School Gap Feeding

Discover the diverse historical roots of North Minneapolis in the documentary, Cornerstones: A History of North Minneapolis.