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Blue Cross Blue Shield awards grants to combat food insecurity

MNyou Youth Garden and Willmar Public Schools are benefiting from grants from Blue Cross Blue Shield through the Healthy Together Willmar initiative.

Erica Dischino / Tribune Ben Larson, left, and Nate Erickson, two of the leaders of the nonprofit MNyou Youth Garden, water plants May 14 at the MinnWest Greenhouse in Willmar where the garden's seedlings were started. This year the garden has partnered with Carris Health to distribute produce to employees and patients through a community-supported agriculture model.

WILLMAR — By the next growing season, MNyou Youth Garden of Willmar will be gearing up for year-round food production with the help of a $55,000 grant awarded by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota through the Healthy Together Willmar initiative.

Other grants announced include $20,000 to Willmar Public Schools to retire school lunch debts and $500 to support the Adult Basic Education program through Willmar Community Education.

The goal of the grants is to increase food security during the coronavirus pandemic.

Healthy Together Willmar will celebrate its five-year efforts in Willmar during an online event Monday. Register by going to healthytogetherwillmar.org.

MNyou works with local youth to address food insecurity by growing foods to sell at local farmers markets. The program also provides work experience and helps young people become acquainted with the local business community.


The grant will help MNyou purchase a hoophouse to increase its agricultural production, a trailer or food truck to transport produce to low-income communities and a walk-in cooler for additional food storage. It will provide a hydroponic system to start seedlings and expand production of microgreens year-round.

Ben Larson, one of the founders of MNyou, said the nonprofit currently has a growing season of about 18 weeks. The new hoophouse and the completion of a new greenhouse, will make year-round production possible. A Blue Cross Blue Shield grant assisted in building the greenhouse, along with Bernick Family Foundation.

With the equipment now in place, “we can make our primary focus the growing of vegetables and connecting with kids,” said Nate Erickson, Kandiyohi County 4-H after-school educator who volunteers with MNYou.

The grants also allow the group to expand its sales of Community Supported Agriculture shares. For each share purchased through its Facebook Page, MNyou donates an equal share to a family in need.

Willmar Schools Superintendent Jeff Holm said the school district is grateful for the Blue Cross Blue Shield support for students during the pandemic.

“They have recognized the potential impact of the pandemic on the basic needs of children for adequate nutrition,” Holm said. “We thank them on behalf of our students and their families.”

Blue Cross Blue Shield representatives “were very kind to reach out and see what we could use help with since we are offering primarily online programming,” said Adult Basic Education Manager Ann Trochlil.

“We have been able to distribute school-owned devices to students but we did not have many headsets which are nice for Zoom classes,” she said. “They offered to help us purchase headphones along with additional masks and hand sanitizer for students, which we are handing out when they come for face-to-face technology appointments.”

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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