Fresh produce – and beats: Youth in Appetite for Change bring healthy food, lifestyle to north Minneapolis

Lataijah Powell was growing tired of the fast food.

There were 38 fast food restaurants within more than seven square miles in her north Minneapolis neighborhood, she said, but a lack of nearby grocery stores to buy fresh produce.

“I was tired of that stuff,” said Powell, 19, who graduated from Minneapolis Patrick Henry High School in 2015.

This was one of the reasons why her mother, Latasha Powell, co-founded Appetite for Change, a community-led food justice organization that works to lessen the healthy food disparity in north Minneapolis. The organization works closely with youth, training them to grow fresh produce, to sell it in the community and to advocate for food policy change.

Young people in Appetite for Change
Young people in Appetite for Change pose for a photo in a garden. The organization uses food as a tool for change in north Minneapolis. (Photo courtesy of Appetite for Change)

“It’s comforting to be able to drive around … and be like, ‘Oh there’s a place where I can get some good food, and it’s not deep fried and covered in cheese,’” said Ieshia Dabbs, 23, a youth leader at Appetite for Change.

Appetite for Change was founded by Latasha Powell, the current director of programming, and Michelle Horovitz, the current executive director, and began operating in 2012 as a response to the food disparities in north Minneapolis.

North Minneapolis is a federally designated food desert, meaning a substantial portion of the population lives below the poverty line and lives more than a mile away from a grocery store. This means residents have less access to nutritious fruits and vegetables.

Appetite for Change trains community members to cook and learn about fresh foods. It builds urban farms for local food systems. It has social enterprises in north Minneapolis such as Kindred Kitchen, which people can rent to use for their small businesses, and Breaking Bread Cafe, a restaurant and catering service that serves comfort food and trains youth in culinary arts and food service, according to the organization’s website.

Young people in the organization also lead workshops and grow food as part of a cooperative that sells produce to the cafe, local corner stores, restaurants and others, including tenants of Kindred Kitchen, according to the website.

Youth learn not only how to properly grow and cook produce, but also how to read nutrition labels at the grocery store, according to youth leaders.

“Once they get into the process of reading what they actually put into their bodies, you slowly see them stop or consume [unhealthy food] as little as possible,” Dabbs said.

Appetite for Change teaches its young people life lessons such as personal finance and people skills. It also helps bridge the gap between youth and government by bringing young people to the Capitol, according to Lataijah.

“My community is really important to me, and to see them grow and help them grow is something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Lataijah, who is now a youth leader and program facilitator at Appetite for Change.

Last year, Appetite for Change’s young people helped create a music video, titled “Grow Food,” an idea that initially came from Lataijah and another youth leader years ago, she said. The video, which was released in November 2016, quickly gained traction and became a viral sensation. It had more than 400,000 views as of August.

The first verse of the song goes: “See in my hood, there ain’t really much to eat. Popeye’s on the corner, McDonald’s right across the street.” The verse continues: “All this talk about guns and the drugs, pretty serious. But look at what they feeding y’all, that’s what’s really killin’ us.”

“We wanted to make music and use it in a positive way to really get this message out: you could grow your own food,” Lataijah said. “You don’t have to go to a grocery store. Plant your seed and watch it grow.

Appetite for Change’s young people are mentored by youth leaders, some of whom used to be in their same position.

Lataijah began working with Appetite for Change as a student in 2012. During high school, she advocated for better food options at her school, Patrick Henry, and eventually began to see changes, she said. During her senior year, the school started to bring in chefs who made “cooked food, not out of a bag,” she said.

“It also helped me get my friends involved, and [I was] teaching them so they could go back and teach their families,” she said. “… Everybody knew about Appetite for Change because that’s all I was talking about.”