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A Thanksgiving Season with Consequences

November 16, 2010 By Lee Egerstrom, Economic Development Fellow

The Sunday newspapers were filled with so-called “loss leader” advertisements from food retailers encouraging shoppers to stock up for Thanksgiving feasts. While practically giving away turkeys and other staples of feast meals, retailers are counting on shoppers stuffing carts with other items not on sale or increasing in price.

This is an annual, seasonal exercise in marketing. What’s different this year is the market.

Minnesotans are facing a holiday season similar to 2008, again expanding the gap between the haves and have-nots, the fortunate and unfortunate, and the compassionate and the what’s-in-it-for-me crowd.

Here’s what’s happening that will affect us all, either directly or indirectly.

Minnesota farmers have nearly completed harvesting what now looks like a record corn crop (1.26 billion bushels) and near-record and possible record crops of soybeans (321.6 million bushels) and sugarbeets (11.9 million tons) – the three largest field crops grown on Minnesota farms.

This is good news for the rural economy that is closely tied to agricultural production and marketing. Commodity prices for field crops have recovered to 2008 highs. At current futures contract prices, the corn and soybean crops are worth more than $10 billion coming off the farms.

But not all Minnesota ag producers will be giving thanks for strong prices and bountiful harvests this year. The livestock industry is only starting to recover from depressed prices and the dairy industry is still culling herds that were harmed by the higher feed (grain) costs.

Make no mistake. There will be more money circulating around some rural Minnesota communities in the coming year. But there will be more problems with hunger stretching out into rural communities as well.

Rural communities’ food shelves report increased demand, according to Hunger Solutions News. This is to be expected as rural communities have steadily diversified with more manufacturing in recent decades, and this latter sector has been hard hit by the weak national and global economies.

Minnesotans receiving food assistance had reached an all-time high in September, with those numbers expected to increase in the final quarter of the year and into next year. A recent Star Tribune article offers a thorough look at why (“Numbers on food stamps are soaring in Minnesota” Olson, J., 11/6).

Minnesotans on food stamp assistance, or food support as it’s now called, grew to 440,000 in September, up from 381,000 in the same month a year ago, according to the article.

These numbers are expected to grow because federal eligibility has changed. Also, people who’ve lost their jobs but haven’t exhausted household savings have yet to apply for assistance. That day is creeping closer with each passing week and month.

Rising food prices--about 4 percent in 2011--are expected to compound the dilemma, according to another Star Tribune article (“Expect food to be a bigger bite of your budget”). It’s a delayed response to rising commodity prices. Food manufacturers pay more for raw materials and pass along their higher costs.

Basic food expenditures will stress household budgets for families living on the edge and squeeze availability at food assistance programs.

We have hunger amidst abundance this Thanksgiving season. We have rural poverty on the upswing even though farm income is likely to increase significantly as we move into 2011, and when, technically, we are in a national economic recovery mode.

This makes the current human crisis that has followed the financial crisis of 2008-2009 all the more difficult to neutralize.

The past election may reflect a weary electorate tired of responding to human needs. Individually, however, we can still make Minnesota a better – if not great – place to live.

In this land of abundance, where Minnesota and neighboring Wisconsin harvested record crops, we can look for ways to get needy people food. We may have lost the political will, as recent election results have shown, but we can respond as humans.

Minnesota nonprofit organizations reflected that spirit with coordinated efforts such as annual feeding programs on Thanksgiving. But longer lasting efforts exist that look weeks and months ahead. While we work toward a solution to ending long-term hunger -the creation of good paying jobs- these are worthwhile investments of our time and funds.  

One such example is the Walk to End Hunger effort scheduled at the Mall of America in Bloomington on Thanksgiving Day morning.

This event, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., includes the usual family-friendly walk and phone campaign to raise money and a food drive to gather non-perishables for food shelves.

The goal is to raise $300,000 and have 5,000 walk participants, event planners said. Participants in the Twin Cities Hunger Initiative include the African Food Distribution, Catholic Charities, Emergency Foodshelf Network, Hope for the City, Hunger Solutions, Keystone Community Services, Loaves and Fishes, Minnesota Foodshare, Neighborhood House, Neighbors Inc., Salvation Army, The Aliveness Project, Second Harvest Heartland and VEAP.

To register or contribute in any way, click To learn more about the struggle ahead, check out or the regional food bank’s web sites for Channel One Food Bank, Rochester; Great Plains Food Bank at Fargo; North Country Food Bank, Crookston; Second Harvest Heartland in Maplewood; Second Harvest North Central Food Bank, Grand Rapids; or Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank, Duluth.


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