A Northfield company aiming to accelerate local food production is being recognized as one of Minnesota's most promising startups.
Healthy Share GBC has been delivering locally grown and organic food to its customers for more than a year and half. Now it's a semifinalist in the Minnesota Cup competition, the largest statewide entrepreneurial contest in the U.S.
The Minnesota Cup is coordinated by the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, and has awarded more than $4 million in seed money to startups since 2005. Healthy Share is among companies competing for more than $400,000 of funding this year.
Healthy Share founder and Northfielder Jim Gehrke is no stranger to the contest. He received the Minnesota Cup's top award for social entrepreneur in 2013.
“I'm thrilled to be back in the race,” Gehrke said. “It's an extraordinarily beneficial opportunity to gather feedback from knowledgeable people and fine tune a business plan.”
Healthy Share is a semifinalist in the Minnesota Cup's Impact Ventures category, showcasing companies that aim to make a positive impact on society. Gehrke said Healthy Share is a “general benefit corporation,” a relatively new type of business entity that's designed to have a positive impact rather than merely seek profit.
“Our articles of incorporation state that we were organized to make healthy food easily available and affordable, promote healthy eating patterns, create living-wage jobs and develop economic opportunities for sustainable food producers,” Gehrke said.
His company is an extension of work he started nearly a decade ago.
“I was initially interested in local food systems because of the economic development potential,” he said. “That's still a driver, and an important one. But I'm increasingly concerned about climate change, and the need to diversify food production in order to make all our communities more resilient.
“The really cool thing about Healthy Share is that it's an affordable way for people to improve their diet while both strengthening their community economically and decreasing the environmental impact of food production and distribution,” Gehrke said.
Healthy Share is based on the national Dietary Guidelines, which are updated every five years by the USDA and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to reflect the latest medical and scientific research on healthy eating.
“When you join Healthy Share, you fill out two really short surveys that tell us which foods you love, and which foods you just don't want. Every week, we deliver to your door a bag with two to three kinds of fruit and four to six kinds of vegetables, all foods you like. You're getting the variety of produce and nutrients recommended for a healthy diet, and all you're doing is eating foods you like.”
Gehrke said 59 percent of Healthy Share's food purchases in 2020 were from farms within about 150 miles. This year he expects about 65 percent of Healthy Share's food to come from within that radius.
Gehrke said Healthy Share is also being looked at as a highly efficient model for delivering healthy food to underserved communities.
Healthy Share is the center point of a $200,000 Bush Foundation grant to increase access to healthy and indigenous foods for Prairie Island Indian Community. Healthy Share is working with the National Indian Carbon Coalition, the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, public benefit corporation LICO2e and nonprofit Slipsteam to outline energy requirements and document actual and potential energy conservation gains for Prairie Island's local food system.
The same organizations have also been contracted by the Minnesota Department of Commerce to develop a white paper on how energy conservation programs could assist food sovereignty efforts among Minnesota's other 10 tribal communities.
“It's really exciting to be part of both projects,” Gehrke said. “And much of this has implications for all communities, especially rural communities and inner-city food deserts. The Healthy Share model was designed to be implemented with minimal investment. It costs next to nothing to extend service to a new area. As a result, we could end up with a statewide system for local food delivery in a matter of years."