A familiar sight along Marquette Avenue, food trucks are a popular lunch option for people who work in downtown Minneapolis. Now one may soon be cruising around Eden Prairie, delivering healthy, freshly cooked entrees and sides at parks and outdoor events.
The food truck idea, brought to City Council members’ attention early last month by Mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens’ Health and Wellness Committee, would be part of the larger “Live Well, Eden Prairie” health and wellness initiative the city undertook in August 2012.
Eden Prairie is only the second city in Minnesota to pursue such a wellness program, following Eagan, which launched its “Healthy Eating, Active Living” program only three months earlier.
“It’s really our City Council taking a stand [in health and wellness],” said Jay Lotthammer, Eden Prairie’s director of parks and recreation.
As an extension of the community center’s cafe, the food truck would service all of Eden Prairie, stopping at parks and lakes and showing up at outdoor events as well, according to Lotthammer.
Fundraising and advertising would offset an initial cost of between $50,000 and $60,000, and the city hopes the food truck would in this way become self-sustainable, Lotthammer said.
Already the city has reached out to Eden Prairie farmers about contracting for their produce, and ideas are floating about replacing chips with fresh fruit and doing away with ice cream in favor of frozen yogurt topped by local farmers’ berries.
The tented concessions stands the city currently use do not offer much opportunity for food preparation and rely heavily on prepackaged foods. A food truck would make it easier to cook hot meals like chicken or fajitas while complying with state health codes, Lotthammer said.
Jenine Anderson, who works in downtown Minneapolis and has frequented the food trucks there, said that she would like to see “foodie-inspired fare from local chefs, healthy options and light bites like lettuce wraps and other interesting creations like we get in food trucks downtown.” She said classic State Fair foods would also be a draw for her.
Live Well, Eden Prairie looks to improve the overall quality of life, Lotthammer explained. “It isn’t just about fitness; it isn’t just about nutrition,” he said.
Eden Prairie’s Health and Wellness Committee is also looking at other options for expanding the Live Well program, such as including local farmers in community events, continuing a Community-Supported Agriculture network and working with local restaurants to encourage them to put healthy options on the menu.
The cit’s other wellness efforts
This isn’t the first time Eden Prairie has taken an interest in expanding healthy eating opportunities. The city’s Prairie View Elementary School is home to what the city refers to as an “edible garden.” Elementary students tend this small vegetable plot during the school year while learning about healthy eating in a more hands-on way.
As part of the Live Well project, Eden Prairie may also pursue recognition as a Blue Zone, what Minnesota native Dan Buettner termed for areas that experience life expectancies of 100 or older at rates 10 times that of the U.S. average.
Buettner’s research originally identified as Blue Zones the far-ranging locales of Sardinia; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Okinawa; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, Calif. His research focused on how environmental and social conditions in these cities contributed to the populations’ longevity and wellness.
Albert Lea became the only recognized Blue Zone city in Minnesota after participating in the AARP/United Health-sponsored Blue Zones Vitality Project between 2009 and 2012. The project aimed to improve overall health in the city with project leaders working alongside Albert Lea city officials to designate more walking trails and gardens, and to engage local restaurants about healthier options on their menus.
“It’s more an active involvement in engagement than a checking off of boxes,” Lotthammer said of what recognition of the city as a Blue Zone means. It’s about involving faith organizations, school districts and others in improving wellness citywide, he said.
With 22 percent of Albert Lea residents aged 65 or older, its population is significantly older than Eden Prairie’s (just under five percent are 65 or older, according to 2010 Census figures). But with nearly 61,000 residents, Eden Prairie has a population more than three times that of Albert Lea.
Elizabeth Hustad is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.