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'Perfect storm' hitting Minnesotans with high food prices and hunger

The faltering Minnesota economy, rising prices at the gas pump and supermarket, out-of-control health care costs, job losses and broad-based inflation are taking food right off Minnesota tables, Minnesota 2020, a St. Paul-based public policy think tank, says in a report released today. As a result, many more Minnesotans are going to bed hungry, and food shelves are struggling to keep up.

"Minnesota hasn't faced a situation like this since the 1970s, and unfortunately the situation may get worse before it gets better," said Lee Egers-trom, MN 2020 economics fellow and author of the report. "Prices are rising at the fastest levels in 25 years and household incomes aren't keeping up."

Also to blame are global drought cycles, a rising middle class in the developing world, the declining value of the dollar, public deficits and aging populations on fixed incomes.

Wilder Foundation research documents a 12 percent increase in visits to Minnesota's 160 food shelves in 2007 to 1.9 million, up from 1.7 million in 2005 and 1.2 million in 2001.

Hunger is affecting families all across the state. Rob Zeaske, executive director of Second Harvest Heartland, said he realized that not even affluent areas were spared when he saw more than 30 people waiting in sub-zero cold outside a food shelf in third-ring suburban Burnsville.

Egerstrom, who spent 36 years as a business writer covering agriculture and the food industry for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, said the consequences of Minnesotans going hungry reach beyond health problems and humanitarian concerns.

"Agriculture is still the economic engine driving our state, and we need as many consumers for our products as possible," Egerstrom said.

A study by the Sodexo Foundation found that hunger saps $1.1 billion a year from Minnesota's economy.

Public attention is critical to ensuring continued financial and organizational support, Egerstrom said.

"To get help to people right away this summer, we need to act now," he added.