Minnesota's Krikava intensifies anti-hunger movement
LOS ANGELES — Steve Krikava was known for many years as the director of government relations for Minnesota-based Land O'Lakes, one of the biggest dairy cooperatives in the country.
But when he retired in 2013, Krikava, who had been an active member of the Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka, Minn., joined the board of MAZON, the Los Angeles-based organization that subtitles itself "A Jewish Response to Hunger."
In the past few years, Krikava's leadership has intensified MAZON's involvement in efforts to reduce hunger in Minnesota and in strengthening the farm and anti-hunger coalition that is important to passing farm bills.
As Washington gears up for the next farm bill, MAZON is going to send an 18-wheeler across the country to raise awareness of the problem, and gather signatures on a petition for protection of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which will then be presented to Donald Trump.
Krivaka has encouraged MAZON's ties to the farm community at the national level and In Minnesota. Under Krikava's leadership, MAZON has made grants to Hunger Solutions Minnesota and Mid Minnesota Legal Aid, which work toward reducing hunger in the state. Minnesota is a fairly wealthy state with low unemployment, but Hunger Solutions Minnesota's data shows that almost 3.3 million people made visits to the state's food banks in 2015.
In 2014, Hunger Solutions Minnesota organized a coalition called Partnership to End Hunger, which was created to convince the state legislature to pass a bill providing free lunches to all Minnesota schoolchildren who qualified for reduced-price lunches. The partnership's members included the Minnesota Farmers Union, a longtime supporter of Hunger Solutions Minnesota; the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council; and the Minnesota Milk Producers Association, a statewide dairy farmer group.
After some initial resistance, the legislature passed the bill, and today Minnesota children who qualify for reduced-price lunches get the meals free.
"Through a remarkable coincidence, Dairy Day at the Capitol in 2014 happened to be on the same day as Hunger Day on the Hill," Krikava recalled in an email. "So at the same time that we had anti-hunger activists in St. Paul advocating for our bill, the dairy farmers were there as well with a supportive message."
With MAZON's help, Hunger Solutions has also encouraged the use of the "double bucks" programs, in which beneficiaries of federal nutrition programs can buy more fruits and vegetables at farmers markets.
Krikava, who grew up on a farm in Freeborn County, Minn., and graduated from Albert Lea High School and the University of Minnesota, has been particularly focused on establishing MAZON's Washington office, which lobbies for federal nutrition benefits but has many alliances with farm groups.
"Our experience in Minnesota shows that when farmers and food companies and anti-hunger groups work together, it creates powerful political clout that's convincing to legislators," Krikava said. "I hope we're able to forge that kind of partnership in Washington as we all look forward to developing the provisions of a new farm bill."
"This is Hunger," housed in a 53-foot trailer, features audio, video and social media elements to "take the experience of learning people's stories to a deeper level than what news articles or standard photo gallery exhibitions can usually accomplish," President and CEO of MAZON Abby Leibman told Agweek at the launch of the exhibit in Los Angeles recently.
People who visit the exhibit will be asked to take action to maintain federal nutrition programs by signing the petition or by asking a member of Congress to maintain the programs and increase benefits.
Unfortunately, the closest that "This is Hunger" will come to the Upper Midwest on its first tour will be Chicago. But MAZON is raising money to send it on a second northern tour to cities including Minneapolis and Seattle.