What a waste. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), nearly 62% of the food entering our state’s landfills could have been consumed or donated. Enter Natasha Frost of Mankato, who is leading multiple efforts to reduce food waste, improve children’s nutrition, and implement policies and systems that support the health of the community as a whole. The University of Minnesota-educated attorney returned to her hometown in 2014 after more than 10 years of nonprofit practice in Los Angeles. At Wooden Spoon in Old Town Mankato, she leads a women-driven staff that shares her vision of promoting social justice through proper nutrition, food safety, and eliminating food waste. Below, she tells us more about the cafeteria and catering business that she cares about waste and emphasizes regional producers.
Q: How did your interests in law and food collide?
A: I went into law to bring justice to the community, with no initial area of focus. I first advocated for survivors of domestic violence and then worked with a Los Angeles nonprofit serving children and families navigating the foster care system; that involved the world of benefits. When I returned to Minnesota, seeing justice through the lens of public health made it natural to move on to food, because in all of my areas of legal practice, food (paying for it, purchasing it, putting it on the table) was an issue. central. concern.
Q: You also cater to special events, including area Head Starts, day care centers, charter schools, and a non-profit organization that serves disadvantaged youth. Does it bother you to see children eating garbage?
A: There is a direct correlation between people lacking access to quality food and adverse health outcomes. I want to do my part to help children form healthier eating habits, which is why we provide healthy, minimally processed, great-tasting meals for the children we serve. Children are young and impressionable, with different palates and food experiences than adults, but we can make the foods they want to eat as healthy as possible. It is really important because your future is at stake. They may face other barriers – racism, sexism, lack of generational wealth, poverty, homophobia, transphobia – and I can’t wave a magic wand to make all of that go away, but there’s some comfort in knowing they don’t have to worry about their next food by offering them good food to nourish their developing brains and bodies.
Q: Earlier this year, you helped establish the South Central Minnesota Food Recovery. How did you get to that point?
A: On Memorial Day weekend in 2019, there was a lot going on: the holiday weekend, my birthday, a busy Friday, when I got a call from a key partner at Mankato Youth Place saying they had three lollipops of raw chicken that were going in the trash if we didn’t bring them. Our staff and volunteers spent several days cooking and freezing the chicken for future use, and the experience helped meld my vision between law and food systems into the practical application of what I was talking about. Then two years ago we got an infrastructure [freezers and refrigeration] MPCA grant because we were determined to save whatever we could and take it to community members in need. When Wooden Spoon came full speed ahead last summer, we put together a board and formed the nonprofit in February because we needed more structure around that reclamation work. We are committed to being something bigger than just a restaurant; Being mission-driven is embedded in the fabric of who we are.
Q: And Wooden Spoon involves a lot of women!
A: Letting women lead is very intentional. It has to be, because we are all swimming in white supremacy and patriarchy. To fight against the current, you must intentionally push yourself to the other side. It hasn’t been easy and it doesn’t always work, but as a white attorney who owns a business and a building, I do what I can to challenge those systems and support other women in my community.
Q: Included in Old Town Mankato, right? You’ve helped run the Old Town Association.
A: Old Town is in my blood, and its resurgence is due in part to the fact that many of today’s building and small business owners are women who are reinvesting here. And the historical context of Old Town (we are so close to the site where 38+2 Dakotans were hanged in 1862) provides an important way to frame the work that I and this community are doing. Old Town is about healing and reconciliation, and we’re creating a space here that’s welcoming and allows people to be who they are. We’re not doing this for public recognition; it’s just the right thing.
Q: Tell us about your other business, Seeds 2 Roots.
A: Yes, that is an effort to improve policies that will benefit greater community health. For example, getting hospitals to incorporate certain nutrition standards in place. I include the theme of food justice in our contracts and the work we do to build a fairer and more sustainable food system that considers equity, the environment and community voices.
Q: How do you juggle it all?
A: First of all, as a recovering alcoholic, I rely on my recovery program. Without it, I couldn’t do all the other things. The amazing and supportive people around me allow me to be my true, authentic self and help me solve problems. The work I am doing towards social justice fuels my personal journey. As the world around us falls apart, being able to do tangible good on a community level feeds my soul.