Meal kits for Hillside

Oct 10, 2022

Cultural Entrepreneurship program fosters community through affordable, accessible meal kits

Emma Fest-Wilson, a UMD environment and sustainability and cultural entrepreneurship major, is in the kitchen of a Duluth community center measuring out lentils and putting spices into little cups. She’s surrounded by women who are talking, laughing, and calling out ideas. Cole Bauman, another UMD student, is in the next room with six children of different ages. Bauman and the children are playing a game.

Emma Fest-Wilson standing in front of a greenspace in the Hillside neighborhood

Fest-Wilson and Bauman are part of a cultural entrepreneurship program at UMD headed by Professor Aparna Katre. They are starting on the ground floor of an entrepreneurship project, at its meaningful core. They aren’t developing a clever gadget to market to high-end buyers. It’s much more basic. They started by working with a community group, First Ladies of the Hillside. They are all looking at what people need: food, clothing, shelter, and safety. In this case, they are helping a community provide food for themselves and others.

The Idea

There was a lot of exploration before the UMD cultural entrepreneurship students and the First Ladies landed on an idea. They knew they wanted to work with food. “We looked at all kinds of things, such as a food truck and little vending machines,” Fest-Wilson says. Their final idea was a home delivery meal prep kit. “We went out and interviewed people in the Central Hillside area of Duluth. There was overwhelming agreement that the food prep plan could be a business.” It’s a system that allows food stamps for payment. “That was an important factor,” she says.

The project design evolved. The team is now experimenting with different meal kits. Recipes are clearly written with helpful pictures and laminated on large recipe cards. “It doesn’t mean the recipes need to be simple,” Fest-Wilson says. “The women didn't just want pizza and spaghetti, so we created a couple of fun recipes like curries and vegan meals.” The ingredients are measured and portioned depending on family size. The kits are packed in eco-friendly containers such as milk crates and washable jars. Finally, they are delivered to families participating in the pilot project.

The Culture in Cultural Entrepreneurship

Professor Katre says, “The UMD program is founded on the pillars of business administration, leadership development, creative industries, and cultural sufficiency.” It’s a blend of theory and practice. “It prepares students for a global world.”

The First Ladies of the Hillside Meal Prep Kit is clearly an example of cultural entrepreneurship. They were formed under the leadership of Molly Harney, a UMD associate professor in the education department. Katre says they have flourished. She explains, “Many in the group are affected by chronic trauma. While the meal kit prep program is an effort to improve access to healthy foods for low-income families, an additional and equally important goal is to provide the First Ladies with ‘purpose,’ to help break the cycles of generational trauma.” There is lots of community support. In addition to UMD's Cultural Entrepreneurship program and UMD Honors, a number of community partners are involved, including Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, and Essentia Health.

Many students in addition to Fest-Wilson and Bauman are working on the meal prep kit project. The students in University Honors play a role. Students take on pieces of the endeavor as part of their school work, for extra credit, and sometimes for hourly payment through a grant.

Child Care is Key

Cole Bauman on the UMD campus

Bauman is one of the UMD students who spends time with the children while the mothers work on the business plan. “What we try to do is to provide a stable environment where the kids are free to be creative and play,” he says. He sometimes can help with math or reading but most of the time he tries to maintain a calm, safe space.

Fest-Wilson, from Lino Lakes, Minnesota, enjoys the project and her situation at UMD. “I came to Duluth purely for the environment,” she says. “I knew I wanted to work with environmental sustainability.” She’d like to use all the skills she has acquired… possibly in Alaska. “When I graduate, I would love to go there,” she says.

Bauman grew up in Grand Rapids, Minnesota and came to UMD to study biology. He originally started volunteering with an after-school program at a home for formerly homeless people, the Steve O’Neil Apartments. “At first, we were online because I started volunteering when COVID hit,” Bauman says, “We were mentoring and tutoring through Zoom and then Professor Katre started the First Ladies project when we could go back in person.” Bauman is starting a graduate program in professional studies where he is exploring research and creativity and how that blends with science communication.

Both Fest-Wilson and Bauman have received scholarships while at UMD. Over his undergraduate career, Bauman received the Mowbray Scholarship in the Biological Sciences, the Richter Family Scholarship, the Megan E. Mattson Memorial Scholarship, Charles and the Ellora Alliss Educational Foundation Fund, the Undergraduate U Promise Scholarship, and a UMD Undergraduate Summer University Grant. Fest-Williams has received the Richard and Carol Flint Environmental Scholarship, the UMD Stephen Welsh Scholarship, the Iron Range Merit Scholarship, and the Undergraduate U Promise Scholarship.