Building Meaningful Classroom Connections

January 9, 2017

Emma Button

By Emma Button

January 9, 2017


BrightSide Produce Distribution is an innovative model of produce delivery to corner stores in low-income, urban neighborhoods. BrightSide is a partnership between university students and local youth who form a delivery team. Once a week, BrightSide purchases produce in bulk from a distributor and then delivers it to Minneapolis corner stores. This model gives the stores quality produce with the low cost of buying from a wholesale distributor and the flexibility of buying from a grocery store. The innovative part of this model is that it does not depend on grant funding. Instead, revenue is generated by selling the excess produce from delivery runs to members of the St. Thomas community in a Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) style program. This model has allowed BrightSide to make weekly deliveries of fresh, affordable produce to urban corner stores every week for over two years.

One aspect of the program that makes it so unique is that BrightSide is embedded within the University of St. Thomas. This unique partnership provides St. Thomas University students with valuable volunteer and leadership development opportunities, as well as opportunities for classrooms to work with BrightSide to solve real-world problems. In turn, BrightSide receives valuable data and input from the various classes it works in partnership with.

A recent partnership with a Master of Business (MBA) course in the St. Thomas Opus College of Business proved to be especially powerful. This was BrightSide’s first partnership with a graduate-level program. For the whole Fall 2016 semester, the MBA course Organizational Change Leadership worked with the BrightSide team, comprised of several youth from Minneapolis and current college students to identify and recommend change management practices to improve BrightSide operations.

When the BrightSide team first visited the class to explain BrightSide, they were shocked to find that the majority of the students were mid-career professionals working with companies like Target Headquarters, Valspar, or 3M. Most of the students were a bit tentative when first presented to the BrightSide model. You could hear it in the tone of their voice when they asked questions like, “So, how are you completely volunteer-based? Doesn’t that mean that no one is really committed?” Or, “How much is your profit margin?!” BrightSide is such an unorthodox model for how businesses run that most students couldn’t believe it was actually functioning and working.

One of BrightSide’s co-founders, Adam Pruitt, started BrightSide when he was sixteen years-old. He’d grown up in North Minneapolis and wanted to fight for better access to affordable, healthy food in his community. As he shared more of his story and motivation for starting BrightSide, and you could see in the students’ eyes that they were inspired.

Over the course of the semester, BrightSide met with the class 4-5 more times, exchanged emails, phone calls, shared spreadsheets, and one student even came on a delivery run one cold Saturday morning! BrightSide isn’t an example out of textbook, it’s a real organization with limits, opportunities, and a culture that this class had to fully understand and work with. In return, this class was filled with brilliant, successful business people who dedicated their knowledge and passion to help further BrightSide’s mission.

For the class’s final project, each group presented recommendations to the BrightSide team. These recommendations included creating a youth advisory board with students from North Minneapolis, tips for maximizing our social media presence, creating protocols and frameworks to use when making major decisions, and implementing software to track and analyze our sales data. Many of their recommendations we had dreamed of trying, but had never thought they were feasible for us.However, with their research and recommendations, implementing these changes became possible! Several of the students expressed interest in continuing to work with us to implement these recommendations. One of the students wrote afterwards, “Working together with BrightSide Produce helped drive me to produce my very best output because these efforts were not for a grade, but to help drive change in the community and truly live Saint Thomas’s mission of working “All for the Common Good.” It was an honor to work with Brightside on this project because usually working on a class project produces a grade, but working with Brightside produced a purpose.”

As each group presented, you could also see the respect and admiration formed between the university students and high school students. Several of the students mentioned in their presentations that the high school students’ lives and passion for bringing healthy food to their communities had inspired and motivated them to come up with the best possible recommendations for BrightSide.

The professor of the course wrote, “Not only did partnering with Brightside give us an opportunity to have real time discussions about what challenges organizations face, it allowed us to think bigger than ourselves, about our community and the good work that is being done and needs to be expanded.”  


For more information, visit our website at

For questions, email Emma Button at emma.button {at} stthomas(.)edu.