Food Financing 101: An Introduction

December 7, 2011

Creating a Multi-Faceted Policy Solution for a
Multi-Faceted Food System Problem

Introduction by Alison Hastings
Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission

Financing healthy food businesses, like financing any other type of small business or community development, involves acquiring knowledge about a given geographic market, understanding a specific business field, and accepting risk. Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) are in a particularly opportune spot to finance community solutions that address the geographic issue of food access as well as the societal and systemic challenges of creating a healthier food system and building wealth in low-income communities.

CDFIs are specialized financial institutions that work in market areas underserved by traditional financial institutions (e.g. large commercial banks). These organizations are typically community-based lenders – some are credit unions, others are community development corporations, and still others may be venture capital funds – and are redeveloping many of our city neighborhoods, rural communities, and places in between. They tend to specialize in financing first-time homebuyers, real estate development, and supporting small start-up businesses.

The Reinvestment Fund, one of Greater Philadelphia’s largest and oldest CDFIs, pioneered fresh food financing and has led the charge to make Pennsylvania’s model a national program.

The Opportunity Finance Network is a national network of CDFIs and is steering a capacity-building effort to get other CDFIs across the country interested and ready to make loans to healthy food businesses. They have also made news, partnering with Starbucks, to start the “Let’s Create Jobs For USA” campaign which asks individuals to make donations, of which 100% go to CDFIs for loan-making.

Last, but certainly not least, Brightseed Strategies, writes about the benefits of financing businesses up and down the food system supply chain. Supporting small businesses has multiple ripple effects, creating jobs, building wealth, and, perhaps surprisingly, fostering community pride.

Starting tomorrow and continuing next week, we will feature these three organizations in depth to discuss the need for financing healthy food businesses and the impact of those businesses on local economies.

Alison Hastings of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and DVRPC partners are regular contributors to the Dodge blog on issues of food policy and regional food systems.