Food Financing 101: Part 1

December 8, 2011

Pennsylvania’s Initiative Becomes the Model for the Nation

By Patricia Smith
Senior Policy Advisor
The Reinvestment Fund

The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), creates opportunity in low-wealth communities through socially and environmentally responsible development. In 2004, TRF partnered with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, The Food Trust, and the Urban Affairs Coalition to create the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative (PFFI).

Leveraging an initial State allocation of $30 million, TRF made $85 million in grants and loans to support grocery stores in communities where infrastructure and credit needs are unmet by conventional financial institutions. By the time the State program closed in June 2010, Pennsylvania’s Fresh Food Financing Initiative had assisted 83 supermarkets and fresh food outlets in underserved rural and urban areas throughout the state, creating or retaining 5,000 jobs.

Kennies Marketplace, Gettysburg, PA

In 2009, TRF partnered with The Food Trust again, and PolicyLink, a national research and policy action institute, to raise awareness on the issue of limited food access in communities across America and the need for a national program to finance the development of supermarkets, grocery stores and other fresh food retail. Together, the organizations developed and disseminated research on areas with inadequate access to healthy food, built a broad coalition of national support and created the policy framework for the national Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), modeled after Pennsylvania’s FFFI.

The current national campaign has generated extensive media coverage and widespread support for HFFI. More than 90 organizations representing a diverse set of stakeholders (the grocery industry, labor unions, public health and food security advocates, state and local governments, civil rights groups and community development organizations) have voiced their support for a national solution to increase access to healthy food in low-income communities. HFFI is also one of the four pillars of Let’s Move!, First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to reduce childhood obesity.

This advocacy, together with Pennsylvania’s success story, helped fuel President Obama’s launch of an interagency Healthy Food Financing Working Group in February 2010. Instead of attacking inequitable access through separate agency and program silos, the federal departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury, and Agriculture coordinate their review and award processes, as well as mechanisms to track annual investment performance. To date, these agencies have awarded nearly $45 million to support a wide range of interventions that will expand the availability of nutritious foods, including increasing the distribution of agricultural products, developing and equipping grocery stores and strengthening the producer-to-consumer relationship.

Just last week, a bipartisan coalition in the House and Senate introduced legislation that will expand the HFFI to increase access to healthy foods in underserved communities. This comprehensive HFFI legislation responds to issues of limited food access and will invest $125 million to target the number of low-income Americans living without adequate access to healthy food. The legislation calls for critical seed capital to establish new and expand existing healthy food financing partnerships in communities across the United States.

TRF continues to improve access to healthy food in the mid-Atlantic region by providing loans to finance a variety of healthy food retail formats. In addition to financing efforts, TRF has completed a nationwide analysis on low access food areas (available on and researched the benefits of supermarkets on economically distressed neighborhoods. TRF is also developing strategies to broaden a successful food retailing investment program into a diversified sustainable agriculture and local food system funding initiative. As part of this effort, TRF is scanning the landscape of food production, processing and distribution in southeastern Pennsylvania and southern and central New Jersey.

The need for a comprehensive federal policy is critical, particularly in low-income communities and communities of color. With constricting credit markets, grocery store operators face higher obstacles to developing stores and other food-related businesses in underserved communities. Obesity and health-related problems are expected to worsen during these hard economic times. Leveraging combined public dollars and coordinating national policy through HFFI could create new opportunities for improving health and well-being and creating wealth in America’s communities.

In case you missed it, here is the introduction to our Food Financing 101 Series.

Stay tuned next week for Part 2: Making It Happen Across the Country

Image: courtesy The Reinvestment Fund