Food Financing 101: Part 2

December 13, 2011

Continuing our Food Finance mini series from last week:

Making it Happen Across the Country

By Pam Porter
Executive Vice President, Strategic Consulting
Opportunity Finance Network

We all agree that too many communities across the country have very limited access to healthy foods. Sometimes called “food deserts” or “limited supermarket access areas,” the dearth of healthy foods undermines the health of residents, and drags on a community’s economic prospects.

Opportunity Finance Network, headquartered in Philadelphia, PA, is leading a national effort to work with community lenders across the country to help them successfully finance healthy food options in underserved communities.

Financing for healthy food businesses is a critical factor for successfully increasing access to healthy food. It gets great ideas off the ground, and keeps them running and growing:

  • by financing supermarkets, corner stores, and food cooperatives, we increase the availability of healthy food options in neighborhoods, employ local residents, and serve as a catalyst for other types of business in the immediate community.
  • by financing the supply chain businesses that aggregate food, process it and distribute it, we provide economic opportunities for the growers and processors of food, and increase the availability of locally grown food to our communities.
  • by financing food producers, such as farmers, ranchers and fisheries, we ensure that the supply of locally grown food continues to increase, producers can invest in new equipment, and farmers can transition their crops to meet new market demand.

Recognizing the importance of financing, especially in low-income and low-wealth communities where access to traditional sources of capital is often limited, the US Department of Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI Fund) launched a two-year Capacity Building Initiative to train community-based lenders, or CDFIs, to learn the unique characteristics of Healthy Food Financing. The CDFI Fund contracted with OFN to design and implement this program, based upon its 25-year track record of working with CDFIs across the country.

To design and implement this program, OFN pulled together a roster of experts including the co-writers of this mini series: The Reinvestment Fund and Brightseed Strategies. Other experts include: The Food Trust, Coastal Enterprises, Inc., The Carrot Project, and Mission+Money Matters.

OFN developed and has delivered workshops to help CDFIs learn best practices to support healthy food businesses across the entire healthy food continuum. The first workshop was held in June 2011 in Philadelphia and hosted by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. Twenty-five participants from around the country came together for in-depth training, practitioner panels and networking with others interested in this sector. Subsequent workshops have been held in Madison, Wisconsin and Denver, Colorado.

Just last week, the Capacity Building team released a Resource Bank on Financing Healty Food Options. This online resource makes the training and resource materials used at the workshops available to the general public and members of the community development industry.

In 2012, OFN has already scheduled workshops in New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Durham. In addition to workshop training, we also ensure that CDFIs have access to one-on-one technical assistance from our roster of experts to help them implement the programs they have learned about in the workshops.

In case you missed them:

Food Financing 101: Introduction
Food Financing 101: Part 1 (Pennsylvania’s Initiative Becomes the Model for the Nation)

image courtesy Opportunity Finance Network