Executive Summary

Access to healthy food is a critical component to building sustainable food systems, thriving communities and strong economies, but across the country, millions of lower-income families in urban communities, small towns and rural areas experience the hardship and consequences of inequitable access to healthy food. As a result, the movement to bring nutritious, affordable food into the neighborhoods and communities that need it most grows as advocates, nonprofits, producers, aggregators, retailers and economic development institutions align common goals across shared policy objectives. Specifically, targeted advocacy efforts are leading to local, state and federal policy change that encourages the development of supermarkets and other healthy food retail in communities lacking access. 

what is equitable food access

Healthy Food Financing Initiatives (HFFI) are the proven and economically sustainable solution to the lack of fresh food access in lower-income, underserved communities commonly known as “food deserts.” Across the country, these public-private partnerships provide one-time grants and loans for the development or renovation of healthy food retail and other projects, such as grocery stores, corner stores, mobile markets, food hubs and farmers markets. HFFI revitalizes distressed communities by supporting local business development and creating triple-bottom-line benefits with meaningful impacts on community health, job opportunities and economic stimulus.

Tremendous progress to bring healthy food retail into underserved communities has been made since the launch of the nation’s first healthy food financing program in Pennsylvania in 2004. To date, programs at the city, state and federal levels across the country have been successfully advocated and launched, driving public and private investments to finance more than 1,000 projects and create thousands of jobs.  

For too many Americans, however, a healthy diet is still out of reach — the result of generations of disinvestment in urban neighborhoods and neglect in tribal communities, as well as the challenge of sustaining or attracting businesses to rural areas where population sizes are smaller and distribution challenges larger. These families are missing out on affordable access to nutritious food, as well as the economic opportunities, like jobs, and revitalization brought by healthy food access.

As HFFI realizes success through policy wins and community transformation, it is imperative that the movement double-down on advocacy efforts to raise awareness of the challenge of healthy food access and create policy change while taking stock of the valuable lessons learned over 10 years of practice. This report aims to provide champions, allies and stakeholders with the background, data and resources to demonstrate the impact and success of healthy food financing efforts. Advocates will find the framework for evaluating the impacts of HFFI, case studies, as well as the accomplishments achieved by project investments and HFFI programs across the country. 

Next Section: The Grocery Gap

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