The Launch of a Movement
Across the country, HFFI is taking root and solving the challenge of inequitable access to healthy food in lower-income, underserved communities by providing financing to healthy food retailers looking to build new locations or expand their businesses. Investments are bringing affordable, healthy options to families and are transforming urban communities, rural areas and small towns through revitalization, local job creation and retention and tax revenue generation. New healthy food retail projects are also capturing local spending, recirculating dollars in communities, expanding market opportunities for local farmers, grocers and entrepreneurs and are serving as economic anchors to catalyze additional business development.
Launched in 2004, the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI) was the nation’s first statewide healthy food financing program, developed in response to research finding that Philadelphia had the second fewest per capita grocery stores of any large city. The result of advocacy efforts by The Food Trust and the leadership of then State Representative Dwight Evans, the FFFI was seeded with a $30 million state appropriation to the First Industries Fund — a $2.8 billion economic stimulus package — to the Department of Community and Economic Development over three years. The initiative was a public-private partnership led by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, The Food Trust, Reinvestment Fund and Urban Affairs Coalition. The FFFI provided one-time grants and loans to grocery operators and other healthy food retailers to build or expand markets in lower-income, underserved urban and rural communities. Over six years, the program financed 88 projects, created or retained 5,000 jobs, added 1.67 million square feet of retail space, and increased healthy food access for nearly 400,000 Pennsylvanians.
Recognized by Harvard University’s Ash Center as one of the Top 15 Innovations in American Government and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its Showcase of Innovative Policy and Environmental Strategies for Obesity Prevention and Control, FFFI proved that, with public sector incentives, grocers and other healthy food retailers could overcome the higher costs — such as land assembly, infrastructure needs, risk management, and workforce development — associated with store development in underserved communities and open profitable businesses.
The success of the model in Pennsylvania has driven the design and creation of similar initiatives. Several states and metropolitan areas have also launched financing programs dedicated to bringing fresh and healthy food to their communities, including California, Colorado, Houston, Illinois, New Orleans, New Jersey, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, New York, Virginia, South Carolina and the mid-South states of Louisiana, Mississippi and western Tennessee. As a result of the culmination of local, state and federal healthy food financing efforts, more than one thousand projects have been financed, tens of thousands of jobs created, and millions of healthy food retail square feet added (25). While a great deal of work remains to be accomplished, these nascent efforts have improved the quality of life in urban and rural communities across the country.