Originally published in The DASH-NY Newsletter September 2012
By Perrin Braun
Inspired by Pennsylvania’s Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI), New York has been taking some bold moves in order to improve both the health and the economy of the state. Since launching in 2004, the FFFI has become a national model for increasing access to fresh foods in underserved communities. The program has provided funding for 88 fresh-food retail projects in 34 Pennsylvania counties. Not only did over half a million people gain improved access to healthy food, but more than 5,023 jobs were also created or preserved as a result of the program. Lesson learned: the investment of a supermarket in an urban setting had a significant impact on food access, employment, and earnings on a county level. You can read more about details of the FFFI impact assessments here.
Encouraged by the success in Pennsylvania, then-Governor David Paterson announced the creation of the New York Healthy Food/Healthy Communities Initiative in 2009, which sought to increase access to healthy food in New York’s underserved communities. The goal of the New York program was two-fold: 1) support the direct development of jobs in these communities, and 2) meet the financing needs of market operators who want to do business in underserved communities, but do not have access to financing through the conventional credit market.
The program grew quickly, thanks to an allocation of $10 million in the state’s budget, which was used to create a revolving loan fund to finance grocery store projects. By 2010, the Healthy Food & Healthy Communities Fund was announced as a public-private partnership after Goldman Sachs Group, Inc committed another $20 million that would be put towards funding for for-profit, nonprofit, or cooperative food markets that are located in underserved areas across New York State.
The results of the program were overwhelmingly positive: since October 2010, more than $6,134,996 million in capital has been deployed through New York’s Healthy Food & Healthy Communities Fund. The investment has created, enhanced, or preserved 67,500 square feet of food retail space serving an estimated 24,000 people. It has also created or preserved 204 full-time equivalent permanent jobs and approximately 132 construction jobs .
John Gage, owner of Conklin Reliable Market, a second generation, family-run market that serves a low-to-moderate income area in Conklin, NY, was the first applicant to be approved for a grant from New York’s Healthy Food & Healthy Communities Fund. Thanks to the funding that he received, Gage used the money to add additional shelves to his fresh produce section, which resulted in a significant increase in the sale of fresh produce.
“Sales are up,” he announced happily. “Produce sales are up 10 percent more.” He pointed out, however, that while the State’s efforts were commendable, a lot more needs to be done to get people to eat healthier. “It’s all about education, not necessarily just providing access,” Gage said.
Aside from the Healthy Food & Healthy Communities Fund, New York State is taking many more proactive steps to increase residents’ access to healthy food. For instance, The New York State Healthy Food / Healthy Communities Initiative is an innovative program administered jointly by Empire State Development and the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets, which provides capital in the form of grants and loans to support the development of fresh food retailers in underserved urban and rural communities across New York State. The statewide program meets the financing needs of market operators that plan to operate in underserved communities where infrastructure costs and credit needs cannot be filled. Additionally, thanks to the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) Program in NYC, a permanent farmer’s market grant program and financial incentives for food markets to be green and energy efficient have been established. The FRESH Program has been providing zoning and financial incentives to property owners, developers, and grocery store operators in areas underserved by grocery stores since 2009.
Finally, in November 2011, NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduced the “Healthy Food Financing Initiative” to Washington lawmakers. The legislation proposed an ambitious agenda that would significantly bolster efforts in New York and across the country to eliminate food deserts. $32 million was appropriated for fiscal year 2012 to fund food retail outlets in underserved communities in the U.S. This funding is intended to bolster nationwide efforts to remove barriers to access to fresh and healthy foods—especially in low-income communities and communities of color where food deserts are present. It will also help to revitalize communities by establishing healthy food retail and by creating and preserving quality jobs for local residents. Improving access to healthy food can benefit the economy!