Grants can be a great resource to help get your business idea off the ground and tested, or help with expansion or enhancements to existing projects. While grant programs for nonprofits and businesses with a social mission to improve access to healthy foods and build local food systems are growing in number, they are highly competitive. It is a good idea to spend time cultivating a relationship with the funder before submitting a proposal. Typically, eligible uses for grants include the following.
- Business planning, project feasibility analysis, and market studies
- Community engagement
- Technical assistance
- Capital expenditures, such as building construction and purchase of equipment
- Nutrition education programs
- Workforce recruitment and job training
The federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) represents the federal government’s first coordinated effort to expand access to healthy, fresh food in underserved communities. Since 2011, the Departments of Agriculture (USDA), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Treasury CDFI Fund have collaborated to provide project funding and/or capacity development to organizations that invest in businesses working to increase and preserve healthy food options in low-income communities, support the development of local and regional food business enterprises and create new market opportunities for farmers. For more information visit View Policy Efforts by State.
- Community Economic Development (CED) Funding through the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ (HHS)
- Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) Funding through the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Program
Other federal grant programs administered by the USDA that can support your healthy food business or project include Community Food Projects Competitive Grant Program, Community Facilities Programs, Local Foods Promotion Program, Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Grant Program, Value Added Producer Grants, Rural Business Development Grants, Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, Rural Cooperative Development Grant Program, and Socially Disadvantaged Groups Grant.
State and Local
Several regions, states, and cities have financing initiatives that provide grants or loans devoted to creating and expanding healthy food options in underserved communities. State and local initiatives often involve collaborations among government, community-based organizations, retail industry associations, nonprofits, investors, private foundations, and CDFIs. If your community does not yet have a dedicated source of funding for healthy food projects, explore other state or local government grant programs that may be used to help finance your project. Get in touch with your community's public health, economic development, and redevelopment agencies to determine what programs your state, county, or municipality may offer. Think broadly about the types of grants for which your project may qualify. Many healthy food projects are enterprises that may qualify for the grants and loans available to new businesses that will stimulate economic growth and offer new jobs. Other projects may be eligible for funding from public health departments because they will increase access to nutritious food in low-income communities.
Foundations are another important source of grants for improving healthy food access. When looking for grants from foundations, start locally. Consider approaching family, community, and health foundations. Corporate foundations, especially those affiliated with health insurance providers or banks, are also great resources.
For philanthropic grants, make sure you have a good understanding of the foundation’s mission, funding priorities, and typical grantees before applying. A foundation may be interested in a project because of its potential to create jobs, revitalize a commercial business corridor, or combat obesity. The goal is to ensure that your application makes a compelling case for why healthy food retail falls within a foundation’s broader mission and fits its grant-making criteria.
Many foundations require a letter of interest or intent from potential applicants as the first step to receiving a grant application, and some foundations will not consider a proposal unless it has been requested by the foundation. Upon review of a letter of intent, the foundation will decide whether to invite an applicant to submit a grant application. Many online resources provide tips on how to write a successful grant proposal to meet a foundation’s goals and objectives.