Michigan Deserves a Better Food Future

By La June Montgomery Tabron, Oran B. Hesterman, Rich Pirog and Terry Simonette
The Michigan Good Food Fund is a new public-private partnership loan and grant fund created to finance healthy food production, distribution, processing, and retail projects that benefit underserved communities throughout Michigan. It launched summer 2015 with a series of community events across the state. An original version of this op-ed by core fund partners was published in the Detroit Free Press and can be accessed here.
The State of Michigan continues to rank as the second most agriculturally diverse state in the country, with food and agriculture contributing $101.2 billion annually to the state's economy, a nearly 15% increase from 2010 to 2014.
Despite this abundance, too many Michigan residents lack reliable access to healthy food. More than 1.8 million Michigan residents — including 300,000 children — live in lower-income communities with limited access to the healthy fruits and vegetables they need to thrive.
The implications are dire. More than 30% of Michiganders are obese — the second-highest rate of obesity in the Midwest — costing the state an estimated $3 billion annually in related medical costs. Lack of access to healthy food and associated diet-related illnesses affect rural and urban communities alike, with communities of color bearing a disproportionate burden.
The answer to this crisis for our state's children is simple. Invest in those enterprises that grow, distribute and sell fresh and healthy food so it reaches those most in need.
Enter the Michigan Good Food Fund, a new public-private partnership loan and grant fund created to help fill a void. Through support from the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) and Michigan partners, the fund provides financing and business assistance to "good food" enterprises that benefit under-served communities across Michigan. The fund is filling a critical gap that has prevented healthy food innovators from taking off because they lack access to financial capital from traditional sources. Where others see risk, we see opportunity. As such, our loans and grant investments are designed to be flexible and meet the needs of the enterprises and people we serve.
We bolster this lending with targeted business assistance to help entrepreneurs grow their ventures and build a pipeline of investment-ready enterprises. With this support we can jump-start good food projects with direct benefits for children and families, not to mention economic growth and job creation in Michigan cities and rural communities.
This is a new approach working to create financial and social impact throughout the food supply chain. Building upon other healthy food financing initiatives, which primarily focus on retail projects, we're committed to strengthening Michigan's food economy from field to fork — including the integral enterprises that process, distribute and market what we eat. We will ensure that financing and employment opportunities benefit traditionally under-served communities. We will also encourage the sourcing of Michigan-grown food and sustainable environmental practices.
The Michigan Good Food Fund promises to support our state's food and agriculture economy as a means to make healthy food accessible to all and serve as an economic catalyst. This in turn will lead to not only improved health outcomes for Michigan's children and families, but also help transform more communities across the state into places of opportunity.
We invite entrepreneurs as well as interested funders and other partners to join us in building a healthier Michigan.
La June Montgomery Tabron is president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation; Dr. Oran B. Hesterman is president and CEO of the Fair Food Network; Rich Pirog is acting director of the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food System; and Terry Simonette is president and CEO at Capital Impact Partners.
Learn more about the Michigan Good Food Fund at www.MIGoodFoodFund.org and join the conversation on Facebook  and Twitter @MIGoodFoodFund
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Healthy Food Access Portal.