A Holistic Approach to Healthy Food Financing

By Scott Sporte, Capital Impact Partners
Healthy food financing isn’t just about health.
There is no doubt that improving access to fresh, nutritious foods in low-income communities can help people improve eating habits and prevent diet-related diseases, such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. 
But the impacts for people and communities are even greater than that.  
As a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) with 30 years of experience working in low-income communities, we at Capital Impact Partners have witnessed healthy food financing serve as a powerful tool for community development that strengthens local economies as it expands access to healthy foods.
That’s why Capital Impact Partners is committed to investing in healthy food projects as part of our integrated approach to building strong, healthy, and vibrant communities. 
In our new policy brief, Financing for Healthy Foods, we discuss our work, and the work of many other equally committed CDFIs, who are demonstrating that expanding access to healthy foods in low-income communities not only improves health but also improves local economies by launching businesses, creating jobs, and generating state and municipal tax revenues.
Capital Impact Partners has built a strong track record in healthy food financing. We have received financial assistance awards totaling $9 million through the federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative. We have leveraged those awards with philanthropic and private-sector funding to provide more than $112 million in financing for 76 grocery stores all over the country that are expanding access to fresh foods for more than one million low-income people who live in areas that have frequently been without grocery options for decades or more. 
But our work isn’t limited to grocery stores. We take a holistic approach to healthy food financing, funding innovative enterprises throughout the entire food system—from food producers, to aggregators and distributors, to retail facilities—to meet the healthy food needs of underserved communities.
Capital Impact Partners manages two primary loan funds that finance local healthy food projects: the California FreshWorks Fund, which since 2011 has deployed $55 million to support healthy food projects throughout California, and the Michigan Good Food Fund, which we launched in 2015 to finance food projects in Michigan. We also operate an intermediary lending program through which we make loans to microfinance organizations that support small food enterprises.
Our new policy brief features stories about some of the projects we have financed, including Banner Market, a locally owned, full-service grocer that serves a low-income neighborhood in Detroit; L.A. Prep, a nonprofit business incubator for food enterprises in Los Angeles; and Produce on the Go, a mobile market that travels to rural food deserts throughout Merced County, California.
Healthy food financing plays one other critical role. 
By enabling aspiring entrepreneurs to start or expand a business, healthy food financing is helping to nourish the spirit of innovation that is at the heart of our economic system. 
It is showing everyone—policymakers, community leaders, business owners, and residents of the community—that, even in a food desert, a dream can take root and bear fruit.
We invite healthy food enterprises in California and Michigan to contact Capital Impact Partners for information about our healthy food financing programs. 
Scott Sporte serves as Chief Lending Officer at Capital Impact Partners, a nonprofit CDFI that for over 30 years has supported efforts to transform underserved communities into strong, vibrant places of opportunity for people at every stage of life. Capital Impact Partners delivers strategic financing, incubates new social programs, and provides capacity-building to help ensure that low-to-moderate-income individuals have access to quality health care and education, healthy foods, affordable housing, and the ability to age with dignity. Learn more at www.capitalimpact.org.
*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.