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Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative


How It Works:  The Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI) policy intervention is best described in two stages.  Stage 1) is the advocacy process that builds the political will necessary to secure funding and create policy change (in PA called the Supermarket Campaign).  It consists of steps that build on each other, but are not necessarily linear and serves as the formative work for the implementation stage.  Stage 2) is the implementation of policy (in PA called the Fresh Food Financing Initiative), resulting in the development of supermarkets in underserved areas.

Stage 1: Formative Work or Advocacy Campaign

Step 1 – Prepare & Inform

Develop and market an evidence-based report, including GIS color-coded maps, to build the case for policy change. Initial stakeholder research also occurs during this early phase.

The Food Trust created GIS color-coded maps (see Core element #2) by: 

  • Purchasing information about the locations of supermarkets and grocery stores from Trade Dimensions, an industry data source.
  • Deriving income data and population density information from the census.
  • Working with the Department of Public Health and university-based researchers to code citywide mortality data into deaths related to diet and then locating the deaths on maps by residence.
  • Showing the various layers of data together on a map to identify areas of greatest need where low-income residents were suffering from higher rates of diet-related deaths and had limited access to supermarkets.

The GIS color-coded maps became a compelling tool to communicate the extent of the grocery store gap to policymakers.  In addition to the maps, a report was released and disseminated to the city council and other public officials describing the degree of access across the city. 

Step 2 – Empower  

Engage a broad base of local stakeholders and key leaders.

This step involves connecting with and uniting leaders from diverse sectors with the common goal of increasing the health of children and families by increasing access to supermarkets. Leaders include children’s advocates, public health advocates, economic development practitioners, and supermarket industry executives. Partnering organizations include academic institutions and community-based organizations.

Step 3 – Strategize

Convene a multi-sector task force to identify the barriers and identify solutions.

The Food Trust convenes a task force of leaders from the supermarket industry, government, public health, children’s advocacy, economic development, financial, and civic sectors.  The task force meets four times over one year to examine the barriers to supermarket development and issues policy recommendations.  Task force co-chairs include one leader from the supermarket industry to provide a grounded connection to the challenges faced in locating markets in underserved areas and one civic sector leader to ensure the community perspective is heard.  Recommendations may include the development of a fresh food financing program as well as other financial, regulatory, or zoning incentives.

Step 4 – Change Policy

We expect policy development to vary from state to state according to the governing body involved in enacting a policy.  Once Step 1 is complete, the evidence base is in place and shared with the community, political buy-in should follow with community leaders helping to move the policy forward. 

This template describes the political process that produced legislation to fund the FFFI. (To learn how other states approached policy development, see Potential Public Health ImpactAdoption on page 8.) InPennsylvania, the advocacy campaign included Philadelphia City Council public hearings, a food marketing task force, committee hearings in the state House of Representatives, a political champion, and media advocacy. 

Stage 2: Implementation of Program Components

The Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI) is a public-private partnership overseen by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.   The initiative is managed jointly by The Food Trust (provides program outreach and evaluation), The Reinvestment Fund (supports the financing of FFFI), and the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition (ensures diversity among FFFI recipients and provides workforce development assistance).  Supermarket and other fresh food retail operators build and manage stores in communities in need. 

Marketing and Outreach to Communities and Store Operators

Outreach is needed to promote the program to communities and operators.  Relationships with community-based organizations, industry groups, and grocery wholesalers and distributors are essential to the success of the project.  The Food Trust markets the FFFI program extensively to solicit applications from qualified operators and to develop an understanding of the need in communities across the state.  Communities often assist with land assembly. The size of a proposed site determines which operators can use the space.  Markets are more successful if the community is committed to working with operators and is willing to deal with logistical obstacles, such as zoning codes. 

Application Process for Funding

Potential store operators submit applications for eligibility and for financing (see Intervention Materials).  The applications are evaluated for site and operator eligibility by The Food Trust.  Once an application is approved, The Food Trust enlists The Reinvestment Fund to review the financial aspects of the project, determine an appropriate financing package, and provide grants and loans to qualified applicants. 

Providing Funds

After projects are approved for funding, grant and loan funds are distributed and managed by The Reinvestment Fund, a Community Development Financing Institution with extensive experience in lending to businesses in low-income settings.  The Reinvestment Fund is responsible for the on-going monitoring of funded projects to ensure the proper use of program funds.

To be eligible for FFFI funding, a store must offer a full selection of fresh fruits and vegetables or use funds to increase fresh food offerings.  Beyond this baseline requirement, The Food Trust does not specify which products the operator must sell or avoid. 

Providing Technical Assistance

The Reinvestment Fund

  • offers rates and terms that are more flexible and generous than those from commercial lenders.

  • has the flexibility to provide grants and loans at various stages of development and for a variety of purposes, including pre-development, land acquisition, construction, equipment purchases, workforce training and security costs.

The Food Trust

  • determines the eligibility of project locations.

  • promotes the program to communities and operators.

GreaterPhiladelphiaUrban Affairs Coalition (GPUAC)

  • mobilizes community commitment to deal with hurdles, such as obtaining zoning variances.

  • provides workforce development, including aid in hiring workers from surrounding communities.

Keys to Success

  • Ensure a flexible program structure that enables fresh food retail projects of all sizes and types to be funded to meet the needs of diverse communities and applicants

  • Target experienced supermarket operators. Markets opened by experienced operators have a greater chance of maintaining long term profitability.

  • Locate natural allies and strategic allies. Natural allies are people who already work in the supermarket industry, public health, agriculture, planning, and economic development, especially people who may have worked on previous food access efforts.  Strategic allies are officials in the governor’s office, committee heads, etc.

  • Adopt targeted eligibility criteria focused on increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables in underserved areas.  

  • Maintain political neutrality

Barriers to Implementation

  • Finding accessible data sources can be time-consuming and can take longer than expected; e.g., getting approval from the Institutional Review Board and waiting for data requests to be filled.

  • Currently, there is no clear consensus on how to define diet-related death. 

  • Historically, it has taken a multi-year time commitment before policy enactment.

  • Once stores are operational, additional operating costs, like security, must find a new funding source.