Food justice program to come from $1M grant

The Recorder, June 22, 2018, by Richie Davis

Franklin County Community Development Corp. and the Boston-based Local Enterprise Assistance Fund (LEAF) have been awarded a $1.08 million grant by the state Department of Agricultural Resources to create a food justice program for Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Food Trust Program grant, announced late Thursday, will “create a sustainable program that creates quality jobs and increases food access for low-income residents throughout the state,” according to a written statement by the department.

“This is exciting,” said CDC Executive Director John Waite, who explained that the grant will be divided between the two organizations, serving western and eastern Massachusetts, with 75 percent disbursed as loans from a revolving fund and 25 percent through a combination of investments and grants, as well as technical assistance to support enterprises applying for funding to increase access to healthy, affordable food options and improve economic opportunities for nutritionally underserved communities.

Of the $80,000 operating funds in the first year, LEAF will get $50,000 and the FCCDC will get $30,000, with a more even split foreseen in future years, he said.

The food trust program provides grants to community development financial institutions like LEAF and to CDCs to help fresh food retailers and distributors operate in underserved communities where costs and credit needs can’t be filled by conventional financial institutions alone.

The innovative joint proposal says the CDC and LEAF each have decades of experience with “healthy food” projects, including groceries in low-income areas, as well as food hubs, convenience stores and food manufacturers, “and supporting healthy food is a key component of each organization’s theory of change. ”

The CDC, which has used its 15-year-old Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center as an anchor for farm-to-institution initiatives and collaborative programs that strengthen the local economy while providing healthful foods to low-income populations around the region that might not have access to fresh produce. Through this grant, said Waite, the plan is to extend food justice initiatives throughout western Massachusetts, including Springfield and Holyoke.

Working with partners, the joint grant proposal said, “We will create a sustainable program that creates quality jobs, increases food access for low-income residents throughout the state, and leverages outside dollars at up to a 10:1 ratio into deserving projects that will have a substantial impact on promoting food justice and positive healthy food outcomes .”

In announcing the grant, Gov. Charlie Baker said, “Community-based organizations are vital partners in ensuring residents across the commonwealth have the ability to utilize locally-sourced agriculture, and the funding awarded will ensure residents are able to incorporate a balanced, healthy diet into their daily routine.”