To serve the over 20 million Americans currently without access to fresh affordable food, our country needs a combination of new supermarkets, small grocers, healthy corner stores and innovative food access projects.

While some Americans celebrate Thanksgiving with feasts of turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie, it’s important to acknowledge than many low-income Americans have limited access to food and food security this holiday season. This Thanksgiving, we’re looking back at some of Living Cities past work on our food system as a lever for economic opportunity. This post originally appeared in January 2013.

Many Americans do not have proper access to the tools they need to live healthy lives. In fact:

Access to Healthy and Affordable Food

23.5 Million 23.5 Million Americans do not have reasonable access to healthy and affordable food.

Innovative, sustainable supermarkets in underserved, urban areas have the unique ability to serve as an access point for fresh, affordable food as well as other essential services including affordable banking and convenient healthcare clinics.

Additionally, a new supermarket can create hundreds of quality jobs that provide opportunities for careers with upward mobility. These jobs come with a focus on workforce development to increase the likelihood of success for some of the hardest to employ populations including the structurally unemployed and ex-offenders. Supermarkets also provide communities with added benefits such as local tax revenue and the creation of satellite businesses as a result of the strong supermarket anchor business. Lastly, real estate values have been seen to increase an immediate four to seven percent with the opening of a supermarket in an inner-city area.

At UpLift Solutions, we have seen this model of supermarket serving as a holistic community hub become successful in places such as Philadelphia and Baltimore. We’ve provided technical assistance to grocery operators, Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), nonprofits and government in over 30 states to support supermarket development in low income areas.

To serve the over 20 million Americans currently without access to fresh affordable food, our country needs a combination of new supermarkets, small grocers, healthy corner stores and innovative food access projects. Through our national work, we have identified an opportunity to increase the capacity of the existing healthy food financing initiatives by addressing the communities where full service supermarkets can be the solution. These projects will have a large impact relative to their investment.

In order to support this effort, UpLift is in the planning stages of establishing a new CDFI that will specialize in grocery projects and contribute equity and technical assistance to the national food access effort.

As this work has evolved, we have responded to the following questions:

Why Equity?

The equity component to healthy food financing is essential, because it allows undercapitalized entrepreneurs or projects to enter the space by helping to bridge the “Grocer’s Gap” often felt by supermarket operators attempting to open stores in urban food deserts. This equity would leverage the existing debt capital made available by local CDFIs who would be utilized as partners in the supermarket deals.

Why Technical Assistance?

Many CDFIs currently developing healthy food financing initiatives need support to understand and underwrite grocery store projects. Many have expressed interest in fundraising to purchase UpLift’s development services. By bundling the financing products with technical assistance the fund would establish long term funding for UpLift’s development services supporting the most promising initiatives and projects.

In addition to supporting CDFIs, UpLift plans to provide rich technical assistance to grocery store operators. Without proper development and operational strategies, it is difficult for a grocery operator to successfully bridge the financial gap of operating in these challenging areas. UpLift will provide assistance with:

  • Store Financing Strategies (Smart Public Incentives, New Market Tax Credits, and Local Tax Abatement Programs)
  • Site Selection & Acquisition
  • Innovative In-Store Programing
  • Community Engagement
  • Hiring Assistance & Workforce Development

The fund will combine the expertise of Jeff Brown, a successful grocery operator and the financial expertise of Jeremy Nowak, founder of The Reinvestment Fund- one of the nation’s leading CDFIs focused on food access. We aim to take the successful features of the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI) and similar to the public/private partnership established in the PA FFFI, our model will leverage foundation grants and investments to attract additional investments in the fund that, partnered with smart public incentives, will provide flexible financing packages for grocery entrepreneurs.

To learn more, listen to Jeff Brown’s TED talk style presentation at the Council on Foundations Conference.