State and local officials, nonprofit development groups and grocers have made increased access to healthy affordable food an Ohio priority in 2015. The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently ran a story that highlights Ohio’s efforts. The paper’s Washington Bureau Chief Stephen Koff writes, “A study by the Columbus-based Finance Fund, and Philadelphia-based partner, The Food Trust, found that more than 2 million Ohio residents, including 500,000 children, live in neighborhoods underserved by supermarkets. They may have access to food at corner stores, but it is unlikely to be fresh or healthy.”
In Ohio, the Healthy Food Financing (HFF) Task Force of state agencies, foundations, grocers, corporations and nonprofit health and food access organizations reviewed the Food Study findings and identified barriers preventing healthy food retailers from locating in low-income communities. The HFF Task Force is now finalizing policy recommendations to help address those barriers.
One of the recommendations is to build a flexible business financing program that leverages additional capital to stimulate the development, renovation and expansion of healthy food retailers — ranging from fresh food carts, food hubs, community stores and grocery store chains to corner stores, co-ops, wholesale grocers, community kitchens, and farmer’s markets — in areas where they are needed most.
As the article notes: “Part of the problem is age and density: Cities, though full of potential customers, are old and lack clean, green space. A potential deal can take years to develop. In a report this year, the Finance Fund and The Food Trust identified challenges including high development costs, land assembly, regulatory requirements, workforce turnover and training issues, security concerns and customer transportation.”
In an interview for the Plain Dealer story, Nate Filler, president of the Ohio Grocers Association and a member of the HFF Task Force, said, “The grocery industry operates on a one-and-a-half-percent margin.” Incremental costs, whether for insurance, lighting or extra staff training, eat into that. “We want to be able to be around for the area long after the ribbon cutting. We want to be sustainable for the community.”
Caroline Harries, associate director of the Food Trust, estimates that Ohio could support about 100 more stores. The experience of the Food Trust has been invaluable. This national nonprofit is dedicated to increasing access to healthy and affordable foods. It was part of a coalition that attracted about 90 new food operations to Pennsylvania between 2005 and 2010.
Watch for further news on the policy recommendations which will be announced in mid-January. Your questions and comments are welcome at email@example.com.