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New fund supports expansion of healthy food across Michigan

Farmers market at Michigan Capitol

A new loan and grant fund aims to improve public health and drive economic growth in Michigan by expanding access to healthy food in underserved communities.

The Michigan Good Food Fund, a public-private partnership launched in June, will provide funding to food producers, distributors, processors and retailers, who are often overlooked by traditional banks. The fund’s supporters say the loans and grants are an important step toward decreasing obesity rates among the 1.8 million Michiganders—including 300,000 children—who live in communities with limited access to healthy food.

The fund’s core contributors are Fair Food Network, Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems, W.K Kellogg Foundation and Capital Impact Partners. By 2020, the partners plan to raise $30 million for the fund and ensure that 80 percent of residents have healthy food options, with 20 percent of the food consumed in Michigan sourced from within the state.

The fund is a positive step that is well-aligned with efforts by the Michigan Environmental Council and the Healthy Kids Healthy Michigan coalition to reduce childhood obesity, said Tina Reynolds, MEC health policy director.

“We will work alongside partners from the American Heart Association who are trying to put together state dollars to help seed the fund,” Reynolds said. “We will be involved with legislative meetings, education and outreach, and engaging key members of the Legislature to support these dollars.”

In addition to capital, the fund also offers management training to help businesses expand their reach by, for example, offering food delivery, adding freezers or other equipment or building grocery stores near lower-income communities. Carole Caplan, director of program enhancement at the Fair Food Network, said the fund seeks businesses that have a track record with healthy food production and distribution. If small businesses cannot take on the debt, they’ll still have access to training opportunities.

“The fund will provide business assistance that will help entrepreneurs take their ventures to the next level through services such as business planning, financial management, marketing, operations and logistics management, and more,” Caplan said.

In addition to improving access to healthy food and employment opportunities for lower-income residents, the Good Food Fund promotes local sourcing and environmentally friendly growing practices, said Rich Pirog, acting director of the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems.

“We expect to see a demonstrated increase in healthy food access, as well as business expansion and the creation of jobs,” Pirog said.

Among those who could benefit from the fund are small farmers who work with the Lansing Roots program, run by the Greater Lansing Food Bank. Started in 2013, the program provides land, training and education to lower barriers to success for local growers, said Alex Bryan, director of agricultural programs for the food bank.

“If you want to grow food for sale, Lansing Roots is the way to go,” he said. “We offer classes and work with other nonprofits in the area. We provide garden space, a shed, a barn, and tools.”

With support from the Good Food Fund, local businesses will likely give Lansing Roots growers and other local farmers a boost by purchasing more of their produce, while also providing underserved families with better access to fresh, locally grown food, Bryan said.

Applications for the fund and more information are available at migoodfoodfund.org.

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