Financing Fresh Food: Retail Solutions to North Carolina Food Deserts
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Food deserts, or “areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk, and other foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2010), contribute to nutrition-related diseases and undermine economic prosperity in low-wealth communities. North Carolina has over 171 food deserts across 57 counties, impacting over 410,000 state residents. Current research points to various models of small-scale food distribution points as potential solutions for food access problems in food deserts. This project seeks to draw on experiences of existing small-scale retailers in North Carolina and examine potential public funding mechanisms to support Self-Help’s exploration of the food justice lending space. Interviews To understand successes and challenges faced by existing players in the fresh food retail space, I interviewed representatives from private, nonprofit, and government-driven healthy food initiatives in North Carolina. Interview participants include: • Guenevere Abernathy, Chief Executive Officer, LoMo Market • Diane Beth, Nutrition Manager, Physical Activity and Nutrition Branch of the Division of Public Health • Herbert Johnson, President, Bull City Urban Market • Kathryn Spann, South Durham Farmers’ Market • Jeff Stern, Director of Special Projects, Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers • Diana Vetter Craft, Access to Healthy Foods Coordinator, Communities Putting Prevention to Work, Pitt County Health Department Key Themes and Lessons Learned Although each interview participant drew on different experiences with food desert alleviation, an analysis of interview content reveals several consistent key themes: challenges pertaining to scale, importance of providing nutrition assistance benefits, securing initial funding, access to retail expertise, community engagement, and policy constraints. Observations concerning each of the above themes illuminate “lessons” that could inform Self-Help’s approach to food justice lending going forward. I recommend the organization take the following suggestions into account when evaluating potential lending opportunities: • Be aware of scale-related challenges. • Accept nutrition assistance benefits. • Think beyond the bricks and mortar “corner store” model. • Align borrower’s business model with community needs. • Small business ownership expertise is crucial for store sustainability. • Don’t forget about local farmers. • Align retailer activities with mission. • Stay tuned for future state-level initiatives funded through the United States Department of Agriculture Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Community Transformation Grant awarded to the North Carolina Division of Public Health.
DepartmentThe Sanford School of Public Policy
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Rights for Collection: Sanford School Master of Public Policy (MPP) Program Master’s Projects