In July 2011, Fast Company profiled the new California FreshWorks Fund, a private-public partnership loan fund that community development non-profit NCB Capital Impact created. The fund arranges financing for retail and distribution for projects making healthy food accessible to people in “food deserts.” These usually low-income communities often have no grocery options other than convenience stores. Or perhaps no easy-to-reach stores at all, which is especially a problem for seniors and folks without their own transportation.
Recently I had the good fortune to get an update from Catherine Howard, who directs healthy programs for the FreshWorks fund. (This was just after reading Specialty Food magazine’s issue on food companies that give back, another must-read for food entrepreneurs.)
Catherine explained that the FreshWorks Fund “supports projects that bring a new slant to solving food access, like minimizing food waste or making more local food available in a food shed. The Fund focuses on the bricks and mortar while also working with partners who have an interest in other things like community engagement and education component.”
Let some examples of their projects inspire you — especially in this food stamp-cutting time where lower income people will need creative access to food:
Project #1) A massive kitchen to train service workers + serve food entrepreneurs + get healthy snacks to corner stores
Come the end of 2014, food entrepreneurs in Los Angeles are going to have a huge resource at their disposal: the LA Kitchen project, an effort that combines a non-profit and a for-profit arm. Catherine explains, “There’s going to be a nice synergy as they’re taking LA Prep Kitchen where food entrepreneurs will be growing their businesses. This one organization will be doing job training, mostly with people coming from the justice system. Then these growing businesses will need people and can hire from the new job pool.”
LA Kitchen has an amazing set of integrated goals that serve multiple segments of the community:
- Collect millions of pounds of California’s abundant fruits and vegetables
- Prepare healthy meals to strengthen our marginalized neighbors
- Train older adults returning from prison and youth aging out of foster care in culinary arts
- Provide powerful volunteer and employment opportunities for Los Angelenos
- Embrace social enterprise businesses and generate our own income
Please, take these ideas for your local community!
Project #2) Health-oriented stores in food deserts
Thirteen brothers and sisters lead Northgate Gonzales Markets, a chain of Southern California grocery stores their dad started in Anaheim. Serving a primarily Latino demographic, the stores often locate where previously there were no grocery stores. “We helped them take over a blighted empty shell of a building in Inglewood and turn it into a vibrant store,” Catherine explains. “They have a commitment to promoting healthy food called Viva La Salud, with cooking demonstrations and a prepared foods area. They’re working on pre-made meals that are low sodium and under 600 calories to show you can have tasty readily available meals that are within a certain nutritional guideline.”
Northgate Gonzales also holds iron chef-style programs with schools to teach kids how to cook. They have a food policy person on staff. And they also bring people into schools to do screening for high blood pressure and diabetes. So good. Here’s more on the partnership.
The California FreshWorks Fund also works with smaller retailers that purchase and collaborate with small producers, such as Mandela Market in West Oakland.
Merced is a vast rural area where grocery stores are few and far between.
A big coalition got together to create a mobile produce market. Catherine explains, “A non-profit called Make Someone Happy was started to manage this in collaboration with Dignity Health, UC Merced, growers, and others.” The mobile market will source within a 150-mile foodshed, visiting the communities once a week. Better yet, they will visit schools when parents will be there to pick up kids. THAT is strategic thinking.
Project #4) Food Deliveries to Farm Workers Via Family Service Agencies
A former CAD designer and veteran turned farmer (at the Mariposa Valley Farm in Yolo country) learned that many people working on farms don’t have access to fresh produce. (Yes irony of ironies, reminiscent to the disgust I felt when learning in Cultural Geography of Indigenous Peoples at UC Berkeley that tuna in cans was imported by the islanders who caught the tuna.)
With help from the California FreshWorks Fund , she partnered with a non-profit that runs food banks to deliver the food to the family service agencies. The agencies act as a central pick-up hub. This distribution spot especially makes sense as the families would have made a trip there for other support, anyway. She also accepts EBT.
Project #5) Food Bus Making Healthful Food Deliveries to Seniors
Another effort in the Inland Empire kicked off when a non-profit that runs senior meals programs realized that many of their clients lived in very remote places and had no places to purchase food, aside from local bodegas.
So, they’re retrofitting a bus that the Riverside transit authority donated. The organization will be sourcing fresh produce from a new Riverside growers’ co-op, then making weekly drop offs at the senior citizens’ homes.
Learn more about NCB Capital Impact.