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Healthy Food For All: The Colorado Fresh Food Financing Fund

Many low-income, underserved neighborhoods in Denver and rural Colorado, don't have grocery stores that provide the variety of fresh foods necessary for a balanced diet or a complete meal.

The fund is designed to improve access to healthy and affordable food.

As a creative solution to this distribution issue, the Fund may look to many of its non-profits and partners such as Denver Urban Gardens, to improve access directly from its own soil.

The Colorado Fresh Food Financing Fund is well on its way to meeting its goal of $20 million in investment to improve food access for Coloradoans in underserved areas.

Denver's food deserts could soon be a thing of the past. With nearly $10 million in hand, the Colorado Fresh Food Financing Fund aims to make healthy food available to everyone. Its first loans are expected to close in early 2014 to provide funding for new groceries and expansion of existing stores.
The Colorado Fresh Food Financing Fund is well on its way to meeting its goal of $20 million in investment to improve food access for Coloradoans in underserved areas.
 
As Confluence reported back in January, approximately 15 percent of Colorado's population is food insecure, living in what's known as a food desert, without access to the wide variety of fresh foods that many of us take for granted. 
 
Back in 2011, the Denver Food Access Task Force released a report titled Healthy Food for All: Encouraging Grocery Investment in Colorado that indicated a need for more grocery store investment to improve access to affordable, healthy food and stimulate economic development in Denver and throughout Colorado. In response to this report, the Colorado Fresh Food Financing Fund was created to make financing available for grocers that offer affordable and nutritious foods in areas where they are in limited supply. 
 
"The fund is designed to improve access to healthy and affordable food and is a critical step in achieving the Foundation's vision of making Colorado the healthiest state in the nation," says Kelly Dunkin, Vice President of Philanthropy for the Colorado Health Foundation, which invests in the community through grants and initiatives to health-related nonprofits that focus on healthy living.
 
Raising funds
 
The idea for a Colorado-based Fresh Food Financing Fund came about partly due to the success of the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative that approved more than $73.2 million in loans and $12.1 million in grants, bringing 5,023 jobs and 1.67 million square feet of commercial space to the state. In December 2012, the Colorado Health Foundation approved a $7.1 million seed investment necessary to make the Colorado Fresh Food Financing Fund a reality. 
 
Three partners provide their financial services for the Fund: The Colorado Enterprise Fund (CEF) finances small and innovative fresh food concepts, Progressive Urban Management Associates (P.U.M.A.)  are responsible as the Food Access Organization for the Fund, and the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA), who serve as the fund administrator and manage the allocation of grants and loans. 
 
In order to tailor the Funds efforts to make them more Colorado-specific, Khanh Nguyen, Portfolio Director for the Colorado Health Foundation, is happy to have the expertise of the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority. "CHFA really understand the economics of this state and we couldn't have chosen a better partner for this work because they already serve the target population that we want to serve," says Nguyen. 
 
Many low-income, underserved neighborhoods in Denver and rural Colorado don't have grocery stores that provide the variety of fresh foods necessary for a balanced diet or a complete meal, "Ultimately we are looking to increase access to a range of grocery products, not just fresh food items like produce and meat and fish, but general grocery items as well," says Tim Dolan, CHFA Commercial Loan Officer.
 
The challenge for many existing stores in underserved areas is allocating enough space for fresh food items. Many stores, particularly in more rural areas, offer limited square footage. Smaller grocers and mom-and-pop stores will receive funding provided they are willing to dedicate sufficient space to fresh foods. "There's expansion through new stores but there's also expansion through existing stores to help them stay sustainable," says Dolan.
 
Making progressAs a creative solution to this distribution issue, the Fund may look to many of its non-profits and partners such as Denver Urban Gardens, to improve access directly from its own soil.
 
In addition to the limited number of grocery stores in underserved areas, distribution of the food to smaller grocers is also an issue. Unlike on the east coast, which has a lot of independent grocers and distributors, Colorado doesn't have the independent distributors necessary to supply its smaller grocers. "It's hard for smaller stores and even corner markets to supply fresh food because they don't have the volume like a big store would," says Nguyen. 
 
As a creative solution to this distribution issue, the Fund may look to many of its non-profits and partners such as Denver Urban Gardens, to improve access directly from its own soil. "It's still a thought in process but I think we could come up with something that could mitigate that issue," says Nguyen.
 
In addition to the $7.1 million investment from the Colorado Health Foundation, the Fund has received more than $2 million from other investors. Although a project has yet to begin, partners in the Fund are optimistic that they will be up and running very soon. "I feel pretty confident we will have a loan, or two or three, by early 2014," says Nguyen.

Read more articles by Katie Rapone.

Katie is a British, Denver-based freelance writer with a niche for Health and Wellness. Contact her here.
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