Food Systems

The food system presents a ripe opportunity for advancing multiple benefits including equity, good health, robust local economies, and community vitality. The system encompasses the range of activities to move food from the field to the table — agricultural production, processing, distribution, marketing, and retail sales including grocery stores, farmers' markets, and restaurants. The U.S. food system is a large sector of our economy, employing millions of people, many in low-wage and hazardous jobs. Food production significantly impacts the quality of our air, water, and land. Public policies and institutional practices have contributed to inequalities in access to healthy food across the United States. More than 29 million Americans lack access to healthy food and 49 million live in food insecure households. The dearth of healthy food retail options in combination with limited household purchasing power means many low-income families struggle to put sufficient and healthy food on the table.

The Convergence Partnership has prioritized improving access to healthy food since its inception, bringing a systems approach and an equity orientation to investing in multisector policy solutions. Moving forward, the Partnership is committed to pursuing objectives and strategies that advance a more just and equitable food system by ensuring strong impacts in communities; building critical alliances between the equity, anti-hunger, food access, sustainable agriculture, and health fields; and by backing stronger policies and actions around the country.

Impacts

Since its inception, the Convergence Partnership prioritized improving access to healthy food in low-income communities and communities of color. The Partnership’s support was instrumental in establishing the federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI). Through grantmaking, the Convergence Partnership has helped establish HFFI as an official USDA program, while state or regional financing funds have been established in more than 10 places. To date, HFFI has made more than $500 million available in grants and tax credits to more than 100 healthy food projects and grantees in almost 30 states and those funds have been matched and leveraged with private and philanthropic capital. Many partners and members of the Convergence network are involved as co-creators and co-investors and Partnership support has nurtured a robust community of practice. Through its implementation, HFFI supported investments in retail food as well as food system innovations, such as food hubs and urban agriculture. The program is bringing its triple-bottom-line impacts of jobs, economic vitality, and improved health to low-income communities across the country, tailoring the mix of strategies to match the local market and increasingly to connect with the regional food system.

Recognizing that the Farm Bill presented a big opportunity to improve access to healthy food, as well as an opportunity to leverage other funders’ interests, the Convergence Partnership identified four priorities to advance in its reauthorization: healthy food financing, healthy food incentives, regional food systems, and the extension of SNAP benefits. Established nearly three years ago with Convergence Partnership support, the Food and Agriculture Policy Collaborative — a partnership between equity, anti-hunger, and sustainable food system advocates advancing this multifaceted approach to addressing the supply and demand side of healthy food access — successfully influenced the Agricultural Act of 2014. The Collaborative was successful in influencing the final bill, although the $8 billion dollars in cuts to the SNAP program were a disappointment. Successes include $100 million in mandatory resources for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives (FINI) grant program, $125 million authorized to establish the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) at USDA Convergence resources, and significant funding to establish or expand a range of programs at USDA to strengthen sustainable regional food systems.

Federal Efforts

The four Collaborative members (Fair Food Network, Food Research and Action Center, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and PolicyLink) continue to engage their constituencies around a healthy food, healthy economies framework — articulating the interrelationship between healthy food access, rural and urban economic development, and sustainable and local food systems. The Collaborative is active in monitoring the implementation of the FINI grant program, HFFI, and other USDA food systems programs to ensure they maximize benefits in low-income communities and communities of color. Currently, the Collaborative is developing a strategy to utilize the federal food and farm programs to stimulate local action to strengthen food access and food systems. In addition, the Partnership is conducting exploratory research on equity issues facing food system workers, including overarching structural issues and potential policy levers for change. Food system workers were identified as a priority in the current Convergence Partnership strategic plan as a potential opportunity for deepening the equity impact of the Partnership’s food system efforts.

Local & State Efforts

The Michigan Good Food Fund is a public-private loan and grant fund created to increase access to healthy food and drive economic development and job creation to grow Michigan’s economy. The fund provides flexible capital and grants to food enterprises often overlooked by traditional banking institutions. The Fund is supported with a federal grant from the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) and Michigan partners — Fair Food Network, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Michigan Food Policy Council, Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems, AFPD, Growing Hope, and MOSES. Capital Impact, a Community Development Finance Instiution (CDFI), manages the Fund.

Unlike other healthy food financing efforts that are primarily focused on retail, the Michigan Good Food Fund supports projects across the food value chain including healthy food production, distribution, processing, and retail that benefits underserved communities across the state. By investing in projects like these, the Michigan Good Food Fund will help ensure equitable access to food, jobs, and flexible investment capital; encourage sustainable environmental practices; and increase the sourcing supply of locally grown and regionally produced foods in underserved areas of Michigan.

Learn more about the Michigan Good Food Fund and the work the organization is doing around Michigan.

Resources

Food and Agriculture Policy Collaborative 2015 Guide

This 2015 guide includes information on USDA policies and programs that help strengthen our food economy and local communities. There are brief descriptions of key Farm Bill provisions, examples of how some of these programs are being used, and links to more in-depth resources.

Convergence Partnership Statement about Passage of the Farm Bill and Programs to Improve Access to Healthy Food

The Convergence Partnership responded to the passage of the Farm Bill and programs to improve access to healthy food. The Farm Bill includes the authorization of $125 million for the national Healthy Food Financing Initiative that helps revitalize communities by bringing in new, vibrant healthy food retail and by creating and preserving quality jobs for local residents.

Recommendations on Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act

The Partnership submitted recommendations on the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Recipes for Change: Healthy Food in Every Community

This resource examines opportunities to change the food system to benefit our physical, economic, social, and environmental health. Fueled by research, innovative policies, and grassroots energy, the movement to increase access to healthy foods and to create a sustainable, equitable food system can provide a springboard for public action and local activism.

Promising Strategies for Creating Healthy Eating and Active Living Environments

This report offers a comprehensive and cross-cutting review of policy, strategy, and program recommendations to realize the vision of Healthy People, Healthy Places. This review draws from the most prominent and promising strategies for change at national, state, and local levels. This document has been created to encourage further discussions and serve as a catalyst for practitioners, advocates, and community leaders to understand how their specific efforts fit into a broader landscape of efforts.