Fighting Food Deserts in KansasDecember 15, 2017
Kansas is the nation’s leader in wheat production and is third in beef production, yet according to the Kansas Health Foundation, more than 800,000 Kansans lack easy access to fresh, affordable food.
Besides providing healthy food, grocery stores play several critical community development roles. They serve as anchors—providing jobs, a tax base and a community hub where people gather.
Many small grocery stores in both urban and rural areas are struggling. These grocers find meeting minimum order requirements from distributors a challenge. “Outdated refrigeration and inventory equipment, and aging owners with few prospective buyers are also taking a toll on the industry, particularly in small towns,” says Steve Radley, president and CEO of NetWork Kansas and a member of the Kansas City Fed's Community Development Advisory Council. Between 2008 and 2015, in towns smaller than 2,500 people nearly one of five Kansas grocery stores closed (Center for Engagement and Community Development, Kansas Healthy Food Initiative 2016).
Rural, remote grocers face additional challenges. Consolidation within the food distribution industry means some remote communities are farther away from food distribution centers, increasing the transportation cost of getting food into in the hands of consumers. Tina Khan, Food Access Project Coordinator at Kansas State University, recalled a consumer in Colby saying they had to pay $7 for a cantaloupe. “We want to explore models to grow and distribute food locally, and make healthy food options affordable,” Khan said.
Addressing a cross-sector issue through a cross-sector collaboration
In an effort to align community development, agriculture, health and small business resources, the Kansas Healthy Food Initiative (KHFI) was launched in November 2017. It’s a multipronged approach to improving food access. Through the program, small businesses and community organizations can receive grants, loans and technical assistance for projects that improve access to fresh food. Approved KHFI efforts could include development or renovation of a grocery store, improvement of food distribution, technology or energy-efficient improvements to stores, or innovative solutions for food access points such as mobile food markets.
Both urban and rural communities may apply. Eligibility and key criteria include:
- A commitment to providing fresh healthy foods
- Initiatives that benefit low- to moderate-income populations underserved by fresh food retail
- Community support
- Operator experience
The initiative’s mix of financial and technical assistance is the result of a collaborative effort, which includes:
- Center for Engagement and Community Development at Kansas State University
- IFF, a Community Development Financial Institution that manages the program’s loan and grant pools
- Kansas Health Foundation
- NetWork Kansas
KHFI is seeking to grow the grant and loan funds and was one of seven opportunities presented to prospective funders Dec. 8 in Wichita at the Investment Connection Forum. Investment Connection, a program of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, connects bankers and funders with innovative community development investment opportunities.
Visit the Kansas Healthy Food Initiative website to learn more.