The USDA Made A Major Investment In Equal Access To Healthy Food

In a press release, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a partnership with the Reinvestment Fund, a financial institution that brings capital to underinvested communities. The partnership will invest $22.6 million to help grocers and other healthy food retailers open in underserved urban and rural communities. The Healthy Food Financing Initiative, a USDA program, is dispersing the funds.

According to the Social Policy Data Lab, over 23.5 million Americans live in food deserts or areas where residents cannot access fresh, healthy, nutrient-dense foods. The site classifies food deserts as areas where residents in urban areas have to travel one or more miles to access a grocery store. In some of these metropolitan areas, gentrification has compounded the problem. When supermarkets finally move into the neighborhood, they are often high-end grocers like Whole Foods, limiting options for price-sensitive residents.

While food deserts seem like an urban phenomenon, the Food Research and Action Center explains that rural areas are even more affected by food insecurity than those in metropolitan centers, with 12.1% of rural households being food insecure versus 10.3% in urban neighborhoods. The Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center notes that 33% of the population must live at least 10 miles from a supermarket for a rural community to qualify as a food desert. Rural Health Information Hub points out that, ironically, many food deserts in rural America are in farming areas.

New USDA investment combats food insecurity

The announced USDA partnership with the Reinvestment Fund aims to help finance businesses and organizations working to bring affordable, healthy foods to these underserved communities. So far, the partnership is supporting 134 projects in rural, urban, and Tribal communities spanning 46 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C. Some investments include Market Seven in D.C., which is building a community food hall offering healthy food options for residents of Ward 7, as well as an additional grocery store. The non-profit Nalwoodi Denzhone – Strength & Beauty Community in Arizona will use the funding to build a local food store on a 90-acre farm on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, which will sell locally grown produce and other food staples.

"The Biden-Harris Administration and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack are committed to creating local and regional food systems that benefit all Americans, from farmers and ranchers to small businesses and families who currently have to travel a long way from home to find fresh, healthy food," said USDA Secretary Xochitl Torres Small in a statement. "USDA is proud to partner with Reinvestment Fund to ensure that these resources reach the communities where they are needed most, so people can find nutritious food options wherever they live."