USDA Launches $60 Million Fund to Boost Healthy Food Access in Underserved Communities

Bowl of vegetable salad and sliced fruitsPhoto by Jane Trang Doan on Pexels.com

MONTGOMERY, AL — At the National Rural Grocer’s Summit on June 24, 2024, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a new initiative aimed at increasing access to healthy foods in communities lacking proper grocery stores. The program, called the Food Access and Retail Expansion Fund (FARE Fund), is part of the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) and is funded by President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act.

Addressing Food Deserts

The FARE Fund will provide $60 million in loans, grants, and technical assistance over the next five years. The goal is to support food retail and supply chain projects that bring healthy food options to underserved communities. “People across this country deserve fresh, healthy, and affordable foods,” Vilsack said. “Through this program, the Biden-Harris Administration is partnering with food retailers to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, delicious foods while also supporting local farmers and ranchers.”

Funding Opportunities

Eligible organizations, including food retailers and suppliers, can apply for loans ranging from $500,000 to $5 million. These funds can be used for various purposes such as predevelopment, land acquisition, renovations, and equipment purchases. Additionally, grants of up to $250,000 are available to support project management, equipment purchases, and construction.

The program also offers technical assistance funding for market and feasibility studies, business planning, and store design. This support aims to help projects in their early stages, ensuring they have a strong foundation to succeed.

Tackling Food Deserts

Access to healthy food remains a significant issue in many rural and urban communities across the United States. These areas, often referred to as “food deserts,” lack sufficient grocery stores offering fresh produce and nutritious options. The FARE Fund aims to address this gap by making it financially viable for businesses to operate in these underserved regions.

The implications of this initiative are far-reaching. Improved access to healthy food can lead to better overall health outcomes, reducing rates of obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related diseases. It also supports local economies by fostering small businesses and creating jobs within the community.

Moreover, by focusing on local farmers and ranchers, the program aims to create a more robust and resilient food system. This not only benefits consumers but also strengthens the agricultural sector by providing more stable markets for locally grown produce.

How to Apply

Organizations interested in applying for the FARE Fund can check their eligibility now and sign up to be notified when applications open. The application process is designed to be accessible, ensuring that even smaller businesses have a fair chance of receiving support.

Addressing Food Inequity

The launch of the FARE Fund represents a critical step towards addressing food inequity in the United States. By providing financial support and technical assistance, the USDA and the Reinvestment Fund aim to make healthy food accessible to all Americans, regardless of their location. This initiative not only promises to improve public health but also to invigorate local economies and support sustainable farming practices.

As Secretary Vilsack noted, “We are revitalizing the food systems in this country and increasing access for those that need it.” With the FARE Fund, the USDA hopes to make a lasting impact on communities struggling with food insecurity, paving the way for a healthier and more equitable future.

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