Opinion: State needs inclusive food systems
Revitalization of a healthy, inclusive city is more than just placing new buildings where abandoned ones once appeared. When it comes to building healthy communities, ensuring access to quality and affordable food must be at the top of the priority list.
For many of us surrounded by grocery stores and farmers markets, it hardly seems like an issue or may seem like an issue that is easily solvable. Why not just build more? What might seem so simple, however, is actually deceptively difficult.
The reality is that building these types of retail establishments in the communities where they are most needed continues to be hampered by decades of institutional and systemic barriers.
Chief among these is the ongoing struggle food entrepreneurs of color face in obtaining loans to develop businesses committed to distributing and selling healthy food that reaches low-access populations throughout Michigan.
The statistics are glaring. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), in 2013 nearly 86% of food-related businesses were owned by white people, 10.6% by Latinos, 7% by blacks and 4.3% by Asians.
What are some of the underlying issues of this large discrepancy?
How can communities improve capacity for minority food entrepreneurs so they can have better access to credit and become active in helping create communities of opportunity?
I am proud to work for an organization that is working to bridge that gap.
In 2015, Capital Impact Partners joined with a variety of mission-driven partners, including the Fair Food Network, Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems and the W.K. Kellogg foundation to launch the Michigan Good Food Fund (MGFF) with the shared goal of creating more opportunities to provide quality, affordable food to the people of Michigan.
This initiative maintains a serious commitment to racial and social equity, having developed tools like a scorecard to measure each of our businesses against our social objectives and having developed a range of strategically aligned products to intentionally reach food entrepreneurs of color.
A critical component of this work effort has been, and continues to be, engaging community members to understand their needs, identifying what has proven successful and determining how we can help scale that success.
Some of our proposed remedies include: providing “non-debt” financial assistance to help level the disproportionate field that the racial wealth gap has created; creating mechanisms that support a range of loans from as low as $2,500 to $6 million with repayment flexibility that allows these businesses to scale; looking for alternatives to credit scores to determine an entrepreneur’s ability to repay their loans; and providing mentorship.
Through the commitment of these organizations and the expansion of food entrepreneurs of color, positive outcomes for Michigan children and families are on the rise.
With continued efforts in Detroit and surrounding areas, we are making steps toward developing new jobs and increasing healthy food access to where it is needed in the city and state.
Through initiatives like the Michigan Good Food Fund, we are working to dismantle these institutionalized barriers to accessing capital by providing solutions and alternatives to allow inclusive and equitable access to all.
Olivia Rebanal is director of inclusive food systems for Capital Impact Partners, one of the founding partners of the Michigan Good Food Fund.