“We’re here to make sure that in America, where a child grows up doesn’t determine whether they have access to a better—healthier—future. By introducing powerful incentives for private investors to take a chance on projects – like a new, healthier grocery store – we can make that difference for America’s children, while creating new jobs and services in their communities.” -- Treasury Secretary Tim GeithnerLast year, the Obama Administration announced its $400 million Healthy Food Financing Initiative designed to bring grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to underserved urban and rural communities. The Departments of Treasury, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services have all partnered on the initiative. Obama's 2012 budget proposal has $310 million slated for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative with, according to the Washington-based think tank PolicyLink, "more flexibility given to USDA to use additional resources as needed -- to bring grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to underserved communities."
Is St. Louis taking advantage of this initiative?
As stated by White House officials; "Lack of healthy, affordable food options can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer." St. Louis, like other hard-pressed urban areas has its share of low-income neighborhoods that lack healthy, affordable food options. These areas are known as “food deserts” were residents are typically served by fast food restaurants and convenience stores.
Last year, I attended meetings hosted by the Human Development Corporation where the policy was discussed. I learned that the Healthy Youth Partnership (HYP) was actively seeking to formulate a St. Louis Food Policy Council (FPC). The mission of the St. Louis Food Policy Council, according to HYP "is to promote a just, equitable and sustainable local food system."
The national program was modeled after the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, which helped finance 83 supermarket projects in 34 Pennsylvania counties.
Are we ready in St. Louis? If not, we should be. And we should be working on it collectively with grassroots agencies at the table.
The Treasury Department announced that it will support private sector financing of healthy foods options in distressed areas. I'm not sure how much progress St. Louis has made in taking advantage of this initiative. I believe the possibilities are momentous. Imagine urban gardens developed in tandem with urban grocers. Imagine inner-city jobs created to address inner-city challenges and social needs. If aligned with educational and prison recidivism programs, this initiative could be used to help educate children, employ newly released inmates and support other endeavors.
The possibilities are profound ... when we dream together.
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