Funding for innovative and healthy food businesses in California’s food deserts

Fresh vegetables and fruits at a farmer's market

Tell me your zip code and I will tell you your life expectancy.

Those are the words of Dr. Robert Ross, President and CEO of The California Endowment, who talks about the dire statistics related to healthy food access in a video for the newly launched California Fresh Works Fund.

  • In the United States, one in every three children under the age of five are overweight or obese.
  • 23.5 million Americans who live in low income neighborhoods lack access to a supermarket within a mile of their home including 1.7 million Californians.
  • In California, adults in neighborhoods with low access to healthy food options are 20% more likely to be obese than those with high access to healthy foods.
  • Each year in California, obesity causes thousands of deaths and costs families, employers, the healthcare industry and government more than $6 billion.

On July 20, 2011, First Lady Michelle Obama announced the launch of the new fund, a public-private partnership that will loan $200 million to increase access to healthy food in underserved communities in California using a tested and scalable solution. In addition to an interest in promoting good health, the fund’s investors want to stimulate economic development, job creation and promote innovation. The partnership includes grocery industry groups, healthcare organizations and leading banks. With at least $20, you too can become an investor through the Calvert Foundation, a project partner.

“Food deserts” exist in neighborhoods that severely lack access to affordable, nutritious foods. Corner stores filled with junk food like chips, soda and cupcakes and other unhealthy products might be the most accessible stores in some neighborhoods.

Berkeleyside recently ran a story about corner stores that stirred quite a debate. I wonder if it would be possible to turn some of these establishments into “healthy corners stores.” Seems like it could be a win-win for shop owners and customers. The Healthy Corner Stores Network, a project of The Food Trust, offers many resources.

On the other side of the spectrum, you can find high quality and organic food in the burgeoning healthy grocery store chains like Whole Foods Market, but are these stores affordable? DJDave raps about paying “80 bucks for 6 things” in the viral video Whole Foods Parking Lot. (You can listen to an equally amusing Bay Area remix here. To find out what is behind the video and the song’s lyrics, read Sarah Henry’s piece on KQED’s Bay Area Bites blog.)

More reading:

Bay Area Food Justice Organizations: