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HFFI Award Promotes Local Sustainable Food System Growth

October 8, 2015

On October 1, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded over $5 million through its Community Economic Development Program’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI).

Republic Food Enterprise Center – Growing a Local, Sustainable Food System

NSAC congratulates the nine CDCs in seven states that received awards this year from the HHS HFFI program. In particular, we recognize NSAC member group Republic Food Enterprise Center (RFEC) for its $800,000 HHS HFFI grant, awarded through its parent organization Fayette County Community Action Agency, Inc. (FCCAA). FCCAA will use the HFFI award to support the work of RFEC, a regional food aggregation center that promotes the development of food enterprises in southwestern Pennsylvania.

“Our goal is to create a sustainable regional food system from the ground to the kitchen table,” said Bob Junk, Director of Sales and Marketing at RFEC.

To achieve that goal, RFEC has started a commercial kitchen that entrepreneurs can rent to process value-added products, a mobile farmers market that brings fresh fruits and vegetables to food deserts, and a greenhouse with ten raised beds. The HFFI award will support and grow these projects.

RFEC General Manager Mark Swankler said the HFFI award will allow RFEC to purchase additional packing equipment, including a bottler, cup filler, and additional kettles. This equipment will enable farmers and other local entrepreneurs to create value-added products in RFEC’s commercial kitchen, processing everything from hummus to graham crackers to salad dressing.

Earlier this year, RFEC launched the region’s first mobile farmers market. With one refrigerated truck, RFEC sold produce in five locations that previously had little access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Through the HFFI award, RFEC will add another truck to the fleet, Swankler said. RFEC is also on track to launch the region’s first produce-to-door subscription service using HFFI funds.

RFEC grows produce for the mobile farmer’s market in its own greenhouse, in addition to aggregating produce from a handful of farms in the region. Junk aims to connect to 30 farmers with the help of the HFFI award. In total, the three-year HFFI project will create 40 new jobs throughout the region, and 75 percent of those jobs will be filled by low-income residents of Fayette County.

Swankler said that RFEC is growing quickly and continues expanding to affect diverse parts of the food system, from creating a line of RFEC-branded products to gleaning a local farmer’s bean fields.

“The reaction has been great,” Swankler said. “The community has been very supportive of everything we’ve been doing.”

More HFFI Background

HFFI is a tri-agency program administered by the Departments of Treasury, Health and Human Services, and Agriculture that aims to increase the availability of healthy food in low to moderate-income under-served communities (rural, urban, and suburban) through the creation and expansion of healthy food retail outlets such as grocery stores, farmers markets, and coops.  The HFFI award program at HHS OCS began in 2011 and is aimed at addressing food insecurity, increasing healthy food access in low-income communities, and fostering self-sufficiency for low-income families by creating sustained employment opportunities in low-income communities.

There are currently two separate HFFI grant programs administered by two agencies – the Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) Fund at the Department of Treasury and the Office of Community Service (OCS) at the Department of Health and Human Services.

The HFFI awards from the Treasury Department go to CDFIs around the country to build up funds that will help finance projects supporting healthy food access, while the HFFI awards from the Department of Health and Human Services go to Community Development Corporations (CDCs) for specific projects supporting healthy food access and economic development.

Both HFFI award programs have provided some support for projects that develop local and regional food systems and businesses across the supply chain, including as farmers, distributors, and processors.

Click here to see descriptions of all of the projects that received HHS HFFI awards in 2015.

Categories: Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems, Rural Development

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