Food Systems

The last few years have seen growing momentum to advance a just and equitable food system in the United States.  Community leaders, advocates, and policymakers are asking questions about where our food comes from, what impact the food we eat has on our health, and whether healthy food is reaching all our communities in a fair and inclusive manner. For more than a decade, the Center for Health Equity and Place has been partnering with community leaders, advocates, and government officials across the country to ensure all can benefit from the food system.

In doing so, the Center has focused its efforts on access to healthy food. Improving healthy food access in low-income communities and communities of color continues to be an urgent need with nearly 30 million people living in low-income areas with limited access to supermarkets (defined as the closest store being more than a mile away). The problem is particularly acute in low-income communities of color.

The Center recognizes that access is the foundation for the positive benefits associated with healthy food. Without access to healthy foods, a nutritious diet and good health are out of reach. And without grocery stores and other fresh food retailers, communities are also missing the commercial vitality that makes neighborhoods livable and helps local economies thrive.

The Center for Health Equity and Place continues to work to create healthy, equitable communities by improving access to healthy food through the strategies, tactics, and tools below. 

Click here to go to the library to view Center for Health Equity and Place resources. 

Policy Advocacy

Federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative

The federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) improves access to healthy foods in communities that need it through critical loan and grant financing. In 2009, PolicyLink, along with the Food Trust, and The Reinvestment Fund initiated a national campaign, with additional partners and stakeholders from across the country, to create a comprehensive federal response to address the limited and inequitable access to healthy foods in low-income communities and communities of color in both rural and urban America. The White House and the First Lady recognized this challenge and paved the way to building a federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative.
Since FY 2011, more than $162 million in grants has been distributed through HFFI, bringing access to healthy food, jobs, and economic development to low-income communities across the country. Funding dispersed through community development corporations and community development financial institutions (CDFIs) has supported more than 100 projects including grocery stores, food hubs, farmers’ markets, and other healthy food retail. An estimated $1 billion in New Markets Tax Credits have been used to finance projects that will expand access, create jobs, and generate new entrepreneurship opportunities. Congress passed the Farm Bill with wide bipartisan support on February 4, 2014, establishing HFFI at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and authorizing up to $125 million for HFFI.
President Obama’s FY 2015 budget proposes $13 million to help with HFFI’s launch and $35 million for the CDFI fund. In fiscal years 2011, 2012, and 2013 dollars were distributed for a HFFI Financial Assistance Program at the U.S. Department of Treasury and a HFFI Community Economic Development Program at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. More than $500 million has been awarded to community development and community finance institutions to support a diversity of food access projects in communities lacking access.
For the latest news on healthy food access including policy efforts, visit
California State and Local Policy Efforts
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that around 1.7 million California residents live in low-income communities and do not have access to a large grocery store within one mile of their home. This lack of access has health implications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 percent of California adults are obese, and researchers find that low-income children and children of color have the highest rates of obesity and related health problems. Improving access to healthy food can help address this crisis. Community and advocacy efforts encouraged Governor Jerry Brown to sign the California Healthy Food Financing Initiative, AB580. In addition to AB580, California healthy foundations and partners established the California FreshWorks Fund (CAFWF), a public-private partnership loan fund created to increase access to healthy foods in underserved communities, spur economic development that supports healthy communities, and inspire innovation in healthy food retailing.
CAFWF finances grocery stores and other forms of healthy food retail and distribution by providing a combination of loan and grant financing to eligible applicants. CAFWF has raised more than $264 million and is administered by Capital Impact Partners.
California also has several active local food policy bodies that are organized in a statewide California Food Policy Council.
For more information on California's efforts, visit
Other State and City Policy Efforts
The success of the Healthy Food Financing Initiative and the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative are inspiring similar efforts in several states and cities across the country.
Legislation has been passed and/or projects are underway in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Detroit, D.C., New York City, and New Orleans.
For more information on these state and city efforts, visit

Equitable Food Procurement

A movement to purchase locally sourced, sustainably grown, and healthy food is beginning to build momentum. Food procurement — how and from whom government institutions purchase food — is emerging as a powerful tool to strengthen and create an equitable local food system that would impact the health and well-being of all Americans while also revitalizing local economies across the country. By procuring sustainably produced, local food, communities can improve access to healthy food for low-income families and communities of color, support local entrepreneurship, and create high-quality local jobs that increase wealth, quality of life, and purchasing power for food, shelter, and health care.

States like Vermont and cities such as Los Angeles, Oakland, and Chicago are already leading the way to enact equitable healthy food procurement policies. Successful models like the Center for Good Food Purchasing’s Good Food Purchasing Program and the Center for Ecoliteracy’s California Thursdays program are already benefitting low-income entrepreneurs of color, small family farmers and farmer workers, while providing consumers access to healthy food.

The current landscape presents a critical window of opportunity to realign food policy initiatives toward equity through an equitable procurement policy. PolicyLink is actively working with a diverse range of partners in public health, labor and economic justice, environmental sustainability, and public and private sector to advance equitable procurement policy at local, state, and national levels, through a mix of education, research, convening, and policy advocacy.  

For more information about PolicyLink’s procurement efforts, check out these great resources:

Technical Assistance

PolicyLink offers technical assistance and training to advocates, activists, elected officials, and public agencies working in communities across the country to create equitable food systems. We utilize a variety of approaches, including research, publications, webinars, and online tools, including the Healthy Food Access Portal.

W.K. Kellogg Foundation

As part of the Food and Community Program of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, PolicyLink provides technical assistance to grantees in nine communities across the nation, specifically: Oakland, CA; Seattle, WA; Philadelphia, PA; Boston, MA; Holyoke, MA; New York, NY; Detroit, MI; Northeast Iowa, and the Tohono O’odham Nation in Arizona. We focus on skills that will develop the capacity of these grantees to implement local policy along with systems change strategies that will improve school food, food systems, and physical activity environments in an equitable manner.

For an in-depth example of a regional food hub working at both ends of the food system, visit Common Market Case Study: Rebuilding a Regional Food Economy and Increasing Access to Healthy Food.

Research and Tools

PolicyLink has produced reports, webinars, and tools that highlight the problem of access to healthy food, ways that communities are advancing innovative solutions to the problem, and policies that can support communities in achieving their vision. 
To view Center for Health Equity and Place resources, please visit the library
For more information go to the  Access to Healthy Foods tools in the Equitable Development Toolkit. It serves as an introduction to five tools -- Equitable Food Hubs, Grocery Store Development, Corner Stores, Farmers' Markets, and Urban Agriculture and Community Gardens -- that help low-income communities and communities of color increase their access to healthy, fresh, affordable food.