In rural and urban areas of all sizes, from large swaths of southern and southwestern Virginia, to Richmond, to Martinsville, and Norfolk, residents must travel excessive distances to purchase the foods necessary to maintain a healthy diet. A July 2015 report from the American Heart Association, Food for Every Child, finds that 1.7 million Virginians, including 480,000 children, are living in low income areas with limited supermarket access.
The Closer to My Grocer campaign is working to increase healthy food retail in underserved areas. The campaign is supported by a diverse coalition business, health, children and local government groups that have an interest in improving food access. Ultimately, the campaign seeks to establish a Healthy Food Financing Initiative, the Virginia Grocery Investment Fund.
The Virginia Grocery Investment Fund is a public-private partnership modeled after Pennsylvania's Fresh Food Financing Initiative. The Fund is designed to be seeded with state dollars and operated by a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that has a strong track record of work in low income communities. The CDFI will receive project applications from communities and score them based on:
- The level of need in the area to be served.
- The degree to which the project requires an investment of public financing to move forward, create impact, or be competitive.
- The degree to which the project will have a positive economic impact on the underserved community, including by creating or retaining jobs for local residents.
- The degree to which the project will participate in state and local health department initiatives to educate consumers on nutrition and promote healthier eating.
- Priority will be placed in projects committed to sourcing Virginia Grown products when available.
The Closer to My Grocer Coalition was formed just prior to the 2016 General Assembly Session. In December 2015, Governor McAuliffe included $10 million in his budget for the Virginia Grocery Investment Fund. During Session, the Senate appropriated $2.5 million for a pilot of the Virginia Grocery Investment Fund while the House of Delegates did not include any funding for the Fund in their budget. Therefore the final 2016-2018 biennium budget did not include any funding for the Virginia Grocery Investment Fund. The coalition stayed focused and continued to advocate for funding to create the Virginia Grocery Investment Fund. Advocates worked alongside a bi-partisan group of legislators during the 2018 Session. Now, the coalition is focused on securing funding during the 2019 General Assembly Session.
The Virginia Grocery Investment Fund is a popular concept among voters.
In May 2016, the American Heart Association's Mid-Atlantic Affiliate conducted a poll of 500 registered Virginia voters. Our findings indicate:
- 9 out of every 10 voters in Virginia believe that unhealthy eating and childhood obesity are serious issues for children growing up in the United States today.
- 88% of voters are concerned that 480,000 of Virginia's children do not have access to healthy foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
- 55% of Virginia voters believe state and local governments should do more to improve access to neighborhood stores where people can buy healthy foods.
- Virginia's voters identified affordability, poor economic conditions, and a lack of nutritional education as barriers to healthy food access in both rural and urban areas.
- 82% of voters support a state program to help make healthy foods available to more of Virginia's children by giving low interest loans and grants to businesses to open grocery stores, farmer's markets, and other places that provide healthy food in communities without them.
- 83% of Virginia's voters are convinced that supermarkets create jobs and revitalize communities, serving as retail anchors and sparking complementary development nearby.
These results indicate that Virginia voters overwhelmingly support the Virginia Grocery Investment Fund and that the majority of voters believe that state and local governments should do more to improve access to healthy food. Learn more about how you can get involved.
hero_image_alt_text===produce with caption "A majority of Virginia's voters believe that state and local government should do more to improve access to healthy food."