Making food deserts bloom: Open house info session planned for Oct. 30

Fort Worth food deserts are set to get some relief in the form of an innovative financing program that will increase the number of grocers, corner stores, and other markets selling fresh fruits and vegetables.

The Fort Worth Healthy Food Financing Initiative (FW HFFI), a partnership between the City of Fort Worth and PeopleFund, will provide low-cost loans to open, renovate, or expand mid-size and small food retail outlets in low- and moderate-income communities with few grocery options, Blue Zones Project, Fort Worth said in a news release.

Entrepreneurs are invited to learn more at the FW HFFI open house, set for 8:30 to 10 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 30, at the Business Assistance Center, 1150 South Freeway, Fort Worth, Texas, 76104. Attendees should RSVP on the PeopleFund website:

The news release said that the program is modeled on successful programs in a handful of U.S. cities and is designed to improve Fort Worth public health as well as spur economic growth.

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“This program is a proven, effective, sustainable solution to bringing nutritious foods and jobs into areas that need them the most,” said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price. “When we make healthy choices available to our residents and invest in the vitality of our neighborhoods, good things happen.”

PeopleFund is a community development financing institution offering reduced interest rate loans and business education to individuals in underserved markets.

The FW HFFI program begins with $50,000 of public seed money to serve as an interest rate buydown for $500,000 in loans financed by PeopleFund, a non-profit Texas lender, the news release said.

FW HFFI is supported by the Tarrant County Food Policy Council, American Heart Association, Tarrant County Public Health, and Blue Zones Project, a community well-being improvement initiative led by Texas Health Resources.

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“Evidence is mounting that access to healthy food reduces the risk of diet-related diseases such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes,” Matt Dufrene, vice president of Blue Zones Project, Fort Worth, said in the announcement. “Through this program, we’re making it easier to bring healthy options to underserved communities, and allowing all Fort Worth residents to improve their well-being.”

Eligible projects include regional grocery chain locations or individual grocery retail outlets; convenience stores; farmers markets; mobile markets; caterers; restaurants; and food trucks. Proposals must demonstrate that the project is economically viable and will increase availability of fresh produce in areas that lack sufficient access to affordable, healthy food.

Funding may be used for pre-development activities such as architectural and engineering work, site improvements, construction and renovations, equipment installation and upgrades, staff training, security, and inventory and working capital. Available loans range from $5,000 up to $250,000.

“By financing projects with infrastructure costs and credit needs that are unmet by traditional financial tools, we can empower people to make healthy choices while also creating jobs and putting individuals on a path to financial stability and independence,” said Amber Kani, CEO of PeopleFund. “It’s a win-win for all of Fort Worth.”