Fresh food grants: Improving community’s food security

Improving community's food security

Five local downtown businesses received grants this month totaling $152,000 through Pennsylvania’s $10 million Fresh Food Financing Initiative. Four are minority-owned businesses serving the community’s low-income population.

Karimar Grocery, 264 S. Third St., was the scene of an announcement about the grants last Thursday by Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin. They said more than 100 projects were funded to provide access to fresh food in low-income communities.

Karimar received $55,861 grant. Other local groceries receiving grants include:

“There are three keys to food security,” Redding said. “Is food available, is food affordable, and is food safe? The Fresh Food Financing Initiative helps make ‘yes’ the answer to all three questions

READ: County gets funding for food, shelter

“Early in the pandemic, we were all shocked by the empty grocery store shelves. This program has given us the ability to offset the costs food retailers have incurred in making fresh, nutritious food available while safeguarding their employees and customers.”

Community effort

Improving community's food security
A customer shops at Karimar Grocery on South Third Street in Chambersburg. (Photos courtesy Agriculture Sec. Russell Redding)

Karimar Grocery, a minority, woman-owned neighborhood store in Chambersburg, experienced increased demand for perishable and staple food products throughout the pandemic.

Their $55,000 grant will fund the purchase of equipment and cover the cost of pandemic-related safety measures. It will also help buy refrigerators, freezers, coolers, and a meat grinder. Those improvements will give management the ability to store more fresh meat, dairy, and produce.

All of the Franklin County businesses getting grants are located in downtown Chambersburg, serving a predominately low income population. They were successful because of a team effort.

The small business owners themselves, the PA Dept. of Agriculture, Penn State Extension, staff from the Borough of Chambersburg as well as Downtown Chambersburg Inc. and Healthy Franklin County worked together to provide outreach, interpretation, and technical support for the application process.   

“We’re all very happy to see these businesses afforded an opportunity to improve food security in our community and continue to grow their businesses,” Jay Eury, Penn State Extension educator, said.

Grants to other nearby counties included:

Adams County

  • Mi Campesina FFFI- $17,290
  • Kennie’s Markets, Inc- $250,176
  • Hubbard Family Ranch, LLC- $15,000
  • Adams County Farmers Market- $2,562
  • Knouse Foods Cooperative, Inc- $95,000
  • Tanias Restaurant & Mexican Store- $11,400

Cumberland County

  • Earth Spring Farm, Inc- $37,000
  • Farmers on the Square- $16,000

Fulton County

  • Graces Family Farm- $15,000

The Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI) was funded at $10 million through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. It opened in July to for-profit, nonprofit, or cooperative entities.

Those including grocery stores, corner stores, convenience stores, neighborhood markets, bodegas, food hubs, mobile markets, farmers markets, on-farm markets, urban farms, and food aggregation centers with a direct connection to direct-to-consumer retail outlets.

To be eligible, more than 70% of sales were required to be from staple, perishable foods to consumers. The retailer must serve customers who live in a low-to-moderate income area. Applicants were also required to demonstrate limited food access as a result of COVID-19 or that direct-to-consumer retail expansion is necessary due to lost or disrupted markets. Eligible applicants must accept SNAP and WIC or have plans to accept them through completion of the project.

Improving community's food security
Fresh, local produce at Karimar Grocery in Chambersburg

Challenges in accessing fresh local food

“The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the challenges that many Pennsylvanians face in accessing fresh, local food,” said Davin. “The Fresh Food Financing Initiative was developed to ensure that no one in our commonwealth will struggle to fill their pantry and the food supply chain will remain stable, whether during a crisis, emergency, or during times of normalcy.”

“It is important to keep residents of the commonwealth safe and informed. COVID-19 has disproportionately affected the Latino community, placing this population at a greater disadvantage,” said Luz B. Colón, executive director to the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs. “Programs like the Fresh Food Financing Initiative help secure food resources to our minority communities and ensure that it will reach the families that need it the most.”

The $10 million FFFI grant program funded 115 projects in 39 counties. The projects fund expenses related to PPE and other in-store COVID-19 mitigation efforts, expansions, refrigeration, online marketing materials, mobile market enhancements, and more.

A full list of funded projects can be found online.

Grant requirements

Applicants could apply for impacts related to COVID-19 incurred between March 1, 2020 and November 30, 2020, such as:

  • Higher operating costs related to cleaning and social distancing requirements, including costs related to outside contracting associated with managing social distancing, limited occupancy, and cleaning;
  • Infrastructure improvements, including renovation, new construction, or adaptive reuse directly related to COVID-19;
  • Equipment purchases that improve the availability of quality fresh food, such as additional refrigeration to manage volume, or personal protective equipment such as plexiglass dividers;
  • Inventory (higher cost of goods, higher transportation or delivery costs, or procuring Pennsylvania-grown produce, meat, and dairy products, or loss of product);
  • Innovative food access technology such as mobile or pop-up markets, or mobile EBT reader technology;
  • Costs to expand access to Pennsylvania grown or processed produce, dairy, and meat products or provide stable market access for Pennsylvania farmers that have lost or limited markets; and
  • Other one-time or increased expenses incurred related to COVID-19.