To decrease food insecurity in low-income, low-access communities, VCC works to increase wealth-building opportunities so that more resources (especially capital) circulate more locally, bolstering both community health and prosperity. One way to do this is by ensuring there is equitable access to food system financing tools to cultivate a local food economy. This builds economic resiliency of local small businesses and enables a community to achieve the purchasing power necessary for thriving.

The path towards building economic resiliency of local food systems often requires funding steppingstones, such as:

  • Pre-development technical assistance to develop financial literacy
  • Stipends to fairly compensate community residents for their time and insight advising food-based projects
  • Catalytic grants to jumpstart activity
  • Creative and diverse capital stacks with credit/collateral enhancements
  • Capacity and expertise within funding organizations (government, grantmaking, lending, etc.) to invest in lasting relationships that build trust between funder and funding recipient, especially with debt financing

The Virginia Food Access Investment Fund (VFAIF) is a statewide program that centers equity and justice in local food systems by investing in new or expanding food retailers that address food access issues in the Commonwealth. The VFAIF program has been developed using the Equitable Food-Oriented Development (EFOD) model, a development strategy that uses food and agriculture to create economic opportunities and healthy neighborhoods. The model explicitly seeks to build community assets, pride, and power by and with historically low-income, low-access communities. Virginia is the first state in the country to embed the EFOD framework into a healthy food access grant program.

Currently, VFAIF offers grants up to $50,000 to fund the business development, construction, rehabilitation, equipment upgrades, and expansion of grocery stores, small food retailers, and innovative food retail projects in historically low-income, low-access communities. In 2021, the inaugural round of VFAIF awarded 15 grant recipients over $600,000 in grants to fund projects like mobile markets, cold storage expansion, and procurement of Virginia-grown produce. While that is an incredible catalyst for food retail business improving access to healthy foods, the total project budgets of all 15 awardees exceeded $2 million – the VFAIF awards comprised just 24% of the total funding needed. That’s where VCC steps in.

Since 2021, VCC has been the contracted CDFI working with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) to manage the VFAIF grant program and provide technical and financial assistance to VFAIF applicants and grant awardees. VCC cultivates relationships with grant awardees to help identify additional funding sources like federal and state USDA funding, philanthropic grants from foundations, and unique financing products like the Black Farmer Equity Fund managed by Foodshed Capital, a partner CDFI.

To truly build a resilient regional food system in which farms, small food businesses, and their communities can thrive, it is imperative to approach community development from a systems-thinking perspective – it is called a food system after all. It is our responsibility to foster partnerships with peer funding agencies, such as VFAIF, whose kindred missions align around a common north star of improving access to healthy food and strengthening local food economies while listening to and honoring the lived experiences of communities.

Learn more about VCC’s healthy food access lending and other resources here.