Friday, August 27, 2010

This week, Judith Bell of PolicyLink wrote about the California Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), also known as AB 2720, which the CA Assembly is voting on shortly.

Reading the bill analysis, AB 2720 appears to model itself after Pennsylvania's Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI). "Pennsylvania appropriated $30 million over three years to the program; The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), an investment company, has leveraged the investment to create a $120 million fund for financing the FFFI. As of December 2009, FFFI has helped finance 83 supermarket projects in 34 Pennsylvania counties, ranging in size from 900 to 69,000 square feet. In total, these projects are expected to create or retain 5,000 jobs and more than 1.6 million square feet of food retail." The Reinvestment Fund even offers stores technical assistance and financing to support energy efficiency and conservation measures -- here green jobs and the food system merge quite beautifully.

The declarations put forth in the analysis of the bill are in line with a food justice analysis of food system challenges. They speak about "the importance of protecting our productive farmlands for future generations", "acknowledging that access to healthy food items is a basic human right", and that "opportunities for increasing the number of [food activities] in underserved communities should be actively pursued". The bill offers a surprising number of references to food access, and to the ethics associated with food as a human right.

This is progress. This is the kind of leadership we need to see amongst policymakers (thank you, Assembly Speaker John A. PĂ©rez for introducing the bill). This bill will would funnel millions of dollars to the communities most in need, and encourages collaboration between the public and private sectors so everyone has ownership of the food system.

Granted, everything has a shadow side. Although the bill mentions the need to finance small business, and Bell's article speaks of local hiring, there's always the potential for big box grocery stores to enter low-income communities and remove vital dollars from the local economy into the hand of outsider conglomerates. Having a job and a paycheck is one thing: having ownership is another.

Knowing this, we have a job to do. The bill has not yet passed—we must ensure that it does, and be engaged in this process. Organizations like People’s Grocery advocate for solutions like this, and we must be prepared to step forward and have a voice. All food justice advocates must be prepared to step forward and have a voice.

Can you read the bill and tell us what you think?

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