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Initiative launched to increase access to fresh, healthy foods in Maryland's ‘Food Deserts’

2/13/2015, 6 a.m.
Maryland is joining the growing movement to expand access to fresh fruits and vegetables in under-served communities known as “food ...

— Maryland is joining the growing movement to expand access to fresh fruits and vegetables in under-served communities known as “food deserts.”

Food deserts are communities that do not have easy access to affordable healthy foods, typically because those communities do not have a local supermarket or grocery store. They can be in urban, suburban or rural communities.

Maryland's Fresh Food Financing Initiative provides flexible financing for the start-up, rehabilitation or expansion of businesses and nonprofits in designated food desert or sustainable communities with an emphasis on using Maryland farmers. The goal is to invest in lending partners that will in turn support the development of food-related enterprises within designated Food Deserts and Sustainable Communities.

Applications are now available for local governments seeking to designate a neighborhood as a food desert, as well as for community development financial institutions seeking to become intermediaries that will originate and administer loans.

The General Assembly established financial assistance for food deserts by a bipartisan vote last year. The federal government estimates that more than 70 Census tracts in Maryland qualify as food deserts.

The federal government defines a food desert as a low-income Census tract where at least 500 people or a third of the population has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store. In an urban area, this means living at least a mile from such a store; in a rural area, at least 10 miles.

Although some critics argue that increasing access to healthier foods is not a panacea, the initiative fits DHCD's neighborhood revitalization strategy by helping small businesses better serve their communities.

For more information, visit: www.dhcd.maryland.gov/Website/Programs/FreshFood/.