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    Improving Ohio’s Access to Fresh, Healthy Foods

    Lately, improving access to healthy, fresh food is a hot topic, as we take steps to improve the health of our communities. This initiative is also a key component of the Ohio Department of Health’s 2014-2018 “Plan to Prevent and Reduce Chronic Disease” since chronic disease costs the state of Ohio billions of dollars each year.

    Ohio is home to many communities with too few places to purchase healthy, affordable food. This food access crisis has put over 2 million residents, including more than 500,000 children, at risk for chronic disease and diet-related death.  The Ohio Healthy Food Financing Task Force, which met this past week in Columbus, worked for a year alongside The Food Trust to identify policy recommendations to support healthy food retail development and expansion in areas of greatest need. 
     
    The lack of fresh food retailers in communities is a pressing issue which not only affects the health of residents but the economic well-being of the area in which we live.  The task force consists of a cross-section of nearly 50 leaders from different sectors: health, business, civic, government, grocery industry, philanthropic and other nonprofit sectors.
     
    The Food Trust has had success in Pennsylvania with getting healthy food retailers into underserved communities.  Their Healthy Corner Store Network grew from a pilot project in 2004 to over 600 corner stores today.  These corner stores have helped provide fresh and healthy food into underserved neighborhoods.  A statewide funding initiative has assisted with the development of supermarkets throughout the Pennsylvania and it’s this same initiative Ohio desires to mirror.
     
    The Ohio Taskforce has spent the last year identifying the challenges of developing fresh food retail in underserved communities and has developed policy recommendations based on the input of participants.  One of the key recommendations is establishing a statewide Healthy Food Financing Fund to overcome the most significant barrier to healthy food retail development in low-income areas: access to flexible financing. The full policy statement including analysis and success stories is published at www.financefund.org.  An Ohio Healthy Food Financing Fund would provide one-time financing to help overcome the barriers associated with developing healthy food retail in underserved communities, such as the need for capital, real estate, and a wide range of related expenses. The program would enable vendors to open, renovate, or expand retail outlets that sell fresh fruits and vegetables.

    On February 12, 2015 at the Statehouse in Columbus, the task force released recommendations along with a request of support and financial assistance from the state government.  Members of the task force made presentations at the Ohio Statehouse to discuss the challenges and need for grocery development.    The presenters were James Klein of the Finance Fund; Caroline Harries of the Food Trust; Nate Filler of the Ohio Grocers Association; Dan Saltzman of Dave’s Supermarkets; Mary Chase, Professor of Public Health from Wright State University; and Terri Fetherolf of the Vinton County Department of Development.  A common theme discussed by the presenters was that supermarkets serve as anchors to communities and help to leverage other retail development and create jobs.  Additionally, neighborhoods without fresh food access have higher rates of chronic diseases. 
    The American Heart Association has determined that lack of access to fresh foods is a public health crisis. The participation of the City of Cleveland’s Department of Economic Development has helped form some of the policy recommendations for fresh food retail development throughout the state and we are looking forward to implementing strategies in 2015 to help get fresh foods into the City’s underserved area, or our “food deserts.”  The City took its first step by extending tax abatements for full service grocery stores from  10 years maximum to 15 years maximum. This effort is of great importance to the City because developing fresh food retail creates jobs, stabilizes neighborhoods and helps improve the health of our citizens.
     
    For more information regarding this initiative please contact Anthony Stella, 216.664.4363.