The Healthy Urban Food Enterprise Development (HUFED) Center, managed by the Wallace Center at Winrock International, was supported by a grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The Center was an outcome of the 2008 Farm Bill, designed to increase underserved communities' access to healthy, affordable, locally and regionally sourced food.
The Wallace HUFED Center provided grants and technical assistance to support enterprise development and business-based approaches to getting more healthy food into communities with limited access, emphasizing local and regional sourcing. In addition, HUFED was unique in its focus on developing solutions that created jobs, offered economic incentives to farmers, and increased long term economic sustainability.
The Wallace HUFED Center was created to address a broad range of food access issues faced by historically excluded and/or traditionally underserved communities. These communities lack access to healthy and affordable food for a number of reasons, including: limited availability of grocery stores; poor quality of food and few healthy food options in more accessible food outlets such as corner stores; cost of healthy food options; neighborhood safety; and individual resource constraints such as time, income, and transportation. Research has shown that these conditions exist in urban, suburban, and rural areas across the country. Lack of access to healthy food can lead to high rates of hunger or food insecurity as well as diet-related diseases including obesity and diabetes.
Given the complexity of these issues, the HUFED Center embraced a collaborative approach wherever possible, and worked to complement the efforts of other federal and national programs by focusing on the enterprise, business strategy, and supply chain components of the food access equation. The Center was proactive in connecting grantees to partners, organizations, enterprises, resources, and agencies focused on food access-related issues, including USDA, US Department of Health and Human Services, US Department of Labor, and the White House Office of the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign. Ensuring that funded solutions were environmentally and economically sustainable was also a key component of the work.
Taken as a whole, the HUFED Center responded to the growing need to rethink, reorganize, and transform the way food is grown, sourced, distributed, marketed, and consumed in the United States, in order to:
- Make more healthy and affordable food available in low-income areas;
- Increase market access for small- and medium-sized agricultural producers; and
- Promote positive economic activities generated by attracting healthy food enterprises into underserved communities.
To do this, the HUFED Center awarded grants and provided tailored technical assistance to 30 grantee enterprises reflecting diverse approaches, business models, geographies, demographics, and supply chain roles. The HUFED approach encompassed four key strategies, developed in response to the specific barriers faced by grantees, and more broadly, by food enterprises working in a diverse range of communities nationwide. These include:
- Reduce the food supply chain bottleneck in aggregation and processing of healthy, fresh, and locally produced food
- Increase the flow of healthy, fresh, and local food being distributed by resellers, wholesalers, and private marketing channels
- Increase the retail sites with healthy food available in underserved areas
- Increase the availability of healthy food options within existing retail sites
At the core of HUFED’s work was strategic grantmaking designed to support the development and success of innovative and emerging models of food enterprises serving historically disadvantaged communities. To do this, HUFED established its HUFED Council, a diverse group of experts from across the supply chain, entrepreneurs, researchers, and community developers, with experience working with historically disadvantaged communities, enterprises, and supporting organizations. Together with HUFED staff, the Council guided grantmaking strategy, developing selection criteria, outreach plans to expand knowledge of HUFED funding into diverse communities, approaches for monitoring and evaluating grantee and program success, and strategies for targeted technical assistance. One critical outcome of the HUFED Council’s efforts was the establishment of a multi-tiered approach to grantmaking, designed to support enterprises at several points along the learning curve; ultimately HUFED offered three types of grant support, feasibility study grants (up to one year), small enterprise grants (up to one year), and large enterprise grants (one to three years).
Providing targeted technical assistance to support grantee development and learning was a critical component of HUFED’s work. In addition to one on one TA through site visits, business plan development, marketing support, and food safety training, HUFED established a learning community built on a culture of peer learning and networking that allowed grantees to learn from each other and from organizations in their communities. From this approach, grantees and organizations in their communities built a foundation for future growth and knowledge sharing, and a learning-oriented perspective, sustainable beyond the life of the grant.
In addition to documenting and sharing the successes and achievements of individual grantees, the HUFED Center developed an extensive body of knowledge around the barriers, needs, and operational challenges facing such enterprises in the work of increasing access to healthy food for a diverse range underserved and low resource communities, as well as the innovative steps enterprises are taking to tackle the issue. This learning is brought together in Innovations in Local Food Enterprise: Fresh Ideas for a Just and Profitable Food System, available in the Wallace Center Resource Library, and in HUFED's Food Access Resource Library.
While the innovations enterprises are undertaking are diverse, a number of cross-cutting issues emerge as key to success, including:
- Respect for all forms of community wealth. Successful enterprises value and leverage non-financial forms of wealth, including physical, human, social, environmental, political, and social assets.
- Political enfranchisement. Successful enterprises understand how local, state, and national politics and policy affect their operations and make their voices heard in the decision making processes that affect their lives.
- Access to capital. In order to start and expand, successful enterprises access low-cost financing, which reduces their costs and increases their profitability.
- Access to technical assistance. Access to appropriate, free or affordable, and timely services providing assistance to food access enterprises using new methods and technologies helps them address specific challenges to their growth and development.
- New Technology. Successful enterprises use new technology to their benefit. They create opportunities for increased profitability, access, and affordability through social media marketing and online buying platforms. New technology can also improve logistics, infrastructure, and marketing.
- Risk Management. Successful food enterprises manage risk actively from both a food safety perspective (e.g., chemical, microbiological, and physical issues) and from a business perspective (e.g., fires, floods, and accidents in the workplace).
Building on this and other knowledge emerging from this work, the Wallace Center has developed an evidence-based approach to working toward sustainable food access for underserved communities:
A series of webinars highlighting HUFED's lessons learned throughout the project, and featuring HUFED grantees and technical assistance providers are available as part of the Wallace Center's archive of monthly webinars.
Wallace Center is no longer making grants under the HUFED program. Funds for HUFED have not been reauthorized and the program is not part of the current farm bill proposals being considered. Wallace continues to support an entrepreneurial approach to addressing issues of food access through its other programs. The resources, links and profiles found on this page are still relevant and you can still reach out to us with questions or comments about this body of work.