Co-Authored by Mayor Brian Arrigo and Andrea Janota, MPH
More than one million Massachusetts residents, including over 300,000 children, live in economically distressed urban and rural communities with limited access to markets carrying healthy, affordable foods, such as fresh produce, meat and dairy products. Revere is no exception. Unhealthy options tend to concentrate in working-class and immigrant-heavy communities, leading to more obesity, more diabetes and other preventable chronic health issues.
In addition to health risks for seniors, persons with disabilities, and those without cars, the lack of healthy food options in urban centers also represents a missed opportunity for job creation and economic growth. A thriving healthy local food industry represents a great opportunity for communities like Revere to bring jobs to the area while improving public health.
Fortunately, there is a solution. To boost access to nutritious foods and help local economies, the Legislature established the Massachusetts Food Trust Program in 2014. The program is designed to provide loans, grants, and technical assistance to support new or expanded healthy food retailers, and support local food enterprises like farmers’ markets, mobile markets, regional food processing facilities, greenhouses, and food distribution hubs that will create new and lasting jobs.
We’ve seen this type of program work elsewhere in the country. Other states, including New York and Pennsylvania, have leveraged between $9-15 dollars in private and federal funds for every $1 dollar of state funding. Pennsylvania’s Fresh Food Financing initiative has supported nearly 90 fresh-food retail projects statewide, creating or retaining more than 5,000 jobs and improved access to healthy foods for more than 400,000 residents.
On behalf of a Gateway City with many residents who would greatly benefit from increased access to healthy food, we call on the Massachusetts Legislature to appropriate $500,000 in the FY17 Budget to be used for the non-capital costs of running the Massachusetts Food Trust Program - technical assistance, marketing and outreach, and administration. We also request a $10 million dollar bond authorization over 5 years in the Economic Development Bill to be used for the capital expenses of the program. This could include loans and grants for development, construction, renovations, equipment, and land acquisition for new or expanded healthy food retailers and enterprises.
For the Massachusetts Food Trust Program to succeed, public seed funding is essential. Spearheading the effort is the Massachusetts Public Health Association, a coalition of public health, food industry, and community and economic development leaders. Collectively, this coalition is working to encourage timely funding and implementation of the program by the Legislature and the Baker-Polito Administration.
A promising local model which could lead the development of a purposeful and innovative food system in our community is Revere on the Move, a community-based collaboration between the City of Revere and the MGH Revere CARES Coalition. Revere on the Move is working to make healthy eating and physical activity the easy choice through policy, systems, environmental, and programmatic changes. Revere on the Move and our administration were both present at the State House last month to advocate for funding for the Massachusetts Food Trust.
Revere on the Move also manages the Revere Farmers’ Market, a community space that connects our urban city to farm fresh goods. Through a Community Development Block Grant from the City of Revere, the market is able to provide a dollar-for-dollar match to customers using SNAP, WIC, or Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program vouchers. With support from the Massachusetts Food Trust, we could make the Farmers’ Market a year-round destination for fresh produce and healthy options for Revere’s hard-working residents.
Full funding of the Massachusetts Food Trust Program would be a wise investment. It would enable residents in Revere and throughout the Commonwealth to have increased access to healthy foods; it will strengthen our communities by creating more vibrant downtowns; and it will boost our economy by creating job opportunities for our residents. Hopefully, the Legislature will see the value in this investment and make it a priority this year.
Mayor Brian Arrigo began his first term as Mayor of Revere in January of 2016. He and his wife, Daveen, recently welcomed their first child – a fifth-generation Revere resident. Andrea Janota is the co-leader of Revere on the Move and the Coalition Coordinator at the Massachusetts General Hospital Revere CARES Coalition.