Are you launching a healthy food financing initiative? Interested in working across the food system while leading with equity? Check out new tools from the Michigan Good Food Fund to help you get started.
The Michigan Good Food Fund was born in June 2015 as a $30 million public-private partnership dedicated to providing financing and business assistance to enterprises working to increase access to affordable, healthy food in communities that need it most. It launched after two years incubation and curation by a dedicated and diverse task force that helped design the initiative’s structure, offerings, and mission-driven criteria. In its first five years, it has invested $13+ million supporting more than 280 businesses across Michigan.
Along the way, it has also pushed innovations in healthy food financing and impact investing. This includes activating a collaborative network of lending and business assistance partners as well as bringing a razor-sharp focus to mission-driven food businesses from farm to fork plus a grounding in racial and social equity.
Tools and resources developed by Michigan Good Food Fund partners are now available for others working on healthy food-related financing projects with more to come online over the next months.
What is it
A tool to evaluate mission-alignment of businesses against five impact areas:
- Healthy Food Access
- Economic Development
- Racial & Social Equity
- Environmental Stewardship
- Local Sourcing
It also refines criteria to be applicable to enterprises across the food value chain including the range of businesses that grow, process, distribute, or sell healthy food – from grocery retail to restaurants to healthy food product makers.
Behind the Headline
Designed in collaboration for joint implementation, we knew we needed to be clear about what we meant by something as deceptively simple as “good food.” As part of the fund’s incubation, a task force worked collaboratively to develop a mission-scorecard as a tool to measure alignment against the fund’s five impact areas with each priority area having questions which implementing partners could use to evaluate prospective businesses.
In the first six months of operation, we fielded over 80 inquiries from a range of enterprises statewide. Using the scorecard, we pressed on questions like: “is this product culturally-relevant?” or “is this product affordable?”.
Once put into practice, we quickly realized that the criteria were inadvertently screening out businesses that the team felt should fit squarely within the initiative. Imagine the black-owned business that manufactured a high-protein flour. The nutrient-rich product cost five times more than white wheat flour. Affordable? No. Healthier? Yes. Economic opportunity for a native-Detroiter? Definitely.
Such scenarios generated three critical insights that ultimately led us to retool the scorecard.
- First, we prioritized healthy food as the initiative’s primary filter. While we would continue to judge the success of our work on a portfolio basis, healthy food would be a non-negotiable criteria across supported enterprises. This excluded coffee, soda, alcohol, and desserts.
- Secondly, we decided to balance “access” with efforts that advanced economic opportunity for entrepreneurs of color grounded in the initiative’s founding commitment to racial and social equity. This allowed us to find a home with food products that may not always be “affordable” or “accessible” to all but were nutritious and created opportunity for entrepreneurs historically excluded from traditional financing.
- Finally, we developed sector-specific scorecards. Unlike other healthy food financing efforts at that time that primarily focused on retail, the Michigan Good Food Fund was the first of its kind committed to supporting projects across the state’s food value chain. We realized a one-size fits all scorecard missed critical nuance. For instance, what could a grocer do that was different than a restaurant and vice versa? How would we evaluate “healthy food” differently in the context of a processor, distributer, food truck, or restaurant? We broke the scorecard down by type of business and refined our evaluation questions and ranking to the unique capabilities of each sector.
Benefits in Action
The revised scorecards’ clarity and ease-of-use have generated multiple benefits, internally and externally.
Today, the Michigan Good Food Fund has expanded beyond its original four founding organizations to a network of five lending partners as well as other technical and business assistance providers. Anchoring our work in the scorecards has led to easier onboarding of new partners, faster decisions, and a common grounding when enterprises approach us. Externally, it has clarified our unique value add in the marketplace both for prospective entrepreneurs and fellow lenders and business assistance providers. Finally, it has allowed us to uplift and underscore the values that define this initiative, namely, sparking health and economic opportunity, especially for people of color.