From Our Blog

Fighting Food Deserts in Kansas

As part of our Healthy Communities Initiative blog series, we highlight the role of regional Federal Reserve Banks in supporting and enabling cross-sector collaboration across the community development and health sectors. The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City is helping fight food deserts in the state by forming a cross-sector food initiative.

This article originally appeared on The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s Community Connections blog on 12/15/2017.

Kansas is the nation’s leader in wheat production and is third in beef production, yet according to the Kansas Health Foundation, more than 800,000 Kansans lack easy access to fresh, affordable food.

Besides providing healthy food, grocery stores play several critical community development roles. They serve as anchors—providing jobs, a tax base and a community hub where people gather.

Many small grocery stores in both urban and rural areas are struggling. These grocers find meeting minimum order requirements from distributors a challenge.  “Outdated refrigeration and inventory equipment, and aging owners with few prospective buyers are also taking a toll on the industry, particularly in small towns,” says Steve Radley, president and CEO of NetWork Kansas and a member of the Kansas City Fed’s Community Development Advisory Council. Between 2008 and 2015, in towns smaller than 2,500 people nearly one of five Kansas grocery stores closed (Center for Engagement and Community Development, Kansas Healthy Food Initiative 2016).

Data from PolicyMap showing areas
of greatest need for access to healthy foods
based on low access and high poverty

Rural, remote grocers face additional challenges. Consolidation within the food distribution industry means some remote communities are farther away from food distribution centers, increasing the transportation cost of getting food into in the hands of consumers. Tina Khan, Food Access Project Coordinator at Kansas State University, recalled a consumer in Colby saying they had to pay $7 for a cantaloupe. “We want to explore models to grow and distribute food locally, and make healthy food options affordable,” Khan said.

Addressing a cross-sector issue through a cross-sector collaboration

In an effort to align community development, agriculture, health and small business resources, the Kansas Healthy Food Initiative (KHFI) was launched in November 2017. It’s a multipronged approach to improving food access. Through the program, small businesses and community organizations can receive grants, loans and technical assistance for projects that improve access to fresh food. Approved KHFI efforts could include development or renovation of a grocery store, improvement of food distribution, technology or energy-efficient improvements to stores, or innovative solutions for food access points such as mobile food markets.

Both urban and rural communities may apply. Eligibility and key criteria include:

  • A commitment to providing fresh healthy foods
  • Initiatives that benefit low- to moderate-income populations underserved by fresh food retail
  • Community support
  • Operator experience

The initiative’s mix of financial and technical assistance is the result of a collaborative effort, which includes:

  • Center for Engagement and Community Development at Kansas State University
  • IFF, a Community Development Financial Institution that manages the program’s loan and grant pools
  • Kansas Health Foundation
  • NetWork Kansas

KHFI is seeking to grow the grant and loan funds and was one of seven opportunities presented to prospective funders Dec. 8 in Wichita at the Investment Connection Forum. Investment Connection, a program of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, connects bankers and funders with innovative community development investment opportunities.

Visit the Kansas Healthy Food Initiative website to learn more.

About the Author

Jeremy Hegle

Jeremy W. Hegle is a senior community development advisor for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, and leads the banks financial health initiatives across the bank’s seven-state region. Jeremy also serves as the lead advisor for Western Missouri and Kansas, promoting fair and impartial access to financial services in low-to moderate-income communities.

Prior to joining the Kansas City Fed, Hegle helped launch the KCSourceLink and U.S.SourceLink entrepreneurship programs at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. At SourceLink Hegle consulted government agencies, universities and nonprofit organization on strengthening their entrepreneurial communities. Hegle earned a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Missouri Kansas City and served as a medic in the Missouri Army National Guard.

The community development function at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City was created in the 1980s primarily to help banks understand their responsibilities under the Community Reinvestment Act. Over the years the bank has expanded its work in the field of community development to meet emerging needs and staff has sought out new opportunities for collaboration to assist low- and moderate-income communities. The community development staff is committed to assisting our stakeholders and the communities we serve respond effectively to challenges through research, relationship building and resource development.