Sustain Bridging the Gap International policy case studies

Building access through local retail

Executive summary

This Bridging the Gap scoping report explores the potential of local food infrastructure to increase the accessibility of climate and nature friendly food for people who experience low income.

Why is local retail so important?

The price gap is not the only issue affecting access to food. Fruit and vegetable markets and high streets are in decline, and we cannot rely on supermarkets — which tend to prioritise lower prices at the expense of supply chains and the environment — to offer quality, diversity and choice. Even if climate and nature-friendly food was more affordable, it won’t reach people unless they can access local grocers or retailers selling the produce.

Local food retail can be a hub, a meaningful workplace and a system that builds communal wealth. The case for ethical supply chains is adjacent to the case for a thriving local food economy that offers people from all incomes a planet-friendly food offer.

What were the findings?

A flourishing local food economy should provide sustainable produce that is accessible to individuals across income levels while aligning with environmentally responsible practices. Value driven local food retail such as including social enterprises and cooperatives foster innovation and alternative supply chains that are affordable for everyone.

Government support, partnerships (including public-private collaboration), awareness-raising activities and access to resources all contribute to the success of these initiatives. Common challenges include the need to emphasise organic and agroecological production (only one of the interventions was specific to organic produce, indicating a need for more policy support in this area), as well as resource constraints that limit long-term planning.

About this report

This report provides a broad overview of some interventions and policies that strengthen local retail and shorter supply chains. For each intervention/policy, the report highlights benefits, challenges, enablers and outcomes, as well as key takeaways and opportunities.

The interventions/policies included are as follows:

  1. Bioferias: Establishing organic farmers' markets in low-income areas.
  2. NYC Green Carts: Increasing access to fresh produce in high-poverty neighbourhoods.
  3. California FreshWorks Fund (CAFWF): Mobilising private-public partnerships to fund access to healthy food in underserved communities.
  4. Farmers Market Promotion Program: Supporting direct producer-to-consumer markets.
  5. REKO Rings: Creating an alternative food network for local produce.
  6. Law 381/91 on Social Cooperation: regulating and supporting agricultural cooperatives.
  7. Senior Card: assisting older people in accessing affordable fresh produce.

 

This simple traffic light system is used throughout to illustrate how well each policy/intervention adheres to Bridging the Gap’s main aims: increasing organic supply and increasing access.
Organic Access

No mention of organic

Some mention of organic

Strong mention of organic

No mention of increasing access 

Some mention of increasing access 

Strong mention of increasing access 

 

Deep dive: Interventions & policies

 

Bioferias

Strong mention of organic

Strong mention of increasing access

KEY FACTS

  • Location: Quito, Ecuador
  • Initiated: 2002
  • Owner: Metropolitan Agency for Economic Promotion (CONQUITO)
  • Type: Permits for organic farmers’ markets
  • Aim: Spreading farmers' markets specialising in locally grown organic food.
  • Mechanism: Food is grown by participants in the AGRUPAR programme and sold at the markets. The markets exclusively sell their products. Participants were initially given a spot at the market free of charge (permits were paid for by AGRUPAR) but now are required to make a small contribution.

BENEFITS

CHALLENGES

Accessibility: markets are located in low-income neighbourhoods and peri-urban zones, as well as in better-off parts of the city.

Policy: at bioferias, consumption of healthy food is promoted as a civil right.

Trust: encourages fair prices and builds trust between producers and customers.

Quality: potential challenges in maintaining the quality of products and market sustainability.

Awareness: there is a need for continuous public support and promotion.

ENABLERS

OUTCOMES

Training: part of AGRUPAR - Quito’s Participatory Urban Agriculture Program – provides training and support.

Permits: Metropolitan Company of Mobility and Public Works issues permits to use public space for the bioferia; these permits are obtained by AGRUPAR.

In 2019 there were 15 bioferia points in Quito; 19 markets took place each week.

The quantity of produce sold via the bioferias has steadily increased, from 28,675kg (revenue of USD69,509) a year in 2009 to 168,453kg (USD355,054) in 2018.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR BTG

Bridging the Gap could advocate for a permit system exclusive to organically-grown produce and/or could support local authorities in repurposing existing permits for exclusively organic markets.

 

NYC Green Carts

No mention of organic

Strong mention of increasing access

KEY FACTS

  • Location: New York, USA
  • Initiated: 2008
  • Owner: Partnership between the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination (LMTI) Fund, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Mayor's Fund
  • Type: Grant for permit
  • Aim: Use mobile street vending to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables in targeted high-poverty neighborhoods where there are extremely high rates of diet-related diseases such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
  • Mechanism: State issued 1000 Green Cart permits. LMTI Fund supported vendor training, business development assistance and on-the-ground assistance to the vendors, as well as the design, marketing and community outreach and nutrition education to increase customer engagement and business viability.

BENEFITS

CHALLENGES

Affordable permits: permits cost $75 and are valid for two years (can be waived for Veterans and their partners).

Market-based approach: the program adopts a market-based approach that allows vendors to operate Green Carts in designated zones, increasing the availability of fresh produce in underserved areas.

Inequitable distribution: the uneven distribution presence of "Green Cart deserts" in some of the neediest neighbourhoods indicated that the program did not effectively reach all high-need populations (may not be economically viable for vendors).

Limited availability of permits: there is a cap on the number of permits available, leading to long waiting lists for vendors.

Not explicitly organic: no mention of organic/ agroecological production methods.

Lack of tracking system: challenging to identify exact vendor locations or which vendors are actively operating their carts.

ENABLERS

OUTCOMES

Network: existing network of regulated, permitted, and licensed mobile food vendors.

Public-private partnership: this collaboration brought together philanthropic support, public health expertise and government resources to create the NYC Green Carts program.

Technical assistance: Providing technical assistance to vendors in the early stages was essential to ensure the successful launch of the initiative. Assistance included support with branding, marketing, sourcing produce, understanding permitting processes, and connecting with local customers.

The percentage of food retail establishments selling such fruits and vegetables increased from 50% in 2008 to 69% in 2011 in neighbourhoods with Green Carts, while there were no significant changes in availability in other comparable neighbourhoods.

 

Targeted high-need populations: 68% of Green Cart customers earned less than $50,000 a year, and 44% earned less than $25,000 a year.

71% of Green Cart customers claimed to have increased their fruit and vegetable intake, and 66% shopped at Green Carts regularly.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR BTG

While this example does not specify organic/agroecological food, it is an example of a delivery system that has been successful in increasing the consumption of fresh produce in deprived areas. Bridging the Gap could advocate for a similar system with an additional layer of organic (a permit system for mobile vending of organically produced fruit and veg).

 

California FreshWorks Fund (CAFWF)

Some mention of organic

Strong mention of increasing access

KEY FACTS

  • Location: USA
  • Initiated: 2011
  • Owner: The California Endowment (also anchor funder)
  • Type: Grant – $273 million (Private Public Partnership model)
  • Funders: State-wide network of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) lenders (local, mission-driven financial institutions certified by the US Treasury that use a market-based approach to support underserved communities)
  • Aim: To increase access to healthy foods in underserved communities, spur economic development that supports healthy communities and inspire innovation in healthy food retailing.
  • Mechanism: Provides loans and grants to grocery stores, farmers' markets, and food retailers that offer healthy food choices in underserved communities.

BENEFITS

CHALLENGES

Offers incentives: incentivises the establishment of healthy food outlets in communities with limited access to nutritious food.

Flexibility in capital: funds can be used for a range of activities, including pre-development/pre-transaction technical assistance and/or post-opening/post-loan capacity building support.

Accessibility: goals specify accessibility as well as environmental stewardship (rubric: project supports regional food systems, locally grown foods, and/or organically grown foods to the extent available).

Insufficient data: independent review revealed a lack of information about capital demand in California's food retail market.

Competing with local lenders: local lenders with long-standing relationships with grocery operators pose competition for CAFWF.

Partnerships and staffing: establishing and maintaining partnerships and ensuring adequate staffing.

Preparing borrowers: preparing potential borrowers to become capital ready.

Enforcement of program guidelines: difficulty encouraging recipients to change their business practices for health promotion.

Fund structure: the program's fund structure may be inflexible, offering a single product — a term loan with a maximum term of ten years — potentially limiting its adaptability to different project needs.

DEPENDENCIES/ENABLERS

RESULTS/OUTCOMES

Public-private collaboration: multiple sources of funds to tailor financing packages for specific projects — allowed CA-FWF to make grants and loans up to 90% of a project’s value.

Program guidelines: CAFWF has established program guidelines for prospective borrowers, including impact goals, which help ensure that projects align with social, economic, and health-related objectives.

Loan loss reserve: the provision of a $7.5 million loan loss reserve by partners mitigates financial risks, making lenders more willing to participate.

Impact evaluation:

  • 73% of Freshworks-supported businesses are in communities with health and wellness outcomes below the 25th percentile.
  • 86% stated they produce and/or sell organic products.
  • 88% of businesses had vendors based in California.

Organic/ethical-specific case studies:

Mandela Food Cooperative, Oakland
Award amount: $50,000

The only market in West Oakland to serve community needs for healthy, fresh and affordable food, as well as jobs, training and business ownership opportunities. This award supported a point-of-sale (POS) system and training, financial management services and training, and an expansion of offerings.

Oakland Hot Plate, Oakland
Award Amount: $50,000

Oakland Hot Plate is converting a cafe to a fresh food bodega market to feature fresh local, organic produce, etc. The award supports site planning, market research and updating their business model.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR BTG

A PPP model might enable funding to go further and partly addresses the sustainability challenge of grant funding. Bridging the Gap could help set up such a network of funders, or advocate for one. This example also highlights that support will be needed to prepare borrowers first.

 

Farmers Market Promotion Program

No mention of organic

Strong mention of increasing access

KEY FACTS

  • Location: USA
  • Initiated: 2002
  • Owner: USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)
  • Type: Grant – around $15.4 million/ year
  • Aim: Funds projects that develop, coordinate and expand direct producer-to-consumer markets to help increase access to, and availability of, locally and regionally produced agricultural products.
  • Mechanism: Providing outreach, training and technical assistance to domestic farmers markets, roadside stands, community-supported agriculture programs, agritourism activities, online sales or other direct producer-to-consumer market opportunities.

BENEFITS

CHALLENGES

Access: increased access to local and regional produce.

Diverse project types: FMPP grants support various project types, including capacity building, community development training and technical assistance, and turnkey marketing and promotion.

Priority for low-income communities: FMPP gives priority to projects that primarily serve low-income or low-food-access communities.

Eligibility of diverse entities: a wide range of entities, including agricultural businesses, non-profit organisations, local governments, and more, are eligible to apply for FMPP grants.

Matching funds requirement (25%): ensures a financial commitment to the projects.

Limitations: grant funds cannot be used for costs of coupon/incentive redemptions or price discounts.

Not explicitly organic: no specific mention of organic/agroecological production methods.

Matching funds requirement: may pose a challenge for some organisations or entities that struggle to secure the necessary matching funds.

ENABLERS

OUTCOMES

Government support: the program is established in law — 2002 farm bill (P.L. 107–171, Sec. 10605) — and receives support from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service.

Evaluation:

  • 90% of grant recipients reported establishing food chain linkages and relationships with schools, restaurants, city/regional planning groups, philanthropies, and food banks.
  • 70% connected rural producers to urban markets.
  • 80% funded consumer outreach and promotional activities.

Organic/ethical-specific case studies:

Capacity Building of Producers and Expansion of Mother Road Farmers Market in Winslow Arizona.
Award amount: $198,392.81

Aims to increase the amount of locally grown produce and food products available to residents; increase income for local growers; and improve access to fresh, locally grown food for low-income residents, which includes the community’s Indigenous and Hispanic populations.

The People’s Produce Mobile Farmers Market
Award Amount: $250,000.00

Aims to bring healthy, fairly-priced, locally grown produce and other nutritious foods to low-income residents and food assistance beneficiaries using a refrigerated food truck operated by Project New Village, a 501(3)(c) grassroots non-profit.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR BTG

Establishing a dedicated funding pool for farmers markets is, first and foremost, a clear declaration of political backing for British agricultural products. The wraparound support can include marketing support for organic produce and can even incentivise conversion to organic farming.

 

REKO-rings

No mention of organic

Some mention of increasing access

KEY FACTS

  • Location: Sweden, replicated from Finland
  • Initiated: 2016
  • Owner: Local food enthusiasts in Grästorp municipality
  • Type: Grassroots
  • Aim: Alternative food network to increase access of local produce.
  • Mechanism: Offers bi-weekly opportunities for individuals to purchase surplus or irregular stocks of produce. This approach effectively transforms semi-remote locations into vibrant farmers markets, providing a platform for pre-ordered goods.

BENEFITS

CHALLENGES

Open: free of charge to join and participate.

Only pre-ordered goods: pre-orders mean shorter pickup times and that only necessary produce needs to be transported.

Independent: the rings themselves are highly independent but adhere to common principles.

Affordable: aims to provide most calories at an acceptable price.

Not explicitly organic: no specific mention of organic/agroecological production methods.

ENABLERS

OUTCOMES

Policy: Swedish food regulation provides simplified rules for direct consumer-producer supply.

Guidance: resources and policy guidance provided by Hushållningsällskapet. (local municipality) both supports the network and provides the link between the national food strategy and the network.

Replicable: A replicable policy provided on Hushållningssällskapet’s website.

As of January 2021, there are approximately 220 REKO-rings active in Sweden with around 800,000 members in its associated Facebook groups.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR BTG

This network does not represent an alternative to conventional retail. However, it provides an opportunity for farmers to diversify their supply and create a more heterogenous food system. Worthy Earth is a REKO ring in the UK.

 

Law 381/1991 on Social Cooperatives

No mention of organic

Some mention of increasing access

KEY FACTS

  • Location: Italy
  • Initiated: 1991
  • Owner: National government
  • Type: Legislation
  • Aim: Legislation to regulate and support cooperatives
  • Mechanism: Recognise cooperatives that work with an explicit “aim to pursue the general interest of the community in the human promotion and social integration of citizens”.

BENEFITS

CHALLENGES

Range of support: provides various forms of support for agricultural cooperatives, including tax benefits and financial assistance for cooperative development.

This is not a food-related policy so cannot be evaluated from a BTG point of view. However, general challenges include:

Recruitment: faces difficulties in recruiting managers and offering competitive salaries.

Siloed: limited influence on broader policy frameworks.

ENABLERS

OUTCOMES

Historical precedent: long history of agricultural cooperatives.

Legislation: legal recognition and beneficial tax arrangements.

Support: availability of financial support and consortium assistance.

Prioritised: cooperatives access preferential public procurement.

Increase in number of social cooperatives as a result of the legislation.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR BTG

Bridging the Gap could advocate for tax benefits for agricultural cooperatives (perhaps with requirements for organic/agroecological produce).

 

Commonwealth Seniors Health Card

No mention of organic

Some mention of increasing access

KEY FACTS

  • Location: Australia
  • Initiated: 1993
  • Owner: Government of South Australia
  • Type: Incentive
  • Aim: Seeks to assist eligible individuals in accessing fresh produce and essential items at reduced costs
  • Mechanism: Partnering businesses provide discounts. Eligible participants (seniors) apply for a card that they use to avail these discounts and offers.

BENEFITS

CHALLENGES

Incentivised: provides members with a wide range of benefits including discounts and special offers from businesses (many of which are fresh markets).

Not means tested: the program's benefits may not be means-tested, which limits its ability to target low-income individuals specifically.

ENABLERS

OUTCOMES

Centralised: the scheme is government-led.

Collaboration: partnerships with businesses and supermarkets play a significant role in providing discounts.

Visibility: uniform promotional material across partnering businesses and a dedicated website raise awareness.

Packaged: part of a package along with other benefits.

72% of members use their Seniors Card at least once per month. 30% use it every week.

Accumulated over 410,000 Seniors Card members since inception.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR BTG

Building partnerships with organic brands and other existing benefits can help increase the visibility of organic and agroecologically grown produce. While this example does not target people on low incomes, Bridging the Gap could pilot a version that has more discounts for different income brackets.

 

Local Growth Plan - Proposal

KEY FACTS

NOTES

Location: UK

Date: 2021 (July)

Type: Plan

Owner: Sustain and RSPB

Ask: To develop a growth plan to deliver a 10% retail market share for non-multiples by 2030, to help diversify supply chains. This should also include:

  • A specific targeted increase in the number of businesses active in direct/short supply chains and the percentage of local, sustainably produced food sold.
  • Plans for growth in alternative retail sectors, such as street/covered markets e.g. a growth target of 10% of UK towns and cities having a market would lead to 4,000 new markets, and over 100,000 new business opportunities.
  • Identification of gaps in local food infrastructure across the UK, prioritising investment in those areas with best potential to support growth in diversifying retail.

The proposal does state that social and environmental objectives should be explicitly set out and conditionality should be built in.

However, organic/agroecologically grown produce is not referenced.

Bridging the Gap: Bridging the Gap to climate and nature friendly food for all.

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