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The Food Trust has come a long way since it started in 1992 with one farmers market at a public housing development in South Philadelphia, the only such source of fresh food for that area. That one market evolved into a citywide program engaging with neighborhoods, schools, corner stores, and policymakers.
That national reach got a big boost recently, as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awarded the Food Trust $3.2 million to launch the Center for Healthy Food Access, an initiative to “ensure that every child in the United States has access to nutritious, affordable food.”
RWJF, the largest funder in the U.S. giving primarily to health, has been focused on reducing childhood obesity since 2007, directing $1 billion to this effort. As part of that work—and the foundation's broader push to create a "culture of health"—it has made improving food systems a major priority.
Research has found that low-income Americans are far more likely to live in "food deserts"—places where healthy food, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, are not easily available or affordable.
In a way, it’s an extension of the progress the group has been making, a more formalized collaborative with its own funding mechanism. So the new center has qualities of both a grantmaker and a think tank, as it’s being designed to test new projects across the country and to serve as a repository for information, best practices, and convenings related to food access. Of the $3.2 million, $1 million is being subgranted to more than 15 organizations nationwide.
Again, food systems are a complex problem, and one that foundations are increasingly drawn to with all kinds of motives. One of the challenges is connecting community efforts to national work, and Food Trust seems to have shown a talent at linking the two together.