Wakefield Market: Increasing Access to Healthy Foods

March 17, 2023 | Impact Stories

Our Initiative

Initiated in 2013, the Virginia Fresh Food Loan Fund (VFFLF) is a $10 million revolving loan fund that enables VCC to provide technical assistance and lending capital to food-based projects in Virginia from farmers to produce aggregators to retailers. To date, VFFLF is supported by Healthy Food Finance Initiative (HFFI) grants provided by the CDFI Fund of the US Dept. of Treasury. Combined with robust partnerships, HFFI grants enable VCC to offer resources needed to strengthen food retailers, consequently increasing access to communities in need of more fresh and healthy foods.

Learning about the Community

The VFFLF seeks to improve food access in rural and urban communities across the Commonwealth of Virginia. The state is diverse in both its physical and social landscapes, as demonstrated by towns and cities of all sizes from the Eastern Shore to the Appalachian Mountains. VCC works across these varied social and physical landscapes to create more equitable access to capital and resources.

An example of VFFLF’s community impact is demonstrated by the 2022 Wakefield Market project. Based in Wakefield, Virginia, this project ties together technical assistance, state and local partnerships, and food system financing. Considered a high-impact project, Wakefield Market is an independent grocery store that serves three counties in an area of the state that needs more healthy food accessibility.

Our Challenge

The rural town of Wakefield has a population of roughly 729 people and is nestled within rural Sussex County, where 19.5% of the community lives below the poverty level. The county is demographically diverse: Black or African American (Non-Hispanic) (55.5%), White (Non-Hispanic) (38.5%), Two+ (Non-Hispanic) (2.21%), White (Hispanic) (1.78%), and Other (Hispanic) (0.67%). Wakefield Market (an independent grocery store) is the only grocery store for miles and serves three counties. The store accepts SNAP benefits (and prior to grants and financing, estimated roughly one-third of the store’s annual sales and roughly $9 million annually came from SNAP transactions), Virginia Fresh Match (VFM) incentives, employs local workers, and strives to source locally when possible. Wanting to expand and update their operation to better serve their customers, the owners connected with Virginia Community Capital to utilize technical assistance and explore financing options.

Our Strategy

VCC seeks to build the capacity of underserved communities in terms of community organization, entrepreneurial skills, and access to fragmented resources. Food access financing is a key part of economic vitality and can drastically improve a community’s health and wealth equity. Increasing access to healthy foods requires a holistic financing approach that supports the entire value chain of the food system and knowing how to access and leverage the array of economic development tools, technical assistance, grants and loans from foundations and federal, state and local governments is critical.

Wakefield Market, needing to update their refrigeration equipment, learned about VCC’s VFFLF through Virginia Food Access Investment Fund grants Virginia Food Access Fund Grants (VFAIF) and were able to take advantage of the loan fund’s credit enhancement tools. VCC subsidized the rate on both loans to offer the borrower a below market rate using the balance of their Healthy Food Financing Initiative buydown funds. Additionally, VCC’s loan loss reserve enabled a 100% advance on the new equipment (the normal advance is 75%).

These infrastructure changes enabled Wakefield to expand its healthy food inventory including increased produce, dairy, and meat offerings. These benefits were compounded by the VFM nutrition incentives the store began offering which provided a 50% discount on all fresh produce for customers making purchases with their EBT cards.  Along the way, partnerships were created among the County’s municipal leadership, the Industrial Development Authority, and area community foundations to explore how their respective resources might further leverage the store’s investment in increasing healthy food access in their rural region, which continues to be a shared goal among all partners.

VCC is a contracted partner of the (VFAIF) the grant program administered by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS). Through technical assistance with VCC and VDACS staff, Wakefield Market secured a $50,000 grant from the state. This grant catalyzed Wakefield Market’s loan readiness, which led to a VFFLF loan from VCC.

Our Outcomes

  1. A creative capital stack, including a $50,000 VFAIF grant
  2. Increased SNAP and Virginia Fresh Match participation
  3. Increased food access in rural Virginia
  4. Trust built between stakeholders: Wakefield Market, customers, VCC, state government, and local organizations.

To learn more about Wakefield Market, previously known as Wakefield Great Valu, visit the website.

To learn more about fresh food financing or partnership opportunitiescontact the team at Virginia Community Capital.