Massachusetts Food Trust Program (MFTP) Frequently Asked Questions

ABOUT THE PROGRAM:

What is the Massachusetts Food Trust Program (MFTP)?

The Massachusetts Food Trust Program (MFTP) provides loans, grants, and business assistance for increasing access to healthy, affordable food in low-income, underserved areas. Started with seed funding from the state and administered by nonprofit partners, the MFTP prioritizes support for businesses selling fresh food that is grown, caught, or harvested in MA. The program offers critical financial and technical support to help launch and expand businesses that increase food access, create jobs, and stimulate economic investment in urban, suburban, and rural communities across the Commonwealth.

Who runs it and when did it start?

The MFTP is overseen and evaluated by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), and administered by the Local Enterprise Assistance Fund (LEAF) and Franklin County Community Development Corporation (FCCDC), with support from The Food Trust. The program was established in legislation in 2014. After a multi-year advocacy campaign spearheaded by the Massachusetts Public Health Association, the Baker-Polito Administration included $1 million of seed funding for the program in the Fiscal Year 2018 capital budget. The program officially launched in fall 2018.

Project eligibility:

What projects are eligible?

To be eligible, projects must expand access to high-quality, affordable and nutritious food in under-resourced neighborhoods. They must also fit local community needs and demonstrate support from local residents.

Eligible applicants include a wide range of retailers – such as grocery stores, corner stores, coops, farmers markets and other food projects like food hubs, community kitchens, food truck commissaries, indoor and outdoor greenhouses and other infrastructure for gathering, preparing and distributing healthy food for retail in areas that are lower-income and underserved.

The project must be located in an area that is low-to-moderate income, meaning it’s either in a census tract with a Median Family Income of up to 95% of Area Median Income, or a poverty rate of 20% or higher. The area must also be underserved by fresh food retail, so there can't be other similar fresh food markets or grocery stores already within its trade area.

Projects must operate and provide service in Massachusetts. To the extent possible, they must also accept SNAP and WIC, and include team members with experience managing a similar food project.

Can an existing grocery store or project apply?

Yes. An existing store or project can be eligible if financing would help it renovate or expand in order to substantially improve its ability to provide access to nutritious food in qualified areas.

How are projects selected for funding?

Applications will be evaluated on a rolling basis while funds remain available. When an application is received, program partners will assess the proposed project to see if it meets the eligibility criteria. Preference will be given to projects that build wealth within communities most affected by lack of healthy food access, and that enhance racial, gender, and economic equity, and support the environment and local food system. Businesses are encouraged to demonstrate how they promote opportunities for enterprises of diverse ownership, hire employees from the surrounding neighborhoods, pay living wages, source food from MA farmers, increase accessibility for customers through means of public transportation, and align with existing goals of local government and residents. The program will also strive for diversity of types of projects and project locations in urban, suburban, and rural areas across the Commonwealth.

Application process:

How does the application process work?

Applying for financing from the MFTP program is a two‐step process: eligibility determination and financial approval.

First, the applicant must complete the Pre-Application so we can determine whether the proposed project aligns with the objectives of the program. Applicants can complete the Pre-Application here. The Food Trust will review the pre-application, schedule a phone call with the applicant, and conduct research to determine whether the project and its location meet the eligibility criteria. They will then make a recommendation and discuss with the local program administrators, LEAF, FCCDC, and MDAR. Applicants will be notified within 2-4 weeks of having submitted a complete Pre-Application as to whether they are invited to move onto the financing part of the application process. If they are eligible, they’ll receive an Application for Financing, and the financial review and underwriting process will continue from there.

Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis, so we encourage interested applicants to apply as soon as possible!

Loans, grants, and Business assistance:

What resources are available?

The MFTP program provides loans, grants, and business assistance.

Financing packages may include loans, grants, and other funding tools on a case-by-case basis to appropriately meet the needs of each project. Each eligible application will be underwritten and assessed for financial viability.

What is the range of available loans and grants?

Loans range from $15,000 to $300,000, although the MFTP Administrators may be able to provide additional loans from other sources. Grants range from $5,000 to $25,000.

How is the amount of grant and/or loan for which my business was approved determined?

The amount and type of financing and grant offered depends on the availability of funds within the program at the time of application, the borrower’s need and ability to fulfill financial obligations, and the project's size and expected impact in the community it serves.

What are permitted uses of funds?

Grants and loans can be used for equipment and other capital expenses, real estate, tenant improvement and infrastructure, and working capital.

Can I apply for both a loan and a grant?

Yes. Where appropriate, some applications will be approved for a grant only, or for both a grant and a loan simultaneously. However, most grant funds will be used to pay for business and technical support to strengthen a business plan or help create financial projections in order for a loan to be approved. Most grants will be linked to a loan.

Can I receive business and technical support even if I am not eligible for financing?

Yes. However, grant-funded business and technical support will be prioritized for those businesses where financing in the future is anticipated.

Can I receive grant funding for business and technical support and choose my own provider?

Yes, but the MFTP Administrators will need to approve any such provider.

Need for the program:

How serious is the fresh food access problem in Massachusetts?

The lack of access to healthy, affordable food is a critical problem for too many communities in Massachusetts. Data collected by The Food Trust shows that 2.8 million people, including more than 700,000 children, were living in low-income areas across the Commonwealth that lacked access to grocery stores. Food access is inequitably distributed across the Commonwealth, and many people have to travel excessive distances to buy fresh food. All types of communities, ranging from urban to rural, are affected by this issue in Massachusetts. In lower-income areas, many residents do not own cars, and in most rural areas, public transportation is not an option.

What are the impacts of a lack of access to healthy foods?

Research shows that people living in communities without a supermarket also suffer from disproportionately high rates of diet-related health problems like diabetes and heart disease. In under-resourced communities, people can't typically obtain the foods necessary for a healthy diet and can't meet their basic health needs within their own neighborhoods. This health disparity causes suffering, reduces workforce productivity, and increases health care costs. Communities without healthy food retail miss out on crucial economic benefits too, since grocery stores anchor nearby retail and create jobs where they're most sorely needed.

Why aren’t stores already locating in these communities?

Many areas lack equitable access to healthy food as a result of historical disinvestment and policies that precluded loans and opportunities for wealth creation among marginalized populations, primarily communities of color. While it has been demonstrated that there is demand for high quality, nutritious and affordable foods in all communities, significant barriers to entry exist, including lack of access to sufficient capital, costly site assembly, high development costs, and expensive workforce development needs. The lack of grocery stores in many lower‐income urban and rural communities can be addressed through targeted investment and one time grant and loan funding to help offset the costs of locating in these places. There is evidence that when retailers have assistance with these initial start‐up costs, they will locate in underserved communities and are able to run successful businesses