Technical Assistance


CDFA Defining the Food System Asset Class

With support from a third round of funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), CDFA is continuing to advocate for Defining the Food System Asset Class by building on previous efforts to increase opportunities and leverage existing capital to support local and regional food systems. Educational trainings, pilot projects, strategic planning, and other networking events have helped CDFA learn about what communities, development finance agencies, and food systems leaders need to improve equitable access to capital for food- and agriculture-related businesses and projects. There is a significant opportunity for further investment in this space through formalized technical assistance, facilitated collaboration between food system practitioners and development finance agencies, and direct and indirect lending programs for businesses and projects in the local food system.

From 2018 through 2019, CDFA received its first round of funding from WKKF for the Defining the Food System Asset Class project. The premise of this project was to suggest and then prove that, if organized and defined properly, the food system can become an asset class worthy of traditional investment. Throughout these two years, CDFA engaged in intensive research, data collection, and relationship building to determine how development finance agencies can become more engaged in developing localized food systems through traditional finance approaches - such as bonds, tax increment finance, tax credits, revolving loan funds, and more.

In 2020, with a second round of funding from WKKF, CDFA developed a program to continue and expand the Defining the Food System Asset Class project. This program sought to deploy traditional financing tools to help build the necessary data, impact metrics, and portfolio performance measures to prove the viability of food systems as a distinct asset class. Through this work, CDFA partnered with communities across the country to develop plans and direct projects that create well-paying jobs in low-resourced communities, increase access to healthy food for children and families, and unlock capital and resources for food- and agriculture-related businesses that serve and are owned by people of color.

-Food Finance White Paper Series

The CDFA Food Finance White Paper Series is the foundation of CDFA’s food systems finance research. This six-part series defines how traditional development finance tools can be used to support businesses and projects within local food systems and presents comprehensive case studies that have successfully utilized each of these financing tools. Read the CDFA Food Finance White Paper Series below:
  • Food Systems & Development Finance
    Explore CDFA's definition of the food system and how it intersects with the development finance toolbox.

  • Food Systems & Access to Capital
    Discover how access to capital tools – revolving loan funds, loan guarantees, linked deposit programs, and microlending – are used to support small businesses and entrepreneurs in the food system.

  • Food Systems & Bonds
    Learn about the foundational role of bonds, the different types of bonds, the key players involved, and how bonds are used to provide affordable financing for food and agriculture businesses and projects.

  • Food Systems & Targeted Tools
    See how tax increment financing (TIF), special assessment districts, Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), and tax abatements are used to target certain geographies and support local food systems development.

  • Food Systems & Investment Tools
    Find out how tax credits and Opportunity Zones work to stimulate investment and impact local food system development.

  • Advancing Local Food Systems Through Development Finance
    Learn replicable strategies for reframing food systems development as infrastructure and economic development, building effective relationships and partnerships, and planning for strategic food systems financing.

-Food Systems Finance Webinar Series

The CDFA Food Systems Finance Webinar Series is a free online series demonstrating how businesses and projects within the food system can be connected to development finance tools, such as bonds, tax increment finance, tax credits, and revolving loan funds, to create equitable local and regional food systems. This series will showcase how development finance agencies from across the country are investing in local food systems. Speakers will present case studies on a range of food systems projects – including production, processing, distribution, retail, storage, and more – to explain why various financing tools were chosen for the specific project and how those financing tools work. Each installment of this series will explore how the development finance toolbox can be used to drive investment across the food supply chain.

>>> Visit the CDFA Food Systems Finance Resource Center to View Previous Webinars

-Food Systems Finance Pilot Projects

CDFA is continues to work with pilot projects in communities that have strong existing food system initiatives and are well-positioned to engage with traditional development finance. These pilot projects build equity in their local food systems and have generated momentum over the past several years.
  • Franklin County, Ohio
    CDFA partnered with Franklin County, Ohio to assist in identifying financial resources for an online business portal designed exclusively for food businesses. In May 2020, the Franklin County Food Business Portal was launched.

  • King County, Washington
    CDFA is partnered with the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks to explore ways of using development finance tools to establish a local food facility in King County, Washington. In December 2020, CDFA released the King County Local Food Facility Development Finance Roadmap Report outlining key financing opportunities based on several operation models.

  • Rhode Island Food Policy Council
    CDFA is partnered with the Rhode Island Food Policy Council in an effort to use traditional finance tools to develop a seafood processing and distribution facility coupled with the necessary wastewater treatment facility in Rhode Island.

  • Pennsylvania & The Food Trust
    CDFA is partnered with The Food Trust with the goal of using development finance tools to leverage Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative grant dollars and improve access to fresh, healthy foods in underserved communities throughout Pennsylvania.

  • Detroit, Michigan
    CDFA researched traditional development finance tools that can be used to strengthen the Detroit region’s food system. CDFA produced Food Finance Detroit: A Landscape Map for Financing Detroit’s Local Food System to highlight possible financing resources that can be brought into coordination with the existing local efforts.

-Food Systems Strategic Finance Planning

CDFA is collaborating with several communities to produce strategic financing plans for local and regional food systems serving low-resourced communities. The plans will focus on using development finance tools to meet infrastructure, agriculture, small business, and other needs that support healthy, sustainable, and equitable local food systems development. These plans will boost the economies of the communities they serve and become a template for other communities to use for the development of their local and regional food systems.
  • The Ohio State University’s Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation (InFACT)
    CDFA worked with The Ohio State University's InFACT to develop an economic development finance plan to create a new financing entity to build a more robust food system across the state of Ohio by unlocking capital for food-related businesses, projects, and infrastructure. This approach also integrated InFACT's technical assistance programming and supported generous research opportunities for the University's faculty and students.

    • King County, Washington Strategic Food Systems Financing Plan
      CDFA worked with King County, Washington to establish a set of recommendations that position the county to be the leader in supporting the further restoration of the local and regional food system. The Strategic Food Systems Financing Plan focuses on how King County can use development finance tools to unlock capital for food and agriculture-related businesses, projects, and infrastructure to generate economic prosperity while advancing racial and social equity.

      • Southeast Nebraska Development District Strategic Food Systems Financing Plan
        CDFA developed a strategic financing plan on behalf of Southeast Nebraska Development District (SENDD) to facilitate investment in the regional food system. The key outcome of the plan is to illustrate how traditional development finance tools can be used to support food and agriculture-related businesses, projects, and infrastructure, build capacity, and improve the overall food system through economic development.

-Food Systems Finance Advisory Council (FSFAC)

CDFA hosts regular convenings of CDFA’s Food Systems Finance Advisory Council (FSFAC) to establish a cohort within both the food and finance industries. Members of FSFAC include:
  • Angel City Advisors
  • Bluestem Food Systems Consulting
  • Broadstreet Impact Services
  • California FarmLink
  • CEI Capital Management
  • Center for Good Food Purchasing
  • Chicago Food Policy Action Council
  • City First Enterprises
  • City of Phoenix
  • CommonWealth Kitchen
  • Conservation Law Foundation
  • Cornell University
  • County of Hawai’i
  • Croatan Institute
  • East Central Florida Regional Planning Council
  • Ecotrust
  • Fair Food Network
  • Farm Credit Council
  • Field & Fork Network
  • Flexible Capital Fund, L3C
  • Food Finance Institute
  • Food System 6
  • Food21
  • Foodshed Investors
  • Franklin County Economic Development & Planning
  • George Gund Foundation
  • Great Falls Montana Development Authority
  • Greene Economics
  • HNA Networks
  • Huntington Capital Markets
  • Karen Karp & Partners
  • King County, WA
  • Maine Harvest Federal Credit Union
  • Michigan State University, Center for Regional Food Systems
  • New York City Economic Development Corporation
  • Nourish Colorado
  • Opportunity Finance Network
  • Partner Community Capital
  • Proofing Station
  • Regenerative Food Systems Investment
  • Reinvestment Fund
  • Rhode Island Food Policy Council
  • Self-Help Credit Union
  • Steward
  • The Common Market
  • The Food Trust
  • TIFS Initiative
  • U.S. Bank
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • United Fund Advisors
  • Virginia Community Capital
  • W.K. Kellogg Foundation
  • Waterman Steele Real Estate Advisors
  • West Alabama Regional Commission
  • Write2Farm Consulting

-Food Systems Finance Resources & Newsletter

CDFA continuously collects data, reports, best practices, news, case studies, presentations, and other learning materials on development finance tools used to support food-related businesses and projects. Please visit the CDFA Food Systems Finance Resource Center to learn more and stay up-to-date on the latest development finance efforts within the food system.

Want regular updates on food systems financing? Subscribe to the CDFA Food & Agriculture Finance Update monthly newsletter.


-Additional CDFA Food Systems Finance Initiatives

Additional key project elements include:
  • National Revolving Loan Fund Analysis
    Food and agriculture-related businesses are often perceived as too risky for traditional lending approaches, yet CDFA's report Debunking Risk in Food System Lending tells a different story. This report, with loan-level data from over a thousand funds nationwide, demonstrates that food system loans perform and that revolving loan funds can successfully support local food system borrowers in their communities.

  • Food Systems Finance Best Practices Guidebook
    Linking development finance and food systems can be a daunting undertaking for any community. Research on the current ecosystem of food systems finance has positioned CDFA to identify key strategies for the path ahead in this work. The Food Systems Finance Best Practices Guidebook defines how traditional development finance tools can be used to launch and expand food and agricultural-related businesses and projects, and create successful food systems finance programs at the local and regional levels.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation
The CDFA Defining the Food System as an Asset Class project was prepared by the Council of Development Finance Agencies using grant funds from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.