Technical Assistance


CDFA Defining the Food System Asset Class

CDFA received its first round of funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in 2018 to research how development finance agencies could become more engaged in developing localized food systems through traditional finance approaches, such as bonds, tax increment finance, tax credits, and revolving loan funds. The premise of this project is to suggest and then prove that, if organized and defined properly, the food system can become an asset class worthy of traditional investment.

In 2020, CDFA received a second round of funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to expand upon this work. CDFA aims to advance opportunities and leverage existing capital financing streams that scale local and regional food systems, increase access to better food, and create new living wage jobs in communities across the country.

CDFA sees the potential for the broadly defined food system to become a desired and performance-driven asset class. Through collaboration between food system participants and development finance agencies, new investments can be catalyzed to drive the creation of this asset class. There is significant opportunity for improving the link between local food systems and development finance. This includes using bonds for non-profits, food hubs, and farm expansions; tax increment finance for food industry industrial parks and neighborhood revitalization; or early stage financing models for entrepreneurs and food technology based businesses. Deploying traditional financing tools will help build the necessary data, impact metrics, and portfolio performance measures to prove the viability of food systems as a distinct asset class.

-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 connecting food-related businesses and projects with development finance tools to create equitable local food systems. Development finance agencies from across the country describe how they are investing in local food systems with bonds, tax increment finance, tax credits, revolving loan funds, and other financing tools. Case studies of projects are presented – including farmers’ markets, food processors, restaurants, food hubs, and more – and explain how financing tools are used.

Watch previous installments in this series below: Register for the Food Systems Finance Webinar Series

-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 is working with The Ohio State University's InFACT to develop an economic development finance plan that will 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 integrates InFACT's currents technical assistance programming and supports generous research opportunities for the University's faculty and students.

-Food Systems Finance Advisory Council (FSFAC)

CDFA hosts regular convenings of CDFA’s Food Systems Finance Advisory Council (FSFAC) over the grant period to establish a cohort within both the food and finance industries. Members of FSFAC include:
  • Rosanne Albright, City of Phoenix
  • Elizabeth Atwell, Wallace Center at Winrock International
  • Jim Barham, USDA Rural Development
  • Angela Blatt, The Ohio State University's InFACT
  • David Beck, Self-Help Credit Union
  • John Steven Bianucci, Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT
  • Keith Bisson, CEI Capital Management
  • Ellie Bomstein, Wallace Center at Winrock International
  • Matthew Brown, Franklin County Economic Development & Planning
  • Scott Budde, Maine Harvest Credit Project
  • Joseph Bute, Food 21
  • Laura Canter, MassDevelopment
  • Jean Chorazyczewski, Fair Food Network
  • Virginia Clarke, Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems Funders
  • Shayna Cohen, Karen Karp & Partners
  • Rodger Cooley, Chicago Food Policy Action Council
  • Bea Covington, King Conservation District
  • Tim Crosby, Cascadia Foodshed Financing Project
  • Paula Daniels, Center for Good Food Purchasing
  • Eric DeLuca, Leverage Point Consulting
  • Eric de Valpine, Foodshed Investors
  • Linda Jo Doctor, W.K. Kellogg Foundation
  • Tim Dolan, Colorado Housing and Finance Authority
  • Mary Donnell, Capital Impact Partners
  • Christi Electris, Croatan Institute
  • Emilie Engelhard, Fair Food Network
  • Brian Estabrook, Franklin County Economic Development & Planning
  • Patrick Evans, Illinois Finance Authority
  • Jen Faigel, CommonWealth Kitchen
  • Sharon Feuer Gruber, Montgomery County Food Council
  • John Fisk, Bluestem Food Systems Consulting
  • Lisa French, Field & Fork Network
  • Devin Foote, W.K. Kellogg Foundation
  • Lance Gilliam, Waterman Steele Real Estate Advisors
  • Drew Hammond, U.S. Bank
  • Gray Harris, Costal Enterprises, Inc.
  • Jonathan Harrison, California FarmLink
  • Caroline Harries, The Food Trust
  • Molly Hartman, Reinvestment Fund
  • Oran Hesterman, Fair Food Network
  • Bob Heuer, Heuer & Associates
  • Haile Johnston, The Common Market
  • Ben Kerrick, Karen Karp & Partners
  • Tricia Kovacs, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service
  • Ryan Kozak, Huntington Capital Markets
  • David LeZaks, Croatan Institute
  • Alex Linkow, Conservation Law Foundation
  • Michael Lufkin, King County, WA
  • Lori Matheus, New Jersey Economic Development Authority
  • Gary Matteson, Farm Credit Council
  • Jarred Maxwell, Foodshed Investors
  • Dan Miller, Steward
  • John Mitterholzer, George Gund Foundation
  • Johanna Nelson, New Mexico Economic Development Department
  • Luis Nieves-Ruiz, East Central Florida Regional Planning Council
  • Jenny Osman, New York City Economic Development Corporation
  • Rich Pirog, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems
  • Wendy Peters Moschetti, LiveWell Colorado
  • Jamie Rahrig, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems
  • Olivia Rebanal, Ecotrust
  • Nessa Richman, Rhode Island Food Policy Council
  • Kathy Saloy, Hope Credit Union
  • Philip Sambol, Oasis Community Partners
  • Mieka Sanderson, Appalachian Regional Commission
  • Brian Snyder, The Ohio State University's InFACT
  • Meredith Storton, RSF Social Finance
  • Daniel Tellalian, Angel City Advisors
  • Cheryl Thayer, Cornell University
  • Pamela Trammell, Central Alabama Regional Planning & Development Commission
  • Cam Turner, United Fund Advisors
  • Barbara Vohryzek, Vohyzek & Co
  • Mark Watson, Fair Food Network
  • Dafina Williams, Opportunity Finance Network

-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:
  • Best Practices Guidebook
    CDFA is producing a publicly available guidebook for best practices in financing local and regional food systems. It will be widely distributed to DFAs, CDFIs, food policy councils, and other food system practitioners.

  • National Food Systems Finance Convening
    CDFA is planning a national in-person convening of food systems practitioners and development finance experts. This educational event will be focused on development finance tools, how they can be applied to local food systems, and connecting capital resources to under-invested communities.

  • National Revolving Loan Fund Analysis
    CDFA is collecting data and analyzing the performance of revolving loan funds that support food-related businesses. The goal is to compile a national dataset that helps demonstrate the viability of food-related businesses despite the perception of lending risks in this sector.

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.