Metro

Seed money sprouts a plan to bring fruits and vegetables to needy areas

A sliver of money in Governor Charlie Baker’s capital spending plan will launch a program intended to make it easier for people to obtain nutritious foods.

The $2.26 billion capital budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 includes $1 million for the Massachusetts Food Trust Program , which will provide grants, loans, and technical assistance to improve access to quality groceries in low income and rural areas where residents often rely on convenience stores and fast food restaurants.

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The money could support a variety of options, including building supermarkets, providing refrigerators to enable convenience stores to stock fruits and vegetables, running mobile farmer’s markets in vans or setting up greenhouses and food co-ops.

The Legislature created the trust in 2014, but provided no money that year. Last year, lawmakers authorized up to $6 million for the trust.

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Baker set aside only $1 million — but that “will definitely be enough to get it off the ground. We see it as a down payment,” said Maddie Ribble, policy director at the Massachusetts Public Health Association , which has lobbied for the food trust for years.

Next, the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development will select a nonprofit bank, known as a community development financial institution, to raise money from private sources. In other states that have established food trusts, each government dollar drew in $9 to $15 in private investment, according to the association.

An analysis the association commissioned found that 40 percent of Massachusetts residents live in areas where it’s difficult to get to the grocery store. The 2.8 million people in these “grocery gap” or “food desert” areas include 700,000 children and 523,000 senior citizens.

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People who have access to grocery stores tend to have lower rates of obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related diseases, the association said.

Felice J. Freyer can be reached at felice.freyer@globe.com.
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