City of Madison Launches New Program to Improve Food Access

By Janette Rosenbaum — Madison's Healthy Retail Work Group is about to launch a new funding program.

The program will offer financial assistance to retailers or organizations seeking to bring more fresh, healthy food to recognized food deserts — also known as areas of focus— within the city. These newly-identified areas suffer from low access to healthy food due to low income, limited access to transportation, or lack of adequate nearby food resources.

The Healthy Retail Work Group has been working on this initiative almost since it was formed in mid-2013 as a subcommittee of the Food Policy Council. In August 2014, the committee asked Mayor Paul Soglin to include $100,000 in his budget for the fund. The proposal was accepted, and the retail fund was officially adopted late last month.

The work group began pursuing this plan after looking into similar initiatives that had been successful in other cities. The fund seeks to encourage community-based solutions by allowing local retailers to decide what they need.

The city doesn't want its relationship with retailers to end with the acceptance of an application, though. It would like to see 25 percent of requested funds be earmarked for technical assistance — that is, a grocery store can buy and install a new produce cooler, but also needs to make an ongoing investment in marketing to ensure the fruits and vegetables end up in people's kitchens. The work group will follow up with funding recipients to make sure projects get completed, and to see whether residents’ access to healthy food is improving.

To be eligible, applicants must propose a project that will improve access to affordable, healthy, culturally-appropriate food for residents of the areas of focus. The application materials define “healthy” as “fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain items, certain dairy items, and alternatives to bread”.

The application spans just five pages and includes questions about the goals of the proposed project, organizations the applicant plans to partner with, and the expected budget and timeline. The form is scheduled to become available Wednesday, July 22. Submissions received by Friday, September 4 will be considered first, followed by later submissions on a rolling basis.

Questions can be directed to Director of Food and Alcohol Policy Mark Woulf by phone at 608 266 4611 or by email at