By Kahfii King, Program Manager Healthy Food Financing Initiative
Reinvestment Fund has developed a comprehensive and evidence-based approach to improving the food landscape for underserved urban and rural communities. A key component of the approach is America’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), a public-private partnership administered by Reinvestment Fund on behalf of USDA Rural Development to improve access to healthy food in underserved areas.
In 2022, HFFI awarded $22.6 million in grants to 134 projects, 45% of which serve rural communities. Twenty-six of these healthy food projects are located in the Southeast. Chicory Market was one of the grantees awarded funding for their projects.
When the small “farmers market” style store that served the Oxford, Mississippi community for over 30 years closed in 2016, the neighborhood was left with limited access to fresh foods. Chicory Market, a full-service community grocery store, took over the space in 2017. Since then, the 1,800-square-foot market has been on a mission to not only improve access to healthy, affordable food for Oxford-Lafayette county residents but also increase the connectivity of Oxford’s local food system.
Chicory Market is run by Oxford natives Catherine Bishop and John Martin. Together they set out to connect local farmers and food makers to a rapidly growing community that otherwise relies on traveling up to 30 miles to big-box supermarkets like Walmart or Kroger. Chicory Market addresses this gap in access by operating 7 days a week and bringing an expanded assortment of fresh, local produce and staple and perishable foods to their shelves and customers.
After four years of collaboration and hard work, Chicory Market increased its team to 24 employees and tripled its revenue—and they’ve continued to dream big. In 2022, a $200,000 grant award from Reinvestment Fund’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative enabled Chicory Market’s expansion plans to create a collaborative food space. The collaborative will bring together at least five local food vendors under one roof to run various departments to create a full-service grocery store experience. Since each vendor partner will operate as a separate unit, Chicory Market will implement a unique agreement with each vendor that best fits their needs. Vendor partners will share the costs of the commercial rental space, utilities, point-of-sale system, and other core operating expenses.
Partnerships are already in the works with Home Place Pastures, who will run the butcher department, Johnston Hill Creamery, which will move its operations in-house and offer cheeses and other dairy products from local milk, and Sweet Magnolia, which will operate a frozen dessert stand.
Owner John Martin explained, “We have a lot of expertise in the community. Whether it was a farm raising cows and pigs and processing those, or a cheesemaker…but they were all operating in their separate spaces which spreads out everything for the consumer and makes them have to do the work to support local food.”
Funding from HFFI will help Chicory Market offer affordable products—a priority for local shoppers in the wake of increasing housing costs—while still paying local farmers and producers fair prices for their products. Chicory Market currently works with 75 farmers and food makers and this expansion will triple its retail space, making room for more product variety.
With more overall square footage, the market can accommodate more inventory and a diverse product mix, which also means lower prices for customers. For partner vendors, a centralized space means increased volume and decreased production and materials costs.
“Without HFFI we would not have been able to secure the financing needed for the expansion. HFFI acted as our equity,” said co-founder, John Martin. Key financing for construction came from First National Bank of Oxford, a community bank, and Three Rivers Economic Development District, a regional agency, for a total of $900,000. Funding from Three Rivers was particularly important because it allowed Chicory to access low-interest loans from the public sector, in lieu of higher-interest debt from a traditional bank. The collaborative business model also strengthened Chicory’s financial position with banks due to a more diversified income structure and shared risk and responsibility across its vendor partners. The total project budget was $1.25 million.
The new Midtown location for Chicory Market and its collaborative will be about a half-mile from its flagship store and will now be directly across from an Oxford University Transit bus stop. The Chicory Market team is excited for a more central location and to collaborate with the transit department on cross-promotion. The HFFI grant enabled more outreach and community engagement, including a part-time community outreach manager who is now paving the way for the creation of a community advisory committee, and more visibility about Chicory’s affordable pricing structures and acceptance of SNAP benefits and incentives. With more opportunity for outreach, Chicory is prioritizing community members with lower incomes to ensure they feel included in the market and can share feedback about what they would like to see in the store.
As the Chicory Market nears opening day, the team is looking forward to promoting its Every Day Low Prices program. They recently became members of the Independent Natural Food Retailers Association (INFRA) which gives them access to KeHe’s, a national grocery distributor, pricing program and house brand products. The new Chicory Market at the Midtown Shopping Center will launch its soft opening during the holiday season and their grand opening in early 2024.
To learn more about the HFFI program and its work in the Southeast visit www.investinginfood.com.
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