LEAF provides financing nationally to natural food cooperatives that create jobs and provide access to healthy food in rural and urban communities. In addition to these benefits, food co-ops bring the following to the communities they serve:
Living Wage Jobs: Coops pay wages and benefits that are well above industry averages and offer a higher percentage of full-time employment.
Environmental Stewardship: Coops actively recycle, compost, and spearhead energy efficiency initiatives. 75% of the Energy Star rated grocery stores are food coops.
Healthy Food Education: Coops provide their members and the community at large with cooking classes, school programs and other classes related to eating healthy. For instance, The Midwest Food Connection, a non-profit organization providing healthy eating habits instruction to school children, is largely funded by food coops.
Local Economy Superstars: Coops support local economies and local farmers through their purchasing decisions. On average 22% of gross sales are locally produced at coops versus 7% for other grocery stores.
According to the Food Coop Initiative, a non-profit that focuses on start up food co-ops, 63 new coops have opened since 2006 and 102 new coops are currently in the development stage. Of the 300 food coops across the country, each year more than a dozen require financing for significant expansion or relocation projects. As one of only three CDFIs in the nation that has developed expertise in lending to the community-owned grocery store market, LEAF is able to step in and provide loans to these valuable community assets.