Microbusiness: A Community-Centered Solution to Inequitable Food Systems

Executive Summary

Low food access areas are disproportionately located in lower income areas and disproportionately impact communities of color. Compared to middle income zip codes, communities in low income zip codes have 25 percent fewer chain supermarkets located in their neighborhoods. When compared to zip codes with predominantly white residents, zip codes with predominantly Black and Latinx residents have half and one third the amount of chain supermarkets respectively.

Although billions of dollars have been dedicated to increasing food access, the success of food access initiatives are varied and provide scant evidence to prove the claim that increasing healthy food access for lower income families will help them eat healthier.

The truth is that a family cannot afford to eat healthy foods if they cannot afford their housing, do not have quality jobs, and are laden with debt. Poverty and income inequality are the largest barriers to accessing healthy foods.

With 40% of Americans lacking the savings to withstand a financial hardship such as losing a job, every American is vulnerable to hunger and are at risk for being food insecure. With over 40 million Americans already food insecure, strategies geared at securing healthy food for all should strive to make disadvantaged communities more financially secure and to make food systems more equitable.

AEO’s research explores the possibility of local food system microbusiness to increase food access, food security, and economic opportunity while building community wealth. Defined as all the processes and actors involved in transforming a seed into food, food systems include farmers, distributors, food manufacturers, retailers, and consumers. By bridging economic development and financial security with locally owned food systems, local food system microbusiness empowers community members with the capacity to change their food systems while disrupting the effects of poverty.

With over 300,000 microbusinesses operating within the food system and responsible for more than 1.9 million jobs and $17 million in paid salaries, the presence of microbusinesses in the food system is significant. Greater capital investment and increased technical assistance would provide tremendous support for food system microbusinesses. Supporting the growth and success of food system microbusinesses in lower income communities means that those who are most affected by food insecurity and poverty become the voices that are most amplified and empowered in realizing solutions.