A Grocery Store Funder with an Eye on Nutrition and Urban Gardening in Arizona and Beyond

photo: Rawpixel.com/shutterstock

photo: Rawpixel.com/shutterstock

Grocery store chains have been emerging as significant funding forces in local communities where they’re headquartered, going beyond just donating expiring food to homeless shelters and food banks. The latest grocery funder that we’ve gotten to know is the Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation (SHCF), which is based in Phoenix, Arizona.

The very first Sprouts store was opened in Chandler, Arizona in 2002, and now there are over 275 stores across the U.S. Unlike other chains, Sprouts is set up like an old-fashioned farmers’ market and focuses on healthy and natural products. The grocery store established a grantmaking foundation just two years ago in 2015, and thus far, its focus has been on supporting health and wellness efforts in local communities where stores are located. Naturally, Arizona is a big priority for SHCF.  

The foundation recently announced $2.2 million in nonprofit awards that will promote health and nutrition education. The grant money comes from company and employee contributions, customer support, and vendor partnerships.

“Sprouts is proud to partner with organizations that share our mission to inspire, educate and empower every person to live a healthier life. We’re creating lasting change in our local communities by collaborating on programs like nutrition curriculum for elementary school students and urban gardening projects in neighborhoods with limited access to fresh, affordable produce,” said Lyndsey Waugh, executive director of the Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation.

Something that stands out about SHCF grantmaking so far is that it isn’t shying away from multi-year support like many new foundations tend to do. In fact, the foundation made $875,000 in multi-year support as part of its 2017 donations. One of these grants went to the South Phoenix-based Spaces of Opportunity, which is using the foundation’s $150,000 grant to fund farm community outreach and youth education programs about food. Other new grant recipients in Arizona are the Educational Enrichment Foundation, Flagstaff Medical Center, Halle Heart Children’s Museum, First Place AZ, Esperanca, and the United Food Bank.

But while Arizona groups have fared quite well in past grantmaking cycles, it’s important to know that this isn’t the only geographic region of interest. Sprouts has been supporting REAL School Gardens’ efforts to build learning gardens in low-income schools in Georgia and Tennessee, for example. Other recent grants have gone to Denver Urban Gardens to extend youth farm stand and teacher training programs and to Soil Born Farms to support a school gardening program in Sacramento, California. A total of $430,000 in neighborhood grants are now going to 58 local groups in the 15 states where Sprouts operate. These states are Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.

But the best opportunities for local groups in the Phoenix area right now are SHCF neighborhood grants. The grants that come out of this program aren’t necessarily huge, but they’re very locally targeted and really focused on urban farming and gardening in schools. This opportunity is typically open to applications between May and August, so revisit the store's website in the spring for 2018 details. Meanwhile, Sprouts Farmers Market stock has been grabbing the attention of more investors lately, and the company’s earnings have been steadily growing. This is a good sign of the sustainability of Sprouts’ foundation, but at just two years into grantmaking, there’s still a lot of room for SHCF to grow and refine its strategy.