WASHINGTON — The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is advising banks that their next investment opportunity may be as close the dinner table.

An agency newsletter released Thursday promotes efforts by some community development lenders to help fight obesity in underserved and low-income areas that lack access to fresh food options.

"This is a broad area with diverse lending and investing opportunities that can benefit low-income communities and may qualify for Community Reinvestment Act consideration," wrote Barry Wides, a deputy comptroller for community affairs, in the introduction to the OCC’s most recent issue of Community Development Investments. "By better connecting producers and consumers, we can build stronger ties between cities and rural areas and help create new opportunities for farmers and ranchers."

One article discussed participation by The Reinvestment Fund, a Philadelphia community development financial institution, in a Pennsylvania cooperative that finances grocery stores in regions lacking credit help from conventional banks.

"The initiative relied on market analysis, leveraged capital, and the momentum of public policy to stimulate private investment that expands the availability of fresh food in low-income communities," the newsletter said.

A similar initiative has made financing tools available to California food providers through a fund administered by NCB Capital, also a CDFI. The publication also highlighted efforts to improve eating options through the Treasury Department's Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, which awards grants and tax credits to spur lending in underserved areas, including a series of workshops to help CDFIs launch their own efforts to finance healthy-food enterprises.

"These investments not only expand food options but also create jobs, help revitalize distressed communities, and, importantly, open new markets for farmers to sell their products, which can provide an economic boost to rural America," the OCC said.

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