Summer is here, with heat that is ripening berries and tomatoes. For we locavores, lovers and eaters of local food, paradise is at hand. However, local farm fresh foods are still far from the default choice for most, and for many households, fresh produce is unaffordable.
To help get more locally grown fruits and vegetables into the hands of those struggling to put food on the table, Willamette Farm and Food Coalition is partnering with the Lane County Farmers Market to bring Double Up Food Bucks to Lane County.
Double Up Food Bucks is a nutrition incentive program that encourages SNAP participants to shop at participating farmers markets. Starting July 2, any SNAP participant who spends $10 of their benefits at the Lane County Farmers Market will receive an additional $10 in “food bucks” to purchase fruits and vegetables from market vendors.
Formerly referred to as “food stamps,” SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP provides financial assistance to low-income households to supplement the monthly cost of purchasing food. Within Oregon, SNAP is sometimes referred to by the name of the electronic benefits transfer (EBT) system card — the Oregon Trail card — that is used to deliver SNAP and other benefits to residents who qualify. Most farmers markets in Lane County have the capability to accept SNAP benefits.
Helping more households buy fresh, healthy food from local farmers is a simple yet powerful concept. In Eugene-Springfield, 40,600 low-income households receive federal SNAP benefits, totaling more than $8 million per month. Any portion of those federal dollars that can be redirected to our farmers will do double duty, providing a dollar in new sales for area farmers and a dollar in real nutrition assistance, improving community health and keeping food dollars circulating in our local economy.
Originated by Fair Food Network in Michigan, the Double Up Food Bucks program has been adapted for use throughout Oregon by the Portland-based Farmers Market Fund. Double Up has transformed agriculture in the state of Michigan by supporting a massive increase in SNAP use at farmers markets.
Michigan farmers made more than $5 million from SNAP sales in the last five years and they are growing more produce because of it. Annual SNAP sales at farmers markets across the state have grown to $1.7 million, placing Michigan among the top five states in the nation.
Although we know that eating more fruits and vegetables can improve our health, it’s often hard to prioritize them when grocery budgets are tight. In Michigan: 87 percent of Double Up participants report eating more fruits and vegetables, 69 percent report trying new fruits and vegetables, and 66 percent report decreasing the amount of junk food they eat.
Increasing access to locally grown food for low-income Lane County residents is integral to the mission of Willamette Farm and Food Coalition. As part of the statewide effort, the Eugene-based nonprofit plans to expand the Double Up program to all farmers markets in Lane County over the next two years.
Double Up Food Bucks is a three-way win:
SNAP shoppers will purchase more fresh healthy foods for their families.
Farmers market vendors will sell more produce.
More federal benefit dollars will stay in our community, strengthening our local economy.
With food assistance making up the greatest single expenditure in the federal agriculture budget, redirecting even a small percentage of SNAP funds toward healthy, locally grown food can be a game changer.
Lane County Economic Development recognizes the positive impacts of SNAP incentives on individuals and the local economy and has committed $20,000 toward establishing Double Up at the Lane County Farmers Market this season. Private foundations, businesses and individuals are also stepping up to support this program.
Make a gift today — invest in our food economy and help us expand access to locally grown produce for those who can least afford it.
Lane County Farmers Market will begin offering Double Up Food Bucks on Saturday, July 2. Other area markets offering Double Up Food Bucks this season include: Creswell Farmers Market, Spencer Creek Growers Market, and the FOOD for Lane County Youth Farm stand in Springfield. For more information or to make a contribution, see LaneFood.org. – Lynne Fessenden