Now more than ever, federal-funded programs such as the Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are playing a huge role in how Americans are feeding their families. With the downturn in the U.S. economy, record unemployment rates and unprecedented foreclosures, more than 45 million Americans receive SNAP benefits, often referred to as food stamps. This is the highest number users since the program began in 1939. Michigan has been hit especially hard with 1.9 million residents, including more than 80,500 children, receiving food assistance. The idea of accessible, affordable nutritious produce is considered a birthright, but in reality is not always the case. While food assistance programs are the first step, it is often difficult to access affordable fruits and vegetables in economically stricken communities.
To combat these staggering statistics, Michigan non-profit, Fair Food Network, has cooked up a solution that not only helps bring more fresh fruits and vegetables to millions of low-income families in Michigan, but also supports local farmers and infuses much needed revenue into the state’s economy.
Funded in part by a $1.2 million dollar grant through the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Fair Food Network’s Double Up Food Bucks program allows SNAP recipients to double the value of their aid at local farmers markets. For instance, instead of spending $5 at a grocery store and receiving $5 worth of packaged foods, recipients can spend $5 at a farmers market and receive $10 worth of fresh, locally grown produce.
“The Double Up Food Bucks program demonstrates the feasibility and effectiveness of using monetary incentives to encourage healthier food purchases with Federal Food Assistance benefits,” says Double Up Food Bucks program manager Rachel Chadderdon. “If people have additional benefits to spend on fresh foods, they will do just that.”
More than $320,000 in Double Up Food Bucks have been distributed in participating markets in Michigan, totaling nearly $700,000 spent on fresh, local produce by Michigan growers and food businesses since the start of the program. Chadderdon, a graduate of University of Michigan’s School of Public Health and former farmers’ market manager, credits this impressive number to the grant provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
“The Foundation has understood for a long time this really is an effective way to increase food access, make healthy food affordable, and get people to eat healthier food while at the same time spreading the economic benefit around to as many people as possible,” said Chadderdon. “The W.K. Kellogg Foundation is really devoted to Michigan…seeing this program expand statewide is exciting. It’s not very often that you see a non-profit organization reaching as broadly as this one.”
The Kellogg Foundation worked with Fair Food Networks to launch the Double Up Food Bucks program in Michigan in 2009. Since then the program has grown, thanks to matching funds from the Open Society Foundations in New York and a number of other sources. The Double Up Food Bucks program is another demonstration of the Foundation’s longstanding commitment to supporting healthy food and farming projects, with more than $230 million directed to these various initiatives since the mid-1990s.
Since its start, the program has grown from five farmers’ markets in Detroit to nearly 50 throughout Michigan and Toledo, Ohio. The program plans to expand to 79 markets in the next three years.
Oran Hesterman, president and CEO of Fair Food Network and former program officer at the Kellogg Foundation, credits the innovation and extensive understanding of underserved communities as reasoning why the Kellogg Foundation decided to invest in the Double Up Food Bucks program.
“The Kellogg Foundation’s mission is focused on ensuring that vulnerable children have what they need to succeed in life, and to that end creating conditions and developing communities so that success can happen. It is also at the core of what we’re doing at Fair Food network. While we believe that education and health care and safe places to play are all important for children, the basic building block of life literally is the food we eat,” Hesterman said. “Our work at Fair Food Network is to try to help build food environments that are going to contribute to the health of kids, especially those who are most vulnerable.”
A leading national authority in sustainable agriculture and food systems, Hesterman is optimistic the next generation will be empowered to focus on building more sustainable food networks that are accessible to all.
“I have been able to connect with and mentor so many young people who are passionate, energetic and enthusiastic about the resurgence of local and sustainable food systems,” Hesterman said. “I find that one of the causes that they are taking up is repairing, redesigning and taking back our food system on a local level.”