Since 2009, the Fair Food Network has helped bring more fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income families in Michigan with its Double Up Food Bucks program, a model that also supports local farmers and infuses needed revenue into the state’s economy.
Supported in part by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the program doubles the value of SNAP benefits at participating local farmers markets and grocery stores. So, if a family spends $20 in their SNAP benefits at a farmer’s market, they get $20 in free Double Up Food Bucks to spend on any Michigan grown fruits and vegetables. This means they can bring home $40 worth of healthy food for just $20.
“It helps low-income families bring home more healthy foods, it helps local farmers get more customers and make more money and it helps more food dollars stay in the local economy,” said Emilie Engelhard, Fair Food Network communications director. “All of these have a positive ripple effect of benefits.”
Launched with the Kellogg Foundation, Double Up Food Bucks has grown from five farmers' markets in Detroit to more than 150 locations throughout Michigan, including grocery stores, food stands and mobile food trucks. More than $3.7 million in Double Up Food Bucks have been spent since its inception.
“What’s amazing about this program is that it’s so simple in its conception, but it really has a systemic approach to improving the food system,” said Double Up Food Bucks Program Director Noah Fulmer.
Fair Food Network’s strong track record in Michigan helped inspire and garner bi-partisan support for a $100 million Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) healthy food incentive grants program established in the 2014 Farm Bill.
In 2015, the Fair Food Network received a $5.1 million FINI grant in the first round of funding to expand the Double Up Food Bucks program in Michigan. With matching private funds, the grant total supporting Double Up in Michigan over the next four years is $10.4 million.
The money is being used to bring Double Up to more locations, including 50 grocery sites by 2018.
“Expanding to more retail locations is helping ensure that we meet the nutritional needs of children and families wherever they buy food in their communities,” said Elissa Trumbull, a Double Up Food Bucks program director who oversees the FINI grant.
Funding also will support the expansion of mobile payment systems and year-round programming at grocery stores and farmers markets.
The Fair Food Network is helping other states achieve similar results. They are working with organizations in 13 states to plan and implement healthy food incentive programs based on the Double Up Food Bucks model.
Fulmer works directly with organizations, including food banks, anti-hunger groups and health associations, to implement Double Up Food Bucks programs in their communities. He said Fair Food Network provides organizations a programmatic toolkit, data analysis tools to track the impact of their programs and communications materials templates to help grow awareness among SNAP consumers.
“By providing tools and templates to other states, they are able to quickly and efficiently launch incentive programs of their own, learning from our experiences in Michigan,” said Fulmer. “Together, we can have a unified national voice around this work, rally new partners interested in healthy food and inform public policy.”
Along with the Kellogg Foundation, Fair Food Network also is a core partner of the Michigan Good Food Fund, a $30 million public-private partnership loan and grant fund created to finance healthy food production, distribution, processing and retail projects that benefit underserved communities. Engelhard said the organization is leading fund communications as well as outreach, pipeline development and business assistance for retail and small-batch entrepreneurs.
While programs like Double Up Food Bucks help build demand for locally, healthy-grown food, Oran Hesterman, president and CEO of Fair Food Network, sees efforts like the Michigan Good Food Fund as a way to help the local food system meet that demand.
“We are honored to work with our partners for a fair food future here in Michigan and beyond,” said Hesterman. “Together, we are seizing the potential of food to transform our lives and communities.”