Rock County Double SNAP Coalition Seeks Funding to Improve Food Security Through Farmers’ Markets

The Double SNAP Coalition Seeks Funding to Improve Food Security Through Farmers’ Markets

Janesville Farmers Market wants to make health-giving, local fruits and vegetables available to everyone.  That’s why we are partnering with Rock County UW Extension and the Beloit Farmers Market to form the Double SNAP Coalition.  The goal of the coalition is to secure funding and implement a program that matches money that is spent at the market from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called Foodshare) with vouchers for fresh produce.  In addition to point of sale SNAP incentives, UW Extension would like to offer the services of its nutrition educators at both local markets to provide assistance with market navigation and meal planning for all SNAP recipients.  Because transportation is a barrier for some people, a partnership with Headstart of Rock County will give the nutrition educators an opportunity to transport program participants to the markets and follow up with recipes and cooking education at home.  ECHO and Second Harvest will also be involved with outreach and project implementation.  Goals of the Double SNAP project include increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, helping people overcome obstacles to obtaining and using fresh produce, changing shopping habits and improving health.

Maybe you have heard the terms “food insecurity” or “food deserts” used to describe lack of consistent access to healthy food.  These new terms help us to understand what hunger looks like in a country where cheap food seems to be so plentiful.  Food insecurity is the term that is used to describe when a household goes through periods of time when there is not enough food available for an active, healthy lifestyle.  A food desert is an area where affordable fresh food is largely unavailable and grocery options are limited to those that are offered at convenience stores and gas stations.  Farmers’ markets are often part of the solution to food insecurity and limited access to fresh food.

We all know that skipping meals and going without fresh fruits and vegetables can make it very hard to do our best at work and in daily life.

Food pantries, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Foodshare), church programs and other resources all help to ensure that people with food insecurity have access to healthy food.  Still, 14.3 percent of US households (17.5 million) experienced food insecurity at some time in 2013 (source).  We all know that skipping meals and going without fresh fruits and vegetables can make it very hard to do our best at work and in daily life.  That is why farmers’ markets all over the country offer programs that help to make fresh produce available to everyone, regardless of income.  In 2012, JFM began offering the SNAP Token Program, which enables customers to use their SNAP (Foodshare) cards at the market through wooden tokens.  The tokens can be redeemed for grocery items throughout the market.  In its first year, 98% of customers said that the program would help them eat more fruits and vegetables.  Many of our market vendors also accept Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) and WIC FMNP Vouchers for Wisconsin grown produce.  In addition, ECHO offers free vouchers for farm-raised food for their clients at the market June through September.

Unfortunately, the SNAP Token Program and FMNP Vouchers are under-utilized.  Only .02% of SNAP money was spent at farmers’ markets in 2013(source), and studies show that fruits and vegetables are a low priority when food budgets are limited (source).  Transportation, busy schedules, education and perceptions about the cost of local food are all potential barriers to shopping at farmers’ markets.  While we can’t help people overcome every barrier, we can partner with other local groups to improve access to the health-giving fresh produce that we offer.

Christy Marsden, Horticulture Educator with Rock County UW Extension submitted a proposal last week to the USDA Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Program requesting funds for the Rock County Double SNAP Project.  Funds are requested to offer matching produce vouchers for SNAP customers every Saturday and to help with transportation to the market for Headstart participants on two occasions.  If they get the funding, SNAP customers at both the Janesville and Beloit farmers markets will be able to swipe their SNAP (Foodshare) cards at the farmers’ market information booth and get up to $20 in matching produce vouchers along with their tokens.  These vouchers will be good for fruits and vegetables only.  While $20 may not seem like a lot, this would be a 15% increase in a weekly food budget for the average family of four.  In the short term, the Double SNAP program is expected to help SNAP recipients increase their fruit and vegetable consumption.  Long term goals include a change in shopping and eating habits, reduced obesity and lowered health care costs.

SNAP at the farmers’ market has a big impact.

“Even a half percent increase in the amount of total SNAP money spent at farmers’ markets, would mean millions of dollars of fresh, nutritious foods going to families who need it, and millions of dollars of revenue going directly to community farmers rather than large food manufacturers and corporations.”  – Farmers Market Coalition

The FINI Grant opportunity is based on successful produce incentive programs at other farmers’ markets across the country.  These programs have been shown to increase SNAP usage at farmers’ markets and increase consumption of fruits and vegetables.  For more information on SNAP incentives and their proven benefits, please see doubleupfoodbucks.org and wholesomewave.org.  These programs have increased SNAP transactions at local farmers’ markets, with benefits for both SNAP recipients and local farmers.  As the nonprofit Wholesome Wave says, “Food can fix everything.”  Choosing local, fresh produce can definitely improve peoples’ health.  Choosing local can also improve the economy.  According to the Farmers Market Coalition, “Even a half percent increase in the amount of total SNAP money spent at farmers’ markets, would mean millions of dollars of fresh, nutritious foods going to families who need it, and millions of dollars of revenue going directly to community farmers rather than large food manufacturers and corporations.”

To find out if you may be eligible to increase your food budget through SNAP benefits, please call 1-800-362-3002 or visit access.wi.gov.

References:

Coleman-Jenson, Alisha; Christian Gregory and Anita Singh, Household Food Security in the United States in 2013,   Economic Research Report No. (ERR-173) 41 pp, September 2014
Blisard, Noel and Hayden Stewart, Economic Resource Service, How Low-Income Households Allocate Their Food Budget Relative to the Cost of the Thrifty Food Plan, August 2006 USDA Publication.

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