Eating healthier and supporting Michigan farmers

Anyone who’s been to the grocery store recently knows how expensive food can be and, usually, the healthier the food, the more it costs.

So how do you encourage low-income families getting federal food assistance to eat more fruits and vegetables? You start by doubling their money.

Double Up Food Bucks is a program of the Fair Food Network (FFN) offering participants in the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) a way to double their money at farmers markets around West Michigan. Instead of spending only $20 on fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables, they can now buy $40 worth.

“Whatever you spend on a Bridge card, you’ll receive double up to $20 per day,” says Double Up Food Bucks Program Director Rachel Chadderdon Bair.

FFN, an organization based in Ann Arbor, began the Double Up Food Bucks program in 2009 with a small pilot program in Detroit. Now available in 70 markets across the state, the goal of the program is to provide an incentive to encourage low-income families to eat healthier, while at the same time, support local agriculture.

Considering nearly one in five families in Michigan receive public food assistance, the program has the opportunity to affect the eating habits of a substantial number of residents.  

In 2011, the Double Up Food Bucks program led to a 190 percent increase of SNAP purchases at farmers markets throughout Michigan with $1 million dollars redeemed in 40,000 visits. Statewide, there were 11,000 SNAP benefit recipients who shopped at farmers markets for the first time, with 3,011 of those new visitors living in West Michigan. Chadderdon Bair has also heard traffic is up this year, so she expects these numbers to increase even more for 2012.

“Customers are excited to try a variety of new things,” she says.

The way the Double Up Food Bucks program works is when a SNAP recipient pays for food at a participating farmers market, a matching dollar amount up to $20 per day is given to the vendor at the time of purchase. The program “doubles the money flowing through the market” says Chadderdon Bair, and that’s why the vendors support it as well.
The Double Up Food Bucks program is currently offered at farmers markets throughout the state, including 16 locations in West Michigan.

FFN receives no state funding for the project and instead relies on 40 private companies and community foundations throughout the state to help pay for the program. Grand Rapids Community Foundation is the largest local funding partner.

The organization works in partnership with the Department of Human Services and The Food & Nutrition Coalition of the Kent County Essential Needs Task Force.  

This Friday, August 10, the Fair Food Network will celebrate the success of the Double Up Food Bucks program at the Fulton Street Farmers Market. FFN representatives, including president and CEO Dr. Oran Hesterman, will be there from 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. to greet people and answer any questions. From 12:30 - 1:30 p.m., Molly Clauhs will host a “Taste of Double Up Food Bucks” cooking demonstration using fresh, in-season food from the market. Clauhs is owner of The Silver Spork, a Grand Rapids-based gourmet food truck, and the co-owner of Grand Rapids’ Cooking School.

“The hope for the event is to connect with some funders and community partners,” says Chadderdon Bair.

The Fair Food Network’s Double Up Food Bucks program offers healthy food for Michigan families and supports Michigan farmers. If you’d like to help them continue, here are some ways you can get involved:

-    Visit Fair Food Network online to find out more about them.
-    Stop by the Fulton Street Farmers Market and say hello this Friday from 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. 
-    Volunteer at the event on Friday by contacting Liz Kohn
-    Shop at your local farmers markets and volunteer your time. 
-    Like Fair Food Network on Facebook.  
-    Follow @FairFoodNetwork on Twitter.

Sources: Rachel Chadderdon Bair, Double Up Food Bucks Program Director at Fair Food Network and Liz Kohn, Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by the Fair Food Network.