Creative ways farmers are growing with Double Up Food Bucks

This Michigan-based program to increase healthy food access is expanding and some farmers are gearing up to expand with it.

Urban farms have been established in many Michigan cities. Quite often urban farms are located in neighborhoods that lack retail outlets selling fresh, locally grown produce. The combination of these factors results in a perfect scenario for a farm stand located at the urban farm that accepts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and participates in the Double Up Food Bucks program.

According to the Fair Food Network’s Double Up Food Bucks program website, the Double Up program makes it easier for low-income Americans to eat fresh fruits and vegetables while supporting family farmers and growing local economies. Double Up provides SNAP beneficiaries with a one-to-one match to purchase healthy, locally-grown fruits and vegetables. These matching funds come from contributions by many private donors, community foundations, and in the future, could come from new federal funding established through the 2014 Farm Bill under the leadership of Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow.

Since 2009, Double Up has expanded from five farmers markets in Detroit to more than 150 sites. According to staff data, the program has benefited more than 200,000 low-income families over the past five years, more than 1,000 farmers in 2013 alone, and has had a greater than $5 million effect on Michigan’s economy. Double Up has also been active in creating new healthy food incentives by expanding the model to grocery stores and developing new mobile payment systems.

New City Urban Farm in Grand Rapids operates a farm stand that was one of the first in West Michigan to accept SNAP benefits and participate in the Double Up Food Bucks program. Lance Kraai is the manager of the farm. He said, “As an urban farm we are always asking how the food we grow can stay in the neighborhood it is grown in. With that comes the responsibility to make our produce as accessible as possible to all our neighbors. By accepting SNAP benefits and Double Up Food Bucks we are able to see our best produce end up in the hands of families that are struggling and that is rewarding. But it also ensures that our hard work is compensated fairly. It makes for a win/win.”

While New City has a weekly farm stand on site that accepts both benefits, Kraai is especially hopeful customers in the neighborhood will begin using both benefits to purchase Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares. Selling CSA shares in advance of the planting season would be an advantage to the farm because they would know how much of what they intend to plant is already “sold”. This makes planting and harvesting more predictable and efficient. This efficiency can then be passed on to the consumer. Kraai estimates that his CSA customers receive at least a 25 percent discount on their produce as compared to farmers market prices. This discount along with the 50 percent discount of Double up Food Bucks leads to a 75 percent discount for the SNAP customers. Kraai notes, “This is the most affordable option for high quality organic produce. And because we are in the neighborhood, the option is walkable.”

In 2014, Kraai had one neighbor take advantage of using Double Up Food Bucks. The customer, who purchased a full farm share (which retails for $450 for 22 weeks of produce), paid $20 every other week with their Bridge card, the in between weeks were paid for by Double up Food Bucks at no direct cost to the consumer.

Kraai says, “We hope this is just a start. This is a new idea and we have a lot of work to do in educating and marketing to our consumers. As a farm we also struggle with this since the growing season is when we are in survival mode. We are going to be working hard this winter with MSU Extension on getting the word out to the neighborhood.”

Michigan State University Extension supports healthy food access and encourages farmers to contact the Fair Food Network at (866) 586-2796 or to find out more about how they might be able to participate in the Double Up program at their farm stand. For farmers selling at a community farmers market, talk to your Market Manager about accepting SNAP and participating in the Double Up program, or contact the Michigan Farmers Market Association at 517-432-3381.

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