With five years under her belt as Mt. Pleasant Farmers Market manager, Carol Moody has seen the benefits of the Double Up Food Bucks healthy food incentive program for the market, low-income shoppers, and local farmers.
Here are her words.
THE GREATER MT. PLEASANT AREA is a wonderful place to live. I’ve been in this community for 10 years. You have some city life, but you also have rural areas. And it’s a college town, so we have all the great things that come along with that, too.
The Mt. Pleasant Farmers Market started in 1973. We’re a little over 40 years old now. The main market is held on Thursdays at Island Park. We have upwards of 50 vendors in the heart of the season. It really is a festive atmosphere.
The market serves everybody. We have people who work in the downtown area, moms with small children, and lower-income shoppers who come down and use food assistance benefits, whether that be SNAP, Double Up Food Bucks, or WIC Project Fresh. I think that’s the cool thing about the market: Everyone has to eat, so we all need food.
Having Double Up at the market has been incredible. In 2014, our first year, we issued a little over $6,000 in Double Up Food Bucks tokens. In 2015, we were up to almost $8,000. It’s continuing to grow. Those numbers right there tell me that the impact and the need are there.
Just having the market connects us to the community, but I think adding in Double Up multiplies that. We’re seeing a new influx of people coming to shop at the market because of Double Up. And they’re telling their friends and co-workers. It’s just helping get the word out about the market as a whole. Today, our market is much more user-friendly. It’s welcoming to everybody.
Double Up Food Bucks has definitely impacted the consumer in that they’re able to get fresh and local options, and they’re able to stretch their dollar, so they purchase more than they would have been able to without Double Up.
Double Up participants are eating more fresh fruits and vegetables because of the program, and I definitely think they’re trying different fruits and vegetables. The vendors are very good about explaining, “This is this particular fruit or vegetable, and this is how you prepare it.” That’s an education that you don’t necessarily get when you shop at the grocery store.
When people are no longer on Double Up, they still continue to shop at the farmers market. The comment that I’m hearing mostly is that their SNAP amounts have been decreased and so they’re trying to budget their money even more. They’ll even be at the market at a week that they can’t get Double Up tokens. They’ll say, “My [SNAP EBT] card’s going to reload next week. Then I’ll be back for more.
There’s one family in particular I see at the market. This particular mom has six kids and has been a regular at the market. In the past, she got her full doubling match at the beginning of the season, when not all the fruits and vegetables were in season yet. Then when tomatoes were available and items like that, she was able to stock up and really stretch those dollars by canning. When the family was Double Up regulars, they knew the program well, and when other people would walk up and ask what it was about they were good ambassadors and encouraged others to take advantage of it.
The market is able to be vibrant because of programs like Double Up Food Bucks in that not only is it helping the shopper, but it’s also increasing the sales for the farmers and vendors—sales that they may not have previously had. That’s kind of two-fold, as the dollars are staying here in our community.
Vendors are definitely getting more customers and new customers, so they’re supportive of Double Up, and appreciative, too. Some are starting to need to hire more staff. Several of them have been in the process of getting greenhouses going to have food available earlier on.
Our vendors are very giving. They recognize that times are tough for a lot of people, and they’re passionate about being able to help where they can. So they like that they can participate in Double Up, and yet they can still get a payment. In turn, Double Up shoppers are definitely happy to be supporting local farmers.
It’s been a very simple process to implement Double Up at our farmers market. And Fair Food Network has done a great job in training and providing some useful tools that have really helped our staff.
It’s a point of pride personally just to be able to help people. When shoppers thank us, I feel so guilty taking all the compliments. I think, “We’re so glad you’re here and shopping and able to make healthy selections, and that this can help stretch your food budget.” You know that they’re getting fruits and vegetables that are picked either that day or the day before.
Being able to share this program with people is huge. My only regret is that we didn’t do it sooner.”
This is one profile in the Voices of Double Up in America storytelling series. Dig into the rest of these real-life stories here.