Supporting Nutrition Incentives Nationwide
In 2019, Fair Food Network and long-time evaluation partner Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition co-designed and co-developed the Nutrition Incentive Program Training, Technical Assistance, Evaluation, and Information Center (NTAE) to serve the needs of the Double Up Food Bucks national network and the broader field of Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) grantees.
In the time since its founding, the Nutrition Incentive Hub — or Hub — as the NTAE is affectionately known, has become the recognized source of healthy food incentive learning, evaluation, and support. Fair Food Network has used its knowledge, resources, and experience gained through the success of its pioneering, home-grown nutrition incentive program (Double Up Food Bucks) in Michigan to help communities across the US start, strengthen, and scale their own nutrition incentive and produce prescription programs.
As GusNIP-funded projects continue to start up and scale up across the country, we are seeing promising results. The Hub’s national evaluation of GusNIP-funded incentive programs show that participants eat more fruits and vegetables than the average adult. And the longer they participate in such programs, the more fruits and vegetables they eat over time. As the Hub works to build on this exciting momentum, GusNIP-funded programs continue to face challenges to scaling up to meet community needs.
Solving problems, together
The Hub works with programs of all sizes—from those just establishing a foothold to mature organizations scaling statewide—to strategically solve common problems. No matter the size of the operation, one challenge all programs contend with is implementing technology. Programs like Double Up that require SNAP transactions need software that is built into the farmers market or grocery store point of sale (POS) system. Because of the difference in program size and mechanics, what works best for one program may not work at all for another. To solve this dilemma, the Hub is working with stakeholders to refine system requirements and foster buy-in for clear, shared guidelines for incentive processing and distribution technology.
A key function of the Hub is to test and/or document innovations in order to promote and scale what works. Many programs, for instance, inspired by changes in shopping behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic, are interested in offering an e-commerce platform and the option to make SNAP purchases online. These efforts are by nature trial-and-error, and the Hub is coordinating learning to disseminate best practices among grantees as they test solutions to common obstacles.
Currently trending among GusNIP grantees are produce box programs and home delivery offerings. In this model, shoppers receive a farm share box with pre-selected, GusNIP-eligible fruits and vegetables. In many cases, the GusNIP awardee assembles these boxes and delivers them to the shopper, increasing access to fruits and vegetables for those who may be homebound, disabled, or undergoing medical treatments. Programs across the country — from South Carolina to Washington, from Oregon to Ohio, from Texas to Washington, DC — all received GusNIP awards in 2022 that supported farm share boxes. As this trend grows, the Hub is offering guidance on how best to establish and support farm share box programs across the country.
Supporting the field
One thing all nutrition incentive and produce prescription programs have in common is the need to secure funding to sustain their operations. A major source of this funding is the USDA’s GusNIP program, which in 2022 invited applications for initiatives to innovate nutrition incentive and produce prescription implementation. Composing a large-scale GusNIP application is challenging even for seasoned veterans, and the Nutrition Incentive Hub acts as a guide, helping practitioners navigate the complex application process. In 2022, GusNIP-funded produce prescription and nutrition incentive grantees were required for the first time to have a one-on-one consultation with the Hub. Fair Food Network led the process, providing more than 180 hours of technical assistance to 166 organizations, 75% of which were first-time applicants to GusNIP. GusNIP awards included $20.7 million for 43 produce prescription programs, 95% of which were first-time GusNIP applicants who the Hub will assist with new technical assistance offerings customized for their specific needs in 2023.
Still, other more established programs have extensive operating experience and are looking to scale their programs statewide. With expansion comes the need for additional fundraising and coalition building. In 2022 FFN helped programs across the country to better understand the process for pursuing and securing state-level funding. For example, we gave Field & Fork Network in New York a crash course in the appropriations process. Double Up New York received first-time funding of $2 million from the New York state legislature in 2022 and is now working to secure permanent funding for Double Up in the state budget. We also provided technical support to Jackson Medical Mall Foundation’s efforts to educate the Mississippi state legislature about incentives, including commissioning a study of Double Up Mississippi demonstrating the economic impact of nutrition incentives in their state. Double Up Mississippi received first-time state funding of $400,000 in 2022. Other successes included the Sustainable Food Center’s securing of $6 million dollars in the 2024 Texas state budget, and City Green now strongly positioned to secure first-time funding from the New Jersey legislature in 2023.
In 2022, the Hub awarded $1 million to twenty-four nutrition incentive and produce prescription projects across the country to support initiatives that expand their reach, enhance community engagement, and strengthen their program’s long-term sustainability in high-need communities. Grants of up to $50,000 each will enhance nutrition incentive and produce prescription projects at farmers markets and grocery stores in sixteen states and the Blackfeet Nation (Montana) to expand affordable access to fruits and vegetables as the need for nutrition security remains heightened.
As a trusted partner for program development, technical assistance, and evaluation, the Nutrition Incentive Hub in 2022 helped to develop, document, and model approaches that create immediate impact, support community-driven progress, and change systems for the better.
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