Double Up Food Bucks: Helping provide healthy fruits, vegetables, one county at a time

February 21, 2020
Source: Michigan Farm News
Author: Mitch Galloway

LANSING — Coming to a county near you in the next four years will be the Double Up Food Bucks program. At least, that’s Ann Arbor-based Fair Food Network’s plan.

Already in 250 sites in 66 counties across Michigan, Fair Food Network’s Double Up matches the federal funds spent on fruit and vegetables by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps.

With millions of Americans already food insecure, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, having access to healthy food is more critical than ever.

Fair Food Network Policy Director Mark Nicholson thinks Double Up could be the solution not just in Michigan — but nationwide.

“Healthy food — especially fresh fruits and vegetables — are essential for families to thrive,” Nicholson told Michigan Farm News. “Yet they are out of reach for far too many. Those living in food insecure households lack consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life, due to a lack of financial resources for food.

“They often lack financial resources to obtain or easily access nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, while energy dense, nutrient-poor foods are abundant and highly marketed.”

Double Up is not only an investment into low-income households but an investment into domestic farmers, Nicholson said. Since starting as a pilot program in 2009, it’s contributed $21 million in combined SNAP and Double Up sales while providing 13.5 million pounds of healthy food.

Double Up’s success even led to the development of a new Farm Bill program, the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP), which Nicholson said “provides matching grants nationally to programs like Double Up.”

“Fair Food Network was successful in securing a GusNIP award this past year that, when matched with private and state funds, will help us to bring Double Up to every corner of our state over the next few years while also deepening usage in communities,” Nicholson said. “In farmers markets, Double Up dollars go directly to local producers. For retailers, participation requires a contractual commitment to increase purchases of local fruits and vegetables. If you sell wholesale or through a broker to retailers, find out if that retailer participates in Double Up.

“If they are, let them know that your produce is a great way to meet their local purchasing requirements.”

According to Nicholson, if a SNAP participant spends up to $20 at a local farmers market, he or she receives an additional $20 to buy Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables.

“This doubles families’ food dollars with direct benefit to Michigan growers’ bottom line,” Nicholson said. “In this way it’s a win, win, win: Double Up helps families bring home more fruits and vegetables, boosts business for Michigan farmers, and ignites local economies strengthening our communities.”

Farmers markets aren’t the only players in the Double Up game, said Amanda Shreve, executive director of the Lansing-based Michigan Farmers Market Association.

On-farm markets and grocery stores are also considered for Double Up.

“If you are a farmer that is participating in a farmers market that accepts SNAP, then the farmers market can apply to join the Double Up Food Bucks program,” Shreve said. “If you are a farmer that has on-farm stand or on-farm business where you welcome the public to come and purchase what you’ve grown directly from you, then you can also apply for your farm to be a participant of the program.”

The same goes for farmers selling produce to grocery and corner stores participating in Double Up, she said.

“From a very young age, we’re all taught how important fresh fruits and vegetables are to our diet and our health,” Shreve added. “Unfortunately, over time, it feels like … we maybe forget that, or we are presented with a certain number of challenges to incorporating fruits and vegetables into our diet.

“I think that Fair Food Network’s Double Up Food Bucks program is really impactful in helping to remove those barriers or lessen them, particularly for food insecure populations and folks in our communities who need assistance accessing food to feed their family.”

Getting involved

Just by accepting SNAP at your farm stand, a grower can participate in Double Up.

It’s that easy, said Nicholson, noting that if the producers already accept SNAP, they should contact Cassidy Strome, Double Up Food Bucks coordinator (cstrome@fairfoodnetwork.org), to get involved.

A list of current Double Up locations can be found at DoubleUpFoodBucks.org/locations.

“We’re always on the lookout for new Double Up locations and open our application process annually,” Nicholson said. “The next application period will take place in January 2021. Farmers can also apply to become a vendor at a farmers market that already accepts SNAP and Double Up.”

Fair Food Network expects 156 Michigan farmers markets and farm stands to participate in the program this year, a number Nicholson said will continue to grow by 2024.

“The two biggest barriers families face in bringing home fresh, healthy food for those who are food insecure is access and affordability,” he said.

“What makes Double Up Food Bucks so unique is its ability to address both at the same time.”

First published in Michigan Farm News on February 21, 2020.