Fair Food Network expands Bridge Card program for farmers markets

February 10, 2011
Source: Crain's Detroit Business
Author: Sherri Welch

The Fair Food Network is expanding across the state a program to get low-income buyers eating more locally-grown produce and help local farmers increase sales.

Armed with just under $1.5 million in new foundation grants, the Ann Arbor-based nonprofit is expanding its “Double Up Food Bucks” program to about another 25 farmers markets in the state, adding to the 15 markets that participated last year, President and CEO Oran Hesterman said in an e-mail.

With Double Up Food Bucks, people who use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit cards (known in Michigan as the Bridge Card) to purchase fresh foods at farmers markets get a $2 bonus token to purchase more food at the market for every $2 spent.

Last year, the Fair Food Network had grant funding to match SNAP purchases at five farmers markets in Detroit, four in Washtenaw County, three in Battle Creek area and two in Toledo, Hesterman said.

A $240,000 grant from the Flint-based Ruth Mott Foundation and a matching grant from the New York-based Open Society Foundations will enable the Fair Food Network to expand the program to farmers markets in Flint.

An additional $1.2 million from the Battle Creek-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation will match SNAP purchases at additional markets in Grand Rapid and Lansing, Hesterman said.

“We hope to expand to nearly 40 sites next year,” he said.

Between Aug. 7 and Oct. 30 of last year, $111,585 in SNAP benefits were used at the 15 participating farmers markets.

The Fair Food Network said it used grant funding to match those SNAP purchases with another $91,866 in tokens at the farmers markets, leading to $203,451 in fresh produce going to low-income families, many living in urban areas. Those dollars flowed directly to small farmers and their rural communities, according to the Fair Food Network.