Michigan farmers cheer Whitmer’s Double Up Food Bucks boost

March 14, 2019
Source: Michigan Advance
Author: Ken Coleman

Stockbridge farmer Helen Chandler is a big fan of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s plan to beef up a program helping people in need buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

Whitmer has proposed in her fiscal year 2020 budget $4 million for the Double Up Food Bucks program for those receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

“We really like the program,” Chandler said. “It encourages people to use their money to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. Double Up Food Bucks and the markets make it really easy for people to use it.”

Chandler’s Lake Divide Farm sells vegetables at farmers markets in Ann Arbor and Detroit. The farm has been an operation for three years and has participated in the Double Up Food Bucks program for one year.

Here’s how the program works.

A shopper buys fruits and vegetables at a participating grocery store or farmers market with their state-issued Bridge Card. For every dollar that’s spent, the shopper receives a one-to-one match, up to $20.

“Double Up Food Bucks connects farmers and people with food insecurity,” Whitmer told the Advance last week. “It’s wonderful program. We wanted to increase it so that we have better access for people in need.”

Fair Food Network, an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit, created Double Up Food Bucks in 2009 with the mission to “grow community health and wealth through food.”

The program began at five farmers markets in Detroit in 2009. It expanded to grocery stores in 2013 in one of the first pilot programs in the nation.

Since fiscal year 2016, the state has spent more than $2.9 million on Double Up Food Bucks. The program has grown to more than 250 sites across Michigan and become a model for communities nationwide.

Whitmer’s goal is to expand the program from 65 to all 83 counties by 2022.

Oran Hesterman is founder and CEO of Fair Food Network. He believes that Whitmer’s budget plan will help the program grow and he said it will help leverage at least $10 million in federal matching funds.

“This proposed investment will allow us to bring Double Up to every county in Michigan while deepening our impact to reach even more families and farmers,” said Hesterman. “… The state has been a core partner in this work, and we are deeply grateful to the governor and the Legislature for their support. This is a win for Michigan.”

In the last five years, Double Up Food Bucks has benefited more than 300,000 low-income families and more than 1,000 farmers.

Low-income families have bought more than 4 million pounds of healthy food with SNAP and Double Up Food Bucks, contributing more than $7 million to Michigan’s economy in combined sales, Hesterman said.

The program also has helped to create and stabilize business owners who are urban farmers.

After the housing market crash in 2008, Jerry Hebron left her job in real estate. Soon after, Hebron founded Oakland Avenue Urban Farm. It has become one of the city’s most well-known urban farms.

Located on Detroit’s North End, Oakland Avenue Urban Farm participates in the program through its affiliation with Eastern Market in the city.

The farm has helped to rejuvenate a once-strong, middle-class neighborhood where Charles Roxborough, Michigan’s first Black state senator, and Alvin and William Loving, Detroit’s first Black male teachers, lived during the 1930s and 1940s.

“Double Up Food Bucks is a great incentive for growers,” said Hebron. “The program specifically is designed for the consumer to buy fruit and vegetables that are local. It’s Michigan produce. It’s an economic market that we target.”

First published in Michigan Advance on March 11, 2019.