Projects aim to get more fruits and vegetables to poor people

April 8, 2015
Source: Food + Environment Reporting Network
Author: Chuck Abbott

The USDA awarded $31 million to three-dozen projects that will experiment with ways to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among food-stamp recipients. Many of the projects will offer financial incentives to buy produce at farmers markets. Two of the awardees, Fair Food Network and Wholesome Wave, run "double up" programs that will match spending on fruits and vegetables up to a specified amount. Food-stamp recipients, like other Americans, do not eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables.
The pilot projects are intended to improve the health of lower-income Americans and have a secondary benefit of larger sales for local growers. The USDA ran a one-year trial in Hampden County, Mass, in 2012, to see if financial incentives would result in greater produce purchases by food-stamp recipients. The trial offered a 30-percent discount on targeted fruits and vegetables. It was a success – participants spent more of their food-stamp allowance and more of their own money on fruits and vegetables, and ate more produce.
 
Washington State Department of Health won the largest grant, $5.86 million, for a multi-year project that will test a variety of cash incentives in supermarkets and farmers markets in 21 counties, along with a promotional campaign to build awareness of the incentives.
 
Fair Food Network, awarded $5 million, said it would expand into more stores and farmers markets, work on technology to make purchases easier, and offer year-round incentives in some areas rather than only during summer and fall harvesting. Wholesome Wave, active in 17 states and DC, said it would use its $3.77-million grant to establish at least 117 new local incentive programs as well as expand its existing network.
 
A description of the projects is available here. Information on the 2012 Healthy Incentives Pilot in Massachusetts is available here.
 
First posted on Food + Environment Reporting Network on April 2, 2015.