New Nationwide Study Shows SNAP Incentives at Farmers’ Markets Boost Healthy Eating, Support Farmers, and Grow Local Economies

A new nationwide study shows that healthy food incentive programs at farmers’ markets significantly boost healthy eating in low-income communities, improve the economic viability of farmers, and strengthen local economies. The study, Healthy Food Incentives Cluster Evaluation, summarizes results of a two-year cluster evaluation of incentive programs run by four organizations—Fair Food Network, Wholesome Wave,, and Roots of Change—at more than 500 farmers’ markets in 24 states and the District of Columbia.

This study proves that regardless of the setting—urban or rural, small or large—healthy food incentives work. Incentive programs match Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—formerly known as food stamp— dollars spent at farmers’ markets to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables. Findings show that incentives significantly boost healthy eating among SNAP recipients.

The incentives also create economic opportunities in the communities in which low-income Americans live by helping direct SNAP dollars towards purchases of healthy foods sourced from regional farmers, processors, and wholesalers. As incentive programs bring SNAP families to farmers' markets, farmers report selling more produce, making more money, and having more new and repeat customers. The development of this new customer base has a ripple effect that stimulates economic activity and opportunity in low-wealth communities. Using an economic multiplier model, the study calculated that the SNAP incentives in just these markets generated upwards of $4.3 million in economic activity, saving or creating up to 47 jobs.

The study also showed an impressive growth in SNAP incentive programs nationwide. The four organizations, leaders in healthy food incentives, almost tripled the number of markets they supported from 177 markets in 2010 to 518 markets in 2012. In 2012 alone, the four organizations served more than 131,000 SNAP customers and almost 5,000 farmers, with participating families redeeming more than $1.5 million in incentives in addition to their SNAP benefits to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

The goal of the study was to support existing healthy food incentive implementation and provide a framework for future investments and potential federally funded national expansion. Healthy food incentives have provided rare common ground for Democrats and Republicans with language funding incentives included in every farm and nutrition bill passed by both houses of Congress in 2012 and 2013.

Additional private and public funding is crucial to support this powerful tool which is meeting the immediate food needs of struggling families, growing a new customer base for beginning, small, and mid-scale farmers, and creating jobs and spurring economic activity in low income areas.

The report was prepared by Community Science with funding provided by Aetna Foundation, Kresge Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kaiser Permanente, National Network of Public Health Institutes, and Open Society Foundations.

FULL REPORT: Healthy Food Incentives Cluster Evaluation 2013 Final Report