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Fed grant to get local produce to Oregonians in need


Farmers Market Fund , an independent 501(c)3 charitable companion organization to Portland Farmers Market dedicated to providing increased access to healthy, locally grown food for low-income, elderly and underserved populations, has been awarded a $500,000 grant from the USDA’s Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program for an Oregon SNAP incentive program called Double Up Food Bucks.

This new comprehensive program will provide cash incentives to low-income Oregonians who receive benefits through SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), for purchasing locally grown fruits and vegetables at farmers markets and through community supported agriculture.

In 2016 and 2017, the Oregon SNAP incentives program will benefit 46 farmers markets, managed by 35 different organizations, serving a mix of rural and urban communities. These markets are located in the Portland metropolitan area, the Willamette Valley, the North Coast, Central Oregon, Southern Oregon, and Eastern Oregon. The population in the beneficiary counties totals 3.5 million people, which represents approximately 90 percent of the state’s overall population.

“Encouraging low income families to put more healthy food in their grocery baskets is part of USDA’s ongoing commitment to improving the diet and health of all Americans,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “These creative community partnerships also benefit regional food producers and local economies along with SNAP participants.”

“I am so gratified that Farmers Market Fund has earned this grant, which will provide thousands more low-income Oregonians with the opportunity to receive tasty and nutritious food at farmers market statewide,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). “Working families are often struggling to put healthy, quality food on the table, and today’s good news both helps to combat food insecurity in Oregon and boosts our local farm economy.”

How SNAP Works

For five years, Farmers Market Fund (FMF) has operated a SNAP incentive program called Fresh Exchange at Portland Farmers Market’s neighborhood markets. SNAP benefits are distributed through the Oregon Trail Card, an electronic benefits-transfer card similar to a debit card. Portland Farmers Market processes SNAP card transactions at market information booths, debiting the Oregon Trail Card in exchange for $1 tokens that shoppers can use at vendor stalls. Fresh Exchange has increased the buying power of SNAP recipients by providing a dollar-for-dollar cash match up to $5 to purchase fresh food at certain Portland Farmers Market locations.

Those matching funds have helped many Oregon families eat a lot more fresh produce, according to a survey of shoppers of Portland area markets in summer 2014. In the survey, one shopper at the Woodstock Farmers Market wrote, “Shopping at this market with SNAP matching funds is vital. Otherwise I could not afford to eat healthfully -which is very important as I have medical concerns and need to stay healthy. The market is a weekly habit now thanks to the matching funds.”

Growing Impact of Farmers Market Fund

In 2012, FMF began convening all of the farmers markets that offer SNAP incentives in the northern end of the Willamette Valley. They regularly share best practices and have been working to bring their individual SNAP programs under a single umbrella so SNAP shoppers can use the incentives at any of these area markets.

The new Oregon SNAP incentive program, Double Up Food Bucks, allows FMF to achieve that goal for a comprehensive statewide program. The expansion allows FMF to take the next steps to ensure farmers market-based SNAP incentive programs reach their potential by creating a common program and increasing dollar-for-dollar matches for market produce up to $10 per visit. The statewide program will increase the number of participating farmers markets and boost data collection about the impact these programs have on increasing the amount of local fruits and vegetables purchased.

“What started as a group of Northeast Portland neighbors coming together to get more farm-direct produce into the hands of low-income residents has sprouted into an Oregon-grown movement. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to connect more Oregonians with fresh fruits and vegetables grown by local farmers” said Rosemarie Sweet, co-founder and board president of Farmers Market Fund.

The Oregon SNAP Incentive Program aims to:

Increase sales of fruits and vegetables at Oregon farmers markets purchased through SNAP by $790,000 over 2014 levels. Increase the number of SNAP recipients redeeming their benefits at participating farmers markets by at least 25 percent from 2014.

“It is impossible to overstate the positive impact this grant will have on the health and agricultural economy of our communities as more Oregonians gain access to fresh, local food. It’s an investment whose returns will be felt into the future,” said Merianne Myers, who serves on the board of directors of North Coast Food Web,

Impressive Statewide Support

As a requirement of the grant application, the FMF team needed 100 percent local matching funds from foundations and partners. Support for the proposal garnered pledges of cash and in-kind support from about 50 partners, totaling more than twice the matching funds required.

The largest pledge of $175,000 came from the Meyer Memorial Trust. “Meyer Memorial Trust’s support for this project, combined with the Trust’s investment of $3.4 million in the state’s food system landscape since 2012, helps broaden the reach of the Farmers Market Fund’s Nutrition Incentive program,” said Doug Stamm, Meyer Memorial Trust’s CEO. “We look forward to improved access and health for low-income consumers through this important program.”

Long-time FMF supporter New Seasons Market has pledged $90,000 to the program.This is in addition to the financial support of SNAP at farmers markets that they have given over the past eight years, which exceeds $250,000. Their foundational and loyal backing nurtured the budding of FMF and many other farmers market’s SNAP incentive programs.

“New Seasons Market is committed to ensuring that healthy, local foods are available to everyone. We are pleased to support the Farmers Market Fund as they provide much needed resources to farmers markets in Oregon. We believe that farmers markets are a crucial component in our regional food economy. Using these funds toward matching SNAP dollars benefits not only food insecure families and individuals, but also our small farmers,” said Wendy Collie, New Seasons Market CEO.

Other key funders and supporters include Kaiser Permanente Hospitals, Portland Farmers Market, Friends of Zenger Farm, Oregon Food Bank, and numerous farmers markets and food systems organizations around the state.

Programs to Further Increase Access to the Bounty of the Region

CSA Benefits: As part of the grant, FMF will partner with Friends of Zenger Farm on an innovative community supported agriculture (CSA) approach to SNAP incentives. Friends of Zenger Farm has developed and trained numerous CSA farms on redemption of SNAP benefits, and will expand that work as part of this project to reach more households and benefit more farmers across the state. This model has great potential to be replicable across the country as an additional means of directly connecting fruit and vegetable growers with SNAP recipients, with all the benefits a weekly box of produce affords.

The goal is to increase the purchase of locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables by SNAP recipients by providing dollar- for-dollar incentives for CSA shares by at least 80 percent. This represents a 45 percent increase in the number of households using SNAP benefits and redeeming SNAP incentives for fruits and vegetables.

Farmer-based electronic benefits: The program expansion also allows FMF to field test new farmer-based electronic benefit technology (EBT) redemption methods that may prove to be the future of federal benefit redemption at farmers markets. This technology holds promise in the smaller rural markets with limited staffing capacity to manage token distribution that is common across Oregon.

Staffing Up for Launch

Portland Farmers Market’s executive director, Trudy Toliver, who also acts as FMF’s director, led the pursuit of the grant. With funds from the grant, Portland Farmers Market will soon hire a program manager.

Toliver said, “Double Up Food Bucks will help to feed Oregon families in two ways: by putting food on the table for low-income families, and supporting Oregon’s family farms.”

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