Anyone eligible for government food assistance can get up to $20 per day of free produce at Farmers Fresh Market in Ignacio.
Farmers Fresh staff began offering Double Up Food Bucks to customers using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in late May. The service is a SNAP incentive program that enables low-income customers to bring more locally grown, fresh produce home. It’s all about helping people make healthier choices, and along the way, working against health issues associated with highly processed foods.
“Healthy eating is really important,” said Brittainy Banwart, the market’s scan coordinating manager. “It’s the first step to fighting off disease and fighting off sickness.”
Overall, registration is a simple process. Customers just need their SNAP card, which staff members link to a store-provided Double Up card. Double Up Food Bucks provide a $1 for $1 match on any SNAP purchase for up to $20 per day of fresh fruits, vegetables and dried beans. If a customer spends $15 in food stamps, he or she will receive $15 in food bucks specifically allotted for fresh produce. The Double Up Food Bucks are funded by grants and are essentially free for SNAP users.
“When I think about buying groceries, I think about now putting more produce in because I do now have that option,” said Cindy Woehrel, an employee, SNAP customer and one of the first people to test the new program at Farmers Fresh. “Produce isn’t cheap. it’s one of those things where I think a lot of people would love to eat better and eat healthier; however, produce is so expensive that sometimes it’s not an option.”
Farmers Fresh is one of the first markets in the Four Corners to offer the service and the only provider in Ignacio. So far, staff has registered about 15 people, according to Cindy Swanemyr, another employee. They’re still trying to spread the word and will set up a registration table in coming weeks.
The Double Up Food Bucks program is modeled after the Fair Food Network’s food bucks program in Michigan. In 2016, Double Up came to Colorado, and by 2017, the food bucks were administered at more than 85 locations, such as farmers markets, supermarkets and neighborhood grocery stores, in 28 counties statewide, according to the program’s 2017 report.
LiveWell Colorado manages the program for the state. Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Colorado state grants, it’s a win-win-win, said Amy Nelms, food access manager for LiveWell Colorado.
Not only do low-income families get easier access to healthy produce, but local farmers are reimbursed for the produce sold through the program. The farmers market or store benefits as well.
“We’re mostly just hoping for more produce sales,” Swanemyr said. “Of course, people eating healthier. If that’s all they can buy with it is fresh produce, that should help them to eat healthier. But for us, it’s mostly eating healthier and more sales.”
Part of the Double Up goal is to push more federal food assistance dollars into local economies. Healthy eating also helps individuals with health issues.
“We’ve heard from some customers directly that this program has helped them lower their risk of diabetes,” Nelms said. “I talked to someone once who was diagnosed with cancer. She was on SNAP because she couldn’t work during chemo, and the program helped her continue eating healthy foods.”
Healthy eating through Double Up helps with both crisis medical events, such as being diagnosed or in treatment for a condition, and mitigate more chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
For Cindy Woehrel, Double Up Food Bucks mean eating a fresh fruit salad without having to worry about the cost associated with it and changing her family’s diet.
“I have four kids at home, so this definitely impacts their eating habits and allows me to offer healthier options for virtually zero dollars,” she said. “It’s free money for healthy options for any family, and a good way to fight childhood obesity as well as adult health problems.”