Federal Food Aid Recipients Double Their Money at Local Farmers' Markets

© Fair Food Network

An oft-heard complaint about "green" eating: high quality natural foods cost too much, remaining out of reach for people of limited means. On the other hand, concerns about nutritional value in the diets of the less fortunate have led to proposed bans on using food stamps for sugary soda drinks or junk food.

Double Up Food Bucks for Healthy, Local Food for All

The Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) program, entering its fourth year in Michigan, solves both issues with a constructive solution benefiting both recipients of assistance from the Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), and local farmers.

The recently published Double Up Food Bucks Evaluation Report (pdf), provides proof that this ingenious program works. USDA statistics indicate that over $1 million of SNAP benefits were spent at Farmer's markets in Michigan. Using USDA data on SNAP benefits by state, we calculate that on a basis adjusted to total benefits per state this represents four times as much use of benefits at farmers' markets as the runner-up Midwestern state, Minnesota, and over 25 times the amount of Indiana SNAP going to locally grown natural foods available at farmers' markets.

More importantly, spending of SNAP benefits at Michigan farmers' markets has grown from a paltry $34,615 in 2009 to over a million dollars in 2011. While this is still less than half a percent of overall SNAP benefits in Michigan, it represents impressive growth that should continue as word of the program spreads.

How Double Up Food Bucks Works

Use of SNAP funds at farmers' markets around the United States has grown as vendors have sought creative ways to accept the SNAP debit cards. DUFB expands on this: SNAP debit cards can be presented at a booth at participating food markets, where recipients receive tokens that can be exchanged for foodstuffs. Under DUFB, up to $20 of additional tokens are distributed, one for each SNAP dollar used. DUFB tokens can be used only for Michigan grown fruits and vegetables, recirculating local assistance funds into the local economy.

This brilliant idea needs to be spread as widely as possible. At a time when all levels of government are seeking to use funding sensibly, trying to eke maximum returns out of their programs, the Double Up Food Bucks model cannot be ignored.

Thanks to Caroline DeVries for the tip on DUFB, and for spreading the word on good food programs.

Tags: Farmers Markets | Food Miles | Local Food | Michigan

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