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Double Up Food Bucks stretches food dollars at farmers' markets

Jul 06, 2017 07:40AM
Utahns Against Hunger is launching the third season of a dollar-saving program at farmers’ markets and farm stands across the state of Utah.

Double Up Food Bucks is a nutrition incentive program that helps low-income families take home affordable fresh fruits and vegetables grown by local farmers. The program works by matching federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits —SNAP, formerly food stamps — dollar-for-dollar, up to $10 per market day at participating farmers’ markets, farm stands and mobile markets. The matched benefits, known as Double Up Food Bucks, can be used to purchase Utah-grown fruits and vegetables.

This season 23 farmers’ markets and farm stands will participate in Double Up Food Bucks, in 11 counties statewide. Most of the markets are situated along the Wasatch Front, with locations in Orem, Provo, Spanish Fork and other cities. Markets in Roosevelt, Park City, Tooele, St. George and Moab are also participating. Roughly 90 percent of SNAP households in the state live in a county with at least one farmers’ market participating in SNAP and the program.

Programs such as Double Up Food Bucks have helped increase the amount of SNAP benefits spent annually at Utah farmers’ markets by more than 1,000 percent since 2008.

Brian Emerson, the Double Up Food Bucks program manager, says that the primary purpose of the program is to increase access to healthy food for low-income residents: “Double Up Food Bucks stretches SNAP recipients’ food budgets while encouraging the consumption of more fresh fruits and vegetable.”

More than 3,400 Utah SNAP recipients benefited from Double Up in 2016. The majority of SNAP recipients in the state are either children (53.45 percent), seniors (5.83 percent) or individuals with disabilities (11.77 percent).

Surveyed SNAP recipients who participated in Double Up Food Bucks in 2016 conveyed a sense of gratitude and relief for the program. Sixty-one-year-old Jennifer said, “The amount of food stamps I get is so low that, without Double Up, I couldn’t survive food-wise.” Cammie, a 37-year-old mother living in the Salt Lake valley said, “Double Up really helps stretch my food dollars. it helps me feed my family fresh produce, and I love supporting farmers in the community. … We’re grateful for it.”

Emerson says the benefits of the program are broader than increasing access to food: “In short, Double Up Food Bucks is a win-win-win for everyone. The program simultaneously reduces hunger and improves people’s access to healthy food, supports Utah farmers with new customers and more income, and strengthens the community by keeping food dollars circulating in the local economy.”

Research from the first two years of Double Up Food Bucks suggests that the nutrition incentive program works. Researchers from Utah State University evaluated the impact of Double Up Food Bucks on consumer behavior and found that participation in the program was associated with increased consumption of fresh produce and reduced food insecurity.

Double Up Food Bucks is active in 18 other states across the country, from Arizona and Texas to New York. In 2015 Utahns Against Hunger worked with a number of partners to bring the program to Utah, including Utah State University Extension, the Utah Department of Workforce Services, the Utah Department of Health and the Michigan-based Fair Food Network, the creator of the first Double Up program.

UAH was awarded a competitive Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive grant from the U.S Department of Agriculture in 2015 to implement the program. In 2017, Double Up Food Bucks received additional funding support from Intermountain Community Care Foundation and the Utah Department of Health.

The 2017 Double Up Food Bucks season runs through Oct. 31. Information on the program and a list of participating market locations can be found at www.DoubleUpUtah.org or by calling toll-free 800-453-3663.

About Utahns Against Hunger Utahns Against Hunger works to increase access to food through advocacy, outreach and education. Since 1981, UAH has worked to expand the reach of nutrition programs to the nearly 1-in-8 households in Utah that struggle to afford enough food. Through advocacy and collaboration with local policymakers, UAH influences and improves public policy surrounding hunger. It also strengthens child nutrition by promoting and expanding summer food programs and school meals, and ensuring that safety-net programs like WIC and SNAP are effectively serving low-income Utahns.