News Column

Farmers Markets Expand Outreach to Low-income Families

May 29, 2013 6:14AM

The Cherry Street Farmers Market has partnered with two national agencies in hopes of expanding its Double Up Food Bucks program.

The program allows shoppers who use their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to purchase fruits and vegetables at the market to have their purchase matched up to $20.

When the Cherry Street Farmers' Market started accepting SNAP benefits -- formerly known as food stamps -- in 2010, it sold $3,150 worth of fruits and vegetables to low-income families. The next year it grew to $6,000.

Last year when the market launched the program the result was $22,500 in sales, more than triple previous years.

"We were stunned, surprised and completely overjoyed," said Melanie Hunter, program coordinator with Cherry Street Farmers Market.

The market has partnered with the Fair Food Network out of Michigan, a nationwide nonprofit that supports sustainable agriculture and access to fresh, healthy food, and Connecticut-based Wholesome Wave to assist with marketing, fundraising and evaluation.

"They took notice because of how successful we were and are helping us grow the program," Hunter said. "Ideally, we'd like to get this thing statewide to all the farmers' markets so that we can serve communities wherever they and those SNAP recipients who can effectively double up the amount of fresh, local food that they can eat."

Benefits of the program include improved health outcomes for communities and lower food costs.

"It's also economic stimulus for each community because you're keeping that money within that community," Hunter said.

The Cherry Street program is based off a similar program in Michigan. In fact, the partnership with Fair Food Network was started because it had already trademarked the Double Up Food Bucks name.

Rachel Chadderdon Bair, Double Up Food Bucks program director with Fair Food Network, said they saw the chance to partner with Oklahoma as a positive challenge.

"We've always seen Double Up Food Bucks as a model for how healthy food can be made more accessible to low-income families through already existing food assistance programs, and we've developed a very successful model in Michigan with almost 100 markets.

"We saw working with this group as a chance to test that model out in another location," she said.

Grants from the George Kaiser Family Foundation and the Zarrow Families Foundation provided money for the initial startup of the program.

Both foundations have continued their support this year, and the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation has added its support. However, more funding is needed to continue and expand the program.

"We are desperate for money. We're concerned," Hunter said. "We're looking around at hospitals, medical centers, places like that who would have a vested interest in investing in the front end to prevent costs of poor health."

Farmers markets

The Cherry Street Farmers Market is open from 7 to 11 a.m. Saturdays at 15th Street and Peoria Avenue. The Brookside Farmers Market runs from 8 a.m. to noon Wednesdays at 41st Street and Peoria Avenue.

Source: (c)2013 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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