By Alex Gladu
As part of the 2014 Farm Bill, the federal government will be support buying local in a big way. It’s currently developing and launching new initiatives to encourage food stamp recipients to shop at local farmers’ markets.
The 2014 Farm Bill, which outlines agricultural policy and funding for the year, allocated $100 million to increase fruit and vegetable purchases by Americans receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, the nation’s food stamp system. There’s long been a push for the government to prioritize healthy food options for SNAP users, but now the way that it’s doing so has local farmers and growers paying attention. Since the Farm Bill’s passage, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced a new program called the Food Insecurity Nutrition Initiative (FINI), an outgrowth of the Farm Bill funding, that will allow people and groups to apply for grants to fund projects that increase the availability of healthy food options for SNAP users. As part of the program, the USDA will give priority to projects that provide locally or regionally grown produce options.
What’s more, there are already several programs nationwide that fit this mold. In Michigan, there’s Double Up Food Bucks, organized by the Fair Food Initiative and sponsored by a laundry list of nonprofits, state government agencies and the USDA. When shoppers use food stamps at farmers’ markets in Michigan, Double Up matches their budget (up to $20) so that they can buy even more local produce. The program encourages SNAP users not just to buy healthy foods with their food stamps, but also to shop specifically at local farmers’ markets. Similar programs exist across the country in cities like New York and Washington, D.C. With any luck, they’ll be able to grow and expand thanks to the FINI grant program.
Investing in these SNAP-matching programs is smart for both farmers and the community. Double Up has had huge impact in Michigan. Thanks to its success, the program has been able to expand from just five farmers’ markets to more than 150 locations throughout the state. It’s even beginning to work with some grocery stores that have committed to selling Michigan-grown produce. The group reports that it has benefited more than 200,000 low-income families since 2009 and more than 1,000 local farmers in 2013 alone. All in all, it’s estimated that Double Up has contributed more than $5 million to Michigan’s economy by encouraging food stamp recipients to shop local.
SNAP benefits already help millions of low-income Americans. Now, there’s hope that they’ll work for local farmers, too. To learn more about the grants available under the USDA’s Food Insecurity Nutrition Initiative, click here.
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About the Author
Alex is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is double-majoring in Public Relations and Spanish. Since becoming a writer for Independent We Stand, she has fully adopted the ‘buy local’ lifestyle. Her favorite indie business is Sugarland, a bakery in Chapel Hill, N.C, where she has been known to go a little cupcake crazy. She hopes to attend law school and pursue a career in nonprofit or political communication.