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Double-Up Food Bucks Helps Shoppers Taste The Local Difference

Bridge Card holders can double their money at farmers markets

Healthy Food | August 21, 2012 | By Diane Conners

A Community Project


Bringing Double Up Food Bucks to Northwest Michigan was a true community project. Donors included:

The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians
United Way of Northwest Michigan
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians
Rotary Club of Traverse City
Fresh Food Partnership
Munson Medical Center
The Leelanau Farmers Market Association
The Andrew Kiselius Trust
Frankfort-Willoughby Rotary Club Fund
Phil’s on Front
Oryana’s Lake Street Café and Kitchen
Pangea’s Pizza Pub
Shoreline Center for Healing
Burr Chiropractic and Wellness
The Circuit
The Traverse City Coop Loop
Bear Clause Publications
Members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation
Many others

The Utopia Foundation of Leelanau County provided a 25 percent match for all of the other donations.

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Kathie Maldonado uses her Bridge Card at the Sara Hardy Farmers Market in Traverse City to double-her money.
Kathie Maldonado shops at the Sara Hardy Farmers Market in downtown Traverse City. Maldonado uses her Bridge card to double her spending money up to $20 thanks to a new nonprofit program, Double-Up Food Bucks. (Photo: James Russell/MLUI)

A year ago, Kathie Maldonado couldn’t imagine eating food like this.

Fresh fish from Lake Michigan. Fruits and vegetables picked juicy and crisp just the day before at local farms. And even chewy, flavorful bread she’d never seen in grocery stores.

Laid off after 30 years of work, and searching for employment for three years to no avail, the Traverse City woman just couldn’t afford it.

“For the first time in my life, I had to get help to eat,” Kathie said. She signed up for the SNAP Bridge Card, the modern version of food stamps.

Healthy Helpings

Now, thanks to a new nonprofit program, Kathie can double her Bridge Card money up to $20 each shopping trip if she uses it to purchase groceries at participating farmers markets. That means $40 each visit for healthy food instead of just $20. That’s an extra $40 into the local food and farm economy.

Sarah Shimek, community outreach coordinator for the Grand Traverse County Health Department, said she hears enthusiastic stories about Double Up Food Bucks from the young mothers her department counsels on nutrition. One mom told her that her children always asked her to buy extra items at the farmers market, and she always had to say no because she didn’t have enough money.

“It’s really awesome for me to tell my kids ‘Yes, we can get that,’” she said.

Bridge Card and Double Up dollars are spent in tokens that individuals get at the markets when they swipe their card into a debit card-like machine—wooden tokens for the Bridge Card and metal for Double Up. The Double Up tokens can only be spent on fruits and vegetables, while the Bridge Card tokens can be spent on any grocery item that’s allowed with the card in stores. So Kathie can use her Bridge Card tokens at the market to buy fish, bread, eggs, milk, cheese—even vegetable seedlings to grow her own food. As a result, the Double Up program is making it easier for families to buy from many local food producers, not just those who grow fruit and vegetables.

Kathie loves buying fresh fish from Ed and Cindi John, who head out in their family’s commercial fishing boat from the Tribal Marina in Leelanau County’s Peshawbestown.

“He catches it the day before the farmers market every time,” Kathie said. “It is a fresh catch. And his wife told me of four different ways I could make the fish. I walked away with so much information. Not only do I have items to bring home, I also have ideas on how to fix them – and healthy ideas. I get much more information than I came in with.

“Double Up Food Bucks is a blessing,” she said.

Roots of the Program

The national nonprofit Fair Food Network, based in Ann Arbor, launched Double Up Food Bucks in August 2010 at five markets in Detroit. Today, according to Fair Food president and CEO Oran Hesterman, the program has expanded to more than 100 sites statewide. Farmers markets in 2011 recorded more than $1.3 million in sales from Bridge Card benefits and Double Up Food Bucks combined.

Members of the Northwest Michigan Food & Farming Network, which is working to make sure at least 20 percent of the region’s food comes from local farms by 2020, successfully raised enough money to bring the program to this part of the state for three years, starting in August 2011. In all, the regional community raised $50,000 locally, which the Fair Food Network matched with an additional $25,000, for a total of $75,000 that can be spent by local families on locally grown fruits and vegetables. And because the Double Up Food Bucks program matches Bridge Card spending, it means a total of $150,000 for the local food economy.

In Northwest Lower Michigan, Double Up Food Bucks is accepted at the following markets: Sara Hardy Downtown Traverse City, Suttons Bay, Lake Leelanau, Manistee, Marvin’s Gardens Spot farm market store near Interlochen and Grow Benzie. People also can shop at the Elberta Farmers Market, but first they have to visit the Grow Benzie market on a different day to swipe their Bridge Card and get their tokens. The Cadillac market also hopes to offer the service soon. For more information, including locations and dates of participating markets, go to doubleupfoodbucks.org and click on Find a Market.

For information about obtaining a Bridge Card, call 1-888-642-7434 or visit Michigan.Gov/mibridges.

Local resources connected to Double Up Food Bucks are available at the Northwest Michigan Food & Farming Network’s website, foodandfarmingnetwork.org.

This article first appeared in the Aug/Sept 2012 issue of Families First Monthly

Diane Conners directs the Healthy Food for All program at the nonprofit Michigan Land Use Institute, which coordinated the Food & Farming Network’s effort to bring Double Up Food Bucks to northwest Lower Michigan.


4295 days ago, 5:44pm | by Diane Butler | Report Comment

great piece!!!!

4295 days ago, 12:11pm | by LB | Report Comment

I viewed the Traverse City Farmers market video and saw how the patron was greatly thankful for the fish she was able to purchase with double up food bucks. The fish people have not been at the market due to the Agriculture Inspector kicking them out of another farmers market in the area. I am not sure why they are not allowed, but I am sure it has something do with the most ridiculous Michigan regulations, government obsessive contolling behaviors, and the governments lack of support of such items at the farmers market. The Ag inspector is on the loose carrying out the MI Dept. of Ag's regulations. These regulations, which are the most stringent in the country compared to many other states is going to prevent people like the fish vendor from coming back to the markets. Their rules and regulations will push out the small farmer once again with rules on packaging or displaying with plastic, hand washing stations, etc. Are we operating our farmers market in a hospital? Oh... I forgot... hospitals are ripe with Mersa. Shouldn't they be shut down according to the whatever MI Dept. of whatever? There is a need to not have irresponsible people selling items at the market, but the dept. of Ag is making it basicaly impossible, non-sustainable, and non-affordable for small producers, but the establishment will allow brokers to come in with tomatoes from who knows where except that it is outside of our county wide area. I thought we lived in a democratic society to some extent?! What a joke. I think living in France, a socialistic society with a socialistic government, is much more democratic when it comes to the farmers market. Perhaps I will go be a vendor in France during the growing season where they know what a real farmers market is supposed to be. Sorry for my cynicism, but when is someone going to speak up in this sort of ridiculousness? I have as best as I can, and nobody listens. Perhaps in the near future, farmers market will be a sterile environment where all vendors will not be able to sell unless their booth will encapsuled in a plastic bubble.
Thank you for listening.

3986 days ago, 6:50pm | by Kathie Maldonado | Report Comment


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