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Northern Michigan Ready to Double Up Food Bucks

Bridge Card users can stretch their farmers market shopping dollars

August 1, 2011 | By Glenn Puit
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

  Traverse City’s Sara Hardy Farmers Market joins the Double Up Food Bucks program on Aug. 6.

Last week the Michigan Land Use Institute hosted a training session for an exciting, new program, called Double Up Food Bucks Northwest Michigan, that helps struggling families buy fresh, local produce at northern Michigan farmers markets.

Double Up literally doubles the money that families with SNAP Bridge Cards—modern-day electronic food stamps—can spend in those markets on fresh fruits and vegetables.

“It’s a great program,” said Marcia Blackford, a farmer who owns the Marvin Gardens farm market, near Interlochen, in northwest Lower Michigan. “We have a lot of people right now in this economy who really need the extra boost, and it also helps our farmers because we get people buying our produce who probably couldn’t afford to do it.”

“It’s not only healthier for them to eat the local produce,” Ms. Blackford added. “They will also learn a little bit more about how their food is grown and where it comes from.”

MLUI’s video highlights how the program will benefit low-income families.

Farmers, vendors, and farmers’ market managers all came together at MLUI headquarters in Traverse City for a training session on how the program will work. Money for the program is being raised by The Northwest Michigan Food & Farming Network, and the expected start date for the program is August 12.

Right now the participating farmers markets in the region include:

  • Sara Hardy Downtown Traverse City Farmers Market.
  • Grow Benzie Farmers Market.
  • Frankfort Farmers Market.
  • Crystal Mountain Farmers Market.
  • The Suttons Bay Farmers Market.
  • The Lake Leelanau Farmers Market.
  • The Manistee Farmers Market.

(For location and operating hours for these markets, visit localdifference.org.)

The way the program works is simple: when a person participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program uses his or her SNAP Bridge Card to shop for food at a farmers' market, the amount of money that he or she spends is matched, up to $20 per visit, with Double Up Food Bucks bonus tokens. The tokens can be spent anywhere in that market to buy Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables.

Mike Powers is manager of the Sarah Hardy Farmers Market in downtown Traverse City and a member of the local environmental group SEEDS. He said the market is thrilled to accommodate the program because it brings families to the market that might not otherwise use it.

“Really, everyone wins in this situation,” Mr. Powers said. “Those who need locally available fruits and vegetables that are most nutritious will benefit. Their families will benefit, as will our local farms and vendors.

“Particularly now with the Double Up Food Bucks program, they are able to have an incentive and they’ll get an extra dollar for every dollar of Bridge Card benefits they receive,” he added.

The Fair Food Network’s Rachel Chadderdon, program manager for Double Up Food Bucks, said produce prices generally drive low-income families to the lowest-cost, least-healthy, most processed foods.

“Affordability and access are the two major barriers to low-income families eating more fruits and vegetables as is recommended for a healthy diet,” Ms. Chadderdon said. “It helps families stretch their dollars.”

Glenn Puit is a policy specialist for the Michigan Land Use Institute. Reach him at glenn@mlui.org.

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