Ohio farmers’ markets increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) redemption by offering incentives

By: Christie Welch, Direct Marketing Specialist
 
Over the course of 2014, OSU South Centers’ Direct Agricultural Marketing Specialist collaborated with a diverse group of stakeholders to apply for USDA’s Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Program funds.  The goal was simple, help Ohio Farmers’ Markets increase the number of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly the federal food stamp program known in Ohio as the Ohio Direction Card) benefits redeemed at participating Ohio farmers’ markets.  This not only increases sales for participating farmers, it also increases access to fresh, healthy, locally produced foods for food insecure Ohioans.  The Ohio steering committee worked with Wholesome Wave; a national non-profit whose goal is to increase healthy food access across the United States, and many others to develop a proposal for this new funding.  As a result, Ohio is one of 17 states participating in the $7.4 million, three-year project.  Fifty Ohio farmers’ markets that accept SNAP benefits now have the ability to offer matching incentives to SNAP recipients to use to access fresh fruits and vegetables that are produced by Ohio farmers.  
 
This program is having triple bottom line impacts for Ohio.  Food insecure individuals can now increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables they purchase at farmers’ markets; thereby increasing their health by increasing their consumption of fruits and veggies.  According to Michelle White, Market Manager of the Clintonville Farmers’ Market, “VeggieSNAPS (the incentive program) has been a wonderful addition to the farmers’ market landscape around central Ohio. 
 
Now EBT customers have multiple opportunities to shop and double their dollars throughout the week. At Clintonville on Saturdays, we have a couple of people who split their mornings between us and Worthington FM, taking full advantage of the incentive dollars to put healthy food on the table.”  She goes on to highlight the benefits to the community, “The program has created a strong tie within the market community itself, with market managers and neighborhood organizations working together on a united front to increase food access.” 
 
Other collaborating organizations are seeing benefits as well.  Jamie Sullivan, Vice President of External Affairs with the Greater Cleveland FoodBank said, “The clients we help through our Help Center are often looking for help applying for SNAP or finding other food resources.  They are always very excited to know that they can double their SNAP benefits through the Produce Perks (incentive) program.” And while the program is benefiting SNAP recipients in Ohio, producers are benefitting as well.  Christie Nohle, manager of the farmers’ market at the Franklin Park Conservatory said, “Our farmers’ market has seen an influx of EBT (SNAP) users.  EBT users and non-EBT users alike are commenting that they think the Veggie SNAPS (incentive) program is a great opportunity to put local fruits and veggies into the hands of low-income folks! Our farmers appreciate the program since it boosts their produce sales!”
 
The collaborators of this three-year project being led by Wholesome Wave include: OSU South Centers, OSU Extension Hamilton County, OSU Extension Cuyahoga County, Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District’s Pearl Market, the City of Columbus, Ohio Department of Job and Family Services EBT Section, Ohio Department of Health, The Farmers Market Management Network, The Countryside Conservancy, Case Western Reserve University, Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (AceNet), Franklin Park Conservatory, The Greater Cleveland Foodbank, and many farmers’ markets throughout Ohio. For a map of the participating Ohio farmers’ markets, visit the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services website: http://jfs.ohio.gov/ofam/OhioFMEBTDirectory.stm. This website lists the Ohio farmers’ markets that accept the Ohio Direction Card (SNAP) and whether or not they are participating in the incentive program.
 
Future plans include further development of a statewide network of Ohio farmers’ markets and stakeholders with the goal of applying for additional USDA FINI funding so that any farmers’ market that accepts the Ohio Direction Card will have the ability to offer incentive funds to food assistance benefits recipients.
 
If you would like to learn more about the Wholesome Wave project you can do so at: http://www.wholesomewave.org/wholesomewavefinigrantaward/.  If you have questions about the program, please contact Christie Welch via email to welch.183@osu.edu or via telephone 740-289-2071 ext. 234.