Farm Fresh Rhode Island distributed its 100,000th dollar to food stamp recipients to support the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets across Rhode Island in October.
Out of more than 60 farmers markets in the state, Farm Fresh Rhode Island manages nine summertime farmers markets and the Pawtucket Wintertime Farmers Market. All Farm Fresh Rhode Island markets accept SNAP federal food stamp benefits as a way of ensuring that all Rhode Island families are able to accept food produced by local farmers and fishermen. Many of these markets are located in low-income neighborhoods, including Woonsocket, South Providence, and West Warwick.
To increase the accessibility of farmers markets, Farm Fresh runs the “Bonus Bucks” program: for every $5 spent with electronic benefit transfers, customers receive a bonus $2 to spend on fruits and vegetables. Bonus Bucks are funded through individual, corporate, government, and foundation donations, from such organizations as Wholesome Wave, the Rhode Island Foundation, and the City of Providence.
Less than 1 percent of all federal SNAP dollars in Rhode Island are spent at farmers markets. Bonus Bucks help attract such shoppers to markets to help keep these federal dollars circulating in the local economy.
In the first year Bonus Bucks was implemented, Farm Fresh witnessed a 675 percent increase in the amount of food stamp dollars spent at their markets. The program has since continued to grow exponentially. During the summer of 2013, Farm Fresh processed more than $61,000 in SNAP benefits at its markets, up from $43,800 in summer 2012, resulting in the distribution of nearly $25,000 of Bonus Bucks.
This milestone coincides directly with drastic changes for SNAP recipients. In Rhode Island, 17 percent of the population – about 180,000 individuals – use SNAP benefits. On Nov. 1, 2013, SNAP recipients nationwide saw a derease in their benefits of about 5 percent. The decreases stem from the expiration of funds set aside in the 2009 Recovery Act – and amount to $5 billion per year.
Farm Fresh Rhode Island will continue to support access to healthy, local foods through all of its programs. Farm Fresh runs two markets a week throughout the winter where customers can use SNAP benefits and receive Bonus Bucks.
Founded in 2004, Farm Fresh Rhode Island is a non-profit organization that works to grow a food system that values the environment, health and quality of life of local farmers and eaters. For information, or to contribute to the Bonus Bucks Fund, visit www.farmfreshri.org.