The government has come up with an extraordinary new program.
- The program operates with no additional revenues from either the local or Federal governments.
- The program is supported by both Democrats and Republicans with a history of them working together.
- The program is run successfully in states across the country from red Oklahoma to blue California.
- The program helps low income families increase their intake of fresh produce.
- The program, helps states lower health cost expenditures by contributing to better health among its citizens.
- The program supports local farmers in selling their fruits and vegetables thus increasing revenues.
- The program enables large institutional purchasers of food to buy from local farmers via the establishment of “food hubs”.
- The program creates new jobs with some 61,000 in 2008 alone.
- The program strengthens local economies.
- The program demonstrates how creative thinking can solve problems.
So what is this amazing program? It’s actually a creative twist on a rather old one; Food Stamps. The Food Stamps program is far from being new. It was first implemented in 1939 to assist low-income American families in obtaining nourishing food items. The program received a new name on October 1, 2008: SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
In 2005, grassroots activists saw the emergence of a new growing trend in the US: farmers markets. Here healthy organic fruits and vegetables were becoming available to the public. The question was how might this produce, obviously healthy but often more expensive than readily available processed foods, be made available to SNAP participants. The creative answer was to boost the purchasing power of SNAP “money” via the infusion of private corporate donations. A $10 stipend would now be worth $20 at the local farmers market. Hence the name of one such program successfully operating across Michigan: Double Up. Double Up partners with major organizations across the state such as the Michigan Farmers Market Association and the Michigan Fitness Foundation. Currently more than 110 farmers markets in Michigan participate in Double Up and accept these “boosted” SNAP food bucks. In Michigan alone, major corporations such as Aetna and Bank of America are partners in providing funding for the boosted stipends.
The USDA (the United States Department of Agriculture), via the 2014 Farm Bill, has announced the availability of $52 million in grants for programs similar to Double Up. These grants additionally support local organic farming via the creation of “food hubs” or virtual marketplaces. As Allison Aubry and Dan Charles point out in a 10/4/2014 article, food hubs connect “…local farmers with large-scale institutional purchasers of food who’d like to buy local but aren’t set up to deal with lots of small farmers.”
So here is a successful program that owes its success to the cooperative effort of many: from the grassroots activists like John Hyde in Langley Park and Takoma Park, MD and his collaborator Gus Schumacher, a former top official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture; to market managers like Michelle Dudley, also of Maryland; to farmers like Mike Appell in Tulsa, OK; to Oran Hesterman of Double Up; to state representatives like Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat and Oklahoma Representative Frank Lucas, Republican.
In national supermarkets across the country such as Publix, we routinely see BOGO or Buy One, Get One (free). Obviously these programs benefit both us, the consumer, as well as the retailer. The SNAP “boosted bucks” program is just a creative twist on these very popular programs. And to think, our government, our politicians actually pulled it off. Now that’s truly amazing!