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Harvest Bucks lower barriers for fresh produce

One of the food coolers at The Farm Stand in South Portland, featuring locally grown produce.

By Kate Irish Collins, kcollins@keepmecurrent.com

August 4, 2016

With the goal of allowing low-income people to purchase more fresh produce, The Farm Stand in South Portland and the Portland Food Co-op, in partnership with the Maine Farmland Trust, have launched a new program called Maine Harvest Bucks.

The idea is that those receiving food assistance funds who spend $10 on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance eligible items would receive a $5 bonus voucher to spend on locally grown fruits and vegetables.

“Maine Harvest Bucks allows me to stretch my benefits out enough to afford more local, fresh organic food,” David Bishop, a frequent Portland Food Co-op customer, said in a press release. “When I heard about the Maine Harvest Bucks program I thought it was too good to be true.”

Mary Alice Scott, the community engagement manager at the Portland Food Co-op, added, “Our mission is about bringing together local producers and consumers so that we’re growing a healthier community and a more sustainable food system. This program is a perfect example of the co-op’s mission come to life. Maine Harvest Bucks will help lower barriers so that more members of our community can eat well and support local farmers.”

The Maine Harvest Bucks program is supported through a grant the Maine Farmland Trust received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to broaden nutrition incentives into retail stores and other markets.

“Nutrition incentive programs at farmers markets already reach thousands of low-income Mainers, (but) making nutrition incentives available at grocery stores will impact hundreds more families,” Michel Nischan, CEO and founder of Wholesome Wave, a national nonprofit working to increase affordable access to healthy food, said in the press release.

“By making local produce more affordable, this program improves the diets and the health of families who need it most, while boosting the bottom line for Maine’s small and mid-sized farms. It’s an all-around win for the community,” Nischan added.

“We’re trying to find new ways to bridge the gap between farmers and consumers and by offering local-based incentives we can increase sales and market opportunities for Maine farms,” said Shannon Grimes, who manages the Harvest Bucks program at the Maine Farmland Trust said.

Grimes told the Current this week that Maine “has the highest rate of food insecurity in New England, yet the most farmland in the region. Maine Farmland Trust seeks to bridge that gap. We want more consumers to be able to buy local farm products (and) nutrition incentives like Maine Harvest Bucks are one way to reduce the cost barrier and increase access to healthy food.”

She added, “The program is win-win-win for our communities. Maine farmers gain new customers, low-income shoppers can buy more healthy, local food and more food dollars stay in the local economy.”

Although the general model for Maine Harvest Bucks is providing a $5 voucher for every $10 spent, Grimes said that each participating location may have its own rules as to how the program works.

In addition to The Farm Stand in South Portland, which was co-founded by farmer Penny Jordan of Cape Elizabeth, Maine Harvest Bucks is also available at farmers markets, urban farm stands, food hubs and through individual community supported agriculture programs.

Joseph Fournier, who is the general manager at The Farm Stand, as well as a co-owner, said, “Maine Harvest Bucks gives us an opportunity to share Maine’s agricultural bounty (with) more people across a greater cross-section of lifestyles and backgrounds. Our main goal is to encourage the consumption of and access to local, fresh and healthy food. That’s why we are excited to be a part of this program. Maine Harvest Bucks is another great tool that helps include people from all walks of life.”

He added, “This is (all) about inclusion. Everybody should have access to nutrient rich, healthy, locally grown food. Maine Harvest Bucks removes another barrier for those with limited means to participate in the strengthening of our local food system.”

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