Maine Farmland Trust has announced the first-year impact of its 2016 Harvard Pilgrim Foundation Healthy Food Fund grant.  Maine Farmland Trust has provided over $12,000 worth of local fruits and vegetables to low-income customers in Saco, Biddeford, Portland, and South Portland through nutrition incentives at Portland Food Co-op, The Farm Stand in South Portland, and Unity Food Hub.

“We would not have been able to do this work in Southern Maine without this partnership with Harvard Pilgrim,” says Shannon Grimes, Nutrition Incentives Project Manager at Maine Farmland Trust. “Because of them, we were able to add staff capacity and reach much more of the Southern Maine community, working with new customers and markets at a whole new level.” Abby Farnham, who coordinates food access projects for Maine Farmland Trust in Southern Maine, adds that “Harvard Pilgrim’s support is flexible in a way that enables and empowers us to get creative when it comes to strategies for connecting low-income Maine consumers with Maine-grown food.”

Nutrition incentive programs provide bonus fruits and vegetables to low-income shoppers, often in the form of vouchers. In 2015, Maine Farmland Trust received a Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant from the USDA to work with food hubs, food co-ops, and other retail stores aggregating local food from Maine farms to implement nutrition incentive programs for customers using SNAP/EBT (previously known as food stamps). Harvard Pilgrim’s Healthy Food Fund provides some of the required match for that project, and has connected Maine Farmland Trust with the larger network of grantees.

In total, the amount of healthy, local produce distributed to low-income families in the region increased 87 percent as a result of Harvard Pilgrim Foundation’s Healthy Food Fund contributions; and the amount of produce sold increased 63 percent to 827,000 pounds.  The total dollar value of healthy food reaching households in communities across the region in 2016 is $2.2 million.

Of the 26 Healthy Food Fund projects in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, 17 are selling healthy local food through Farmers’ Markets, Mobile Markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, and farm stands.  A total of 20 are distributing produce through free-to-recipient channels such as gleaning, food banks, community meals, and youth agriculture programs.

“We are so pleased we can show how relatively small investments in local organizations can measurably improve access to healthy food,” according to the Harvard Pilgrim Foundation’s President, Karen Voci.

In 2016, more than $1.4 million in grants was distributed to the Foundation’s Healthy Food Fund initiatives within the region, with funds supporting programs that grow, distribute and/or market fresh food for low-income families and communities across the region.

About The Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation

Created in 1980, The Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation supports Harvard Pilgrim’s mission to improve the quality and value of health care for the people and communities we serve. The Harvard Pilgrim Foundation provides the tools, training and leadership to help build healthy communities throughout Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. In 2016, the Harvard Pilgrim Foundation awarded more than $2.4 million in grants to more than 900 nonprofit organizations in the region.  Since its inception in 1980, the Foundation has awarded $140 million in funds and resources throughout the four states.  For more information, please visit www.harvardpilgrim.org/foundation.