Tag Archives: Farm Fresh Rewards

Notes from the regional meeting for New England nutrition incentives

In December, Shannon, Abby, and Catherine — the Farm Viability staff who support our Farm Fresh Rewards nutrition incentive program– embarked on an early morning car ride down to Pawtucket, Rhode Island to meet with new regional collaborators.

Last year, MFT worked with Farm Fresh Rhode Island to submit a joint application to the USDA for a Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant to support MFT’s nutrition incentive program, Farm Fresh Rewards. The successful proposal is now also partially funding other nutrition incentive programs in Maine, as well as programs in Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. All these nutrition incentive programs focus on increasing sales for farmers by providing extra money for low-income shoppers using SNPA/EBT to spend on locally-grown fruits and vegetables, thereby supporting community food systems. The various programs are working with a diverse array of outlets— from farm stands and CSAs, to farmers’ markets, mobile markets, and local grocery stores.

Our trip this month was the first meeting of this regional group and gave us an opportunity to share successes, challenges, and dreams for the next few years of our respective programs. The energy in the room coalesced around how we can maximize our impact by learning from each other, and we were excited to think through how to continue our collaborative communication moving forward. We all recognize the benefit of working together as a region since New England states have similar food systems and related challenges. In fact, part of the reason that Farm Fresh Rhode Island chose to take on such a large, regional collaboration, was through their commitment to the New England Food Vision, and the desire to help build a resilient system that can feed our entire region. If lunch at the meeting is any indication– catered by Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s Harvest Kitchen and full of fresh, local foods– we’re off to a good start.

From the beginning, our Farm Fresh Rewards program has been informed by regional collaboration, through funding opportunities like  Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare Foundation’s “Healthy Food Fund,” and Wholesome Wave’s “National Nutrition Incentive Network,” both of which brought together food access organizations from around New England. Engaging with other groups in the region that do similar work has kept us motivated, energized, and full of new ideas, and we’re excited to continue that process!

You can support our work to increase access to local food through the Farm Fresh Rewards by making a donation to MFT today!

Maine nutrition incentive programs get a big boost from large federal grant award

Innovative “nutrition incentive” programs that get more local, healthy food to low-income Mainers while growing the customer base for Maine farms have received federal funding through a large, multi-state grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Last week the USDA announced over $4 million in funding for the regional proposal, led by Farm Fresh Rhode Island and including two Maine organizations: MFT and Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets. The award is the largest grant allocated in this grant cycle. The grant will help fund nutrition incentive programs in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island for the next four years.

“We’re really glad to be part of this collaborative effort to increase access to healthy food and support farmers across New England,” says Shannon Grimes, Nutrition Incentive Project Manager at MFT. “Having this grant provides important stability to help us expand our programs even more over the next few years.”

Nutrition incentive programs offer vouchers for low-income shoppers who use SNAP/EBT (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) when they purchase local food. The vouchers can be redeemed to purchase more locally-grown fruits and vegetables. Nutrition incentives are a win-win-win: Families who use SNAP benefits are able to access more local, healthful food; Maine farmers gain new customers; and more food dollars stay in the local economy.

In Maine, there are two types of nutrition incentive programs: Maine Harvest Bucks, which is offered at farmers’ markets, CSA’s, and farm stands through Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets (MFFM), and Farm Fresh Rewards, offered in local stores and administered by MFT.

Maine Harvest Bucks is available at 60 sites across the state. MFFM partners with Saint Mary’s Nutrition Center, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, and Cultivating Community to implement Maine Harvest Bucks at various direct-to-consumer markets throughout the state. Since 2015, Maine Harvest Bucks has provided more than $250,000 in local fruits and vegetables to shoppers using SNAP. When SNAP benefits are factored in, Maine shoppers have purchased more than $600,00 from local farms in the past 3 years through the Maine Harvest Bucks program.

In 2015, MFT began a project to expand nutrition incentives to stores selling local food. Farm Fresh Rewards has also proved successful: 69% of responding customers report buying more fruits and vegetables as a result of the program, over half (56%) reported a health benefit, and more than two-thirds (69%) noted that they “feel more connected with farmers and other food producers.” Customers are buying more local food, supporting the more than 300 farmers who sell products to participating stores. MFT looks forward to growing these successes with renewed funding. Farm Fresh Rewards is also supported by Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare Foundation in Southern Maine.

In total, these two nutrition incentive programs have helped increase sales for over 1,000 farmers and producers, with more than $700,000 in SNAP and nutrition incentive sales since 2015.

“After three years of development, we are excited to see our program continue to grow with the support of the FINI grant” says Jimmy DeBiasi, the SNAP Program Coordinator at MFFM. “We’re looking forward to continuing to work with the Department of Health and Maine SNAP-Ed, whose support has been critical, as we test new outreach strategies, launch a farm stand pilot, and expand our impact among farmers and shoppers using SNAP.”

For more information about Maine Farmland Trust’s Farm Fresh Rewards program, contact Shannon Grimes, shannon@mainefarmlandtrust.org or 207-338-6575.

For more information about the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets’ Maine Harvest Bucks program, contact Jimmy DeBiasi, SNAP@mffm.org or 207-487-7114.

Let's grow a bright future for farming in Maine, together.

PITCH IN for local food for all

Maine is building a vibrant farm and food economy, but not all Mainers have access to local food. Maine ranks 3rd in the nation, and 1st in New England for the portion of households experiencing food insecurity. At the same time, Maine has lots of farmland and farmers producing nutritious food year-round. Our Farm Fresh Rewards program helps to connect the dots between farmers and consumers, and grow markets for farmers and while reducing food insecurity.

 

Farm Fresh Rewards provide bonus dollars for shoppers using SNAP/EBT to buy locally-grown fruits and vegetables at local retail stores, like food co-ops. The program increases SNAP shoppers’ purchasing power while making healthy food more affordable and connecting farmers with new customers.

The impact of Farm Fresh Rewards is threefold:

  1. Shoppers: We address inequities in our food system by increasing access to affordable, fresh, locally-grown produce for low-income Mainers. 
  2. Farmers: We help grow the market for Maine farmers, who can sell more of their products through local stores that offer Farm Fresh Rewards  and reach a broader consumer base.
  3. Local Economy & Community:  More consumers are able to afford products from local businesses; keeping dollars circulating locally bolsters Maine’s economy. And shopping locally cultivates community connections.

In the first three years of the Farm Fresh Rewards nutrition incentives program:

Over 1000 households using SNAP also used Farm Fresh Rewards, impacting 2500 individuals

  • 373 farms sell  to participating stores
  • More than 20 stores have participated to date
  • Over $170,000 of incentives have been redeemed for local fruits and vegetables

If you believe in this work to grow markets for farmers while also addressing food insecurity in Maine, we hope you’ll consider joining us as a member. Pitch in– we can’t do it without you!   

Let's grow a bright future for farming in Maine, together.

Farm Fresh Rewards

MFT is rebranding its innovative nutrition incentive program under the name Farm Fresh Rewards. Farm Fresh Rewards offers bonus local fruits and vegetables to low-income shoppers at participating retail stores.

Farm Fresh Rewards is currently offered at 16 retail locations around the state of Maine, with more to come in the next year. This program is part of a growing number of nutrition incentive programs that help low-income shoppers access healthy food across the country by connecting them with local produce and the farmers who grow it, building sales for farmers. Farm Fresh Rewards can be used by shoppers using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, previously known as food stamps) at participating retail stores. Farm Fresh Rewards complements the Maine Harvest Bucks program that offers incentives to shoppers at farmers markets and CSA farms.

The goal of this program is to expand the number of locations where shoppers can access local food—to make it more convenient, and therefore more attractive. “We are so excited to be working with Maine Farmland Trust to enable more people access to all the fresh, local produce we have to offer in Maine,” says Tina Wilcoxson, Owner of Royal River Natural Foods.

This rebranding comes at a pivotal time for the program. MFT established the program over the past three years largely under a Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant from the United States Department of Agriculture and with support from the Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare Foundation. MFT is excited by how the program has developed and is currently seeking new funding to allow Farm Fresh Rewards to continue to grow.

“We’re really seeing an impact.” says Shannon Grimes, Nutrition Incentive Project Manager at MFT. “Customers are buying more fruits and vegetables, trying new ones, and noticing health benefits—and sales of local goods are going up too. It feels like we’ve caught some momentum and we hope to amplify these successes.”

MFT looks forward to finding new ways to improve and spread the word about the program as it continues to expand under the new Farm Fresh Rewards brand. For a list of where to find the program and more information, visit farmfreshrewards.org. For a list of all sites that offer nutrition incentives in Maine, visit maineharvestbucks.org.

 

If you would like to support this program, please contact us.

Let's grow a bright future for farming in Maine, together.