Tag Archives: FINI

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!

Our Priorities for the Final Farm Bill

Time is running out for Congress to pass a new farm bill. The current farm bill, which was passed in 2014, expires on September 30, 2018. Both the House and the Senate have passed their own versions of a new farm bill. A conference committee, which includes leadership from both Agriculture Committees as well as other House and Senate members, has been formed to work out the differences between the two bills. If the conference committee is unable to produce a reconciled bill by the September 30th deadline, an extension of the current farm bill will need to be obtained to ensure that programs vital to farmers in Maine and across the country continue to operate while the new farm bill is negotiated.

Both the House and Senate farm bills contain important funding increases for the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives Program (FINI), as described below. Overall, though, the bipartisan Senate bill does more for agriculture in Maine by protecting important farm resources, helping Maine farmers grow their businesses, and supporting the next generation of farmers. In contrast, the partisan House bill guts programs that are vital to farmers and rural communities in Maine and eliminates critical funding for conservation programs. More specific information about the House and Senate bills can be found HERE and HERE.

As the conference committee works to reconcile these two bills, MFT has reached out to our congressional delegation and urged them to work with the conference committee to ensure that the following priorities are included in the final bill:

1. Maintain both the Senate and House farm bills’ increases in funding for ACEP-ALE to support the placement of agricultural easements in Maine that protect farmland and make land more affordable for the next generation of farmers.

  • Senate farm bill: authorizes $400 million/year in FY19-21; $425 million in FY22; and $450 million/year by FY23.
  • House farm bill: authorizes $500 million/year in funding.

2. Maintain the Senate farm bill’s increase in funding for the development of local and regional food economies through the establishment of the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP).

  • Senate farm bill:combines the Value-Added Producer Grant Program (VAPG) with the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) and a regional public-private partnership to support and encourage investment in regional food economies, and provides $60 million/year in mandatory funding.
  • House farm bill: does not create a combined program and does not provide any mandatory funding for VAPG or FMLFPP.

3. Maintain the Senate farm bill’s increase in funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), which provides competitive grants to academic institutions, state extension services, producer groups, and community organizations to support and train new farmers and ranchers.

4. Reduce funding cuts to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) so that farmers have the necessary support to address natural resources concerns on their property while keeping their land in production.

  • Senate farm bill: reduces funding for EQIP and CSP by $2.5 billion over 10 years, but maintains overall funding levels for the Conservation Title.
  • House farm bill: eliminates CSP, cuts total funding for the Conservation Title by $1 billion, and reduces funding for working lands conservation programs by $5 billion over 10 years.

5. Maintain the Senate and House farm bills’ increase in funding for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program to increase access to local fresh fruits and vegetables for SNAP recipients, and expand markets for farmers.

  • Senate farm bill: reauthorizes the program and provides $50 million per year in mandatory permanent baseline funding.
  • House farm bill:reauthorizes the program and provides $275 million over 5 years in permanent baseline funding.

6. Maintain the Senate farm bill’s Buy-Protect-Sell provision so that lands trusts can act quickly using ACEP-ALE dollars to protect vulnerable farmland and then sell the land to a farmer.

  • Senate farm bill: contains a Buy-Protect-Sell provision.
  • House farm bill:does not contain a Buy-Protect-Sell provision.

7. Maintain the Senate farm bill’s increase in funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), which supports research projects that address the most critical challenges facing organic farmers.

  • Senate farm bill: increases funding to $50 million/year in permanent baseline funding by 2022.
  • House farm bill:increases funding to $30 million/year in mandatory funding.

8. Maintain the Senate farm bill’s increases in funding levels for Farm Service Agency (FSA) direct and guaranteed loans.

  • Senate farm bill: increases funding to at least $2 billion for direct loans and $4 billion for guaranteed loans.
  • House farm bill:does not increase funding.


Many of these important provisions are taken from legislation that was sponsored by Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Maine Senator Susan Collins. We urge you to reach out to all of Maine’s congressional delegation, including Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, Congressman Bruce Poliquin, Senator Susan Collins, and Senator Angus King, and let them know why these programs are important to you and to farmers generally in Maine.

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

Harvest Tide Organics

MFT Newsletter Spring 2016

Maine Farmland Trust Newsletter

Spring 2016

In This Issue:

  • Partners protecting farmland in Bowdoinham
  • OPAV: “New” tool ensures farmland stays in farming
  • Maine Harvest Bucks hits retail
  • On the Ground: recent farmland protection projects
  • A FarmLink in Gouldsboro
  • Introducing the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center at Rolling Acres Farm
  • New Faces at MFT

Nutrition Incentives: Onward and Upward

Last week, a few of us from Maine Farmland Trust traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, for a conference put on by one of our national partner organizations, Wholesome Wave. Entitled “Transforming Food Access: Accelerating Affordability with Nutrition Incentives,” the convention was geared towards discussing the methods and challenges of encouraging more low-income consumers to buy local food.

Nutrition incentives are one of the newer fields we’ve dug into as an organization, but one we’re very excited about. Couched under farm viability, they complement our other programs aimed to create new markets and consumers for Maine farmers. Because nutrition incentives are now federally funded, we are able to provide extra money to users of SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) to buy more fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets, farm stands, and more. This has multiple benefits: consumers get better access to healthy, fresh food; our farmers gain new customers; and more food dollars stay in the local economy.

Along with other organizations nationwide, we’ve been piloting nutrition incentive programs for a few years now, and we’ve come a long way towards figuring out best practices. But there continue to be challenges in moving forward and scaling up. The good part is that after coming together, we can better define and address those issues.

One of the difficulties has been leveraging the right sources of funding to serve the people most in need. One panelist at the conference noted that this is often a problem in rural areas, which don’t have as much population density as cities, and therefore often take more funds to serve the same population and aren’t as appealing to philanthropic donors. She noted that we need to find the right metric to tell the story of rural—existing data doesn’t show the full picture.

Capturing and sharing data is one of the most important aspects of our programs, as it allows us to show our effectiveness. One state created 97% overlap between SNAP and Medicaid users—so any program that increased the health of SNAP users would decrease Medicaid costs. They were then able to justify spending on nutrition incentives because they had data to show that nutrition incentives do improve health, and would provide a net financial benefit to the state.

Data help us figure out what works (and what doesn’t), show funders the benefits of a program, and influence any policy decisions. Yet raw data isn’t all it takes: stories, too, are important—especially ones that are immediately shareable—providing a human context for some of the rough facts.

We’ve reached a point where we have pilot programs that work, but the next challenge is finding a way to scale them up effectively (a similar issue, by the way, to that faced by many of our mid-sized farms trying to reach the next level of sales). Much of this can be achieved through networks and partnerships, and we’re pleased that Maine has one of the more developed networks nationwide, the Maine Local Foods Access Network, with a team of organizations implementing nutrition incentives across the state. (We also just launched our new brand of nutrition incentives, Maine Harvest Bucks, and are accepting applications for markets and other venues for the 2016 season.)

We’re looking forward to building more partnerships, both in Maine and nationally—because you can only get so far by yourself. We’ve already seen the role public policy has in bringing us together, through the federal nutrition incentive funding (FINI) in the 2014 Farm Bill, which has provided the opportunity for much greater program support—as well as the impetus for this conference. We’re developing a robust community of practice, and know that that area has more potential for future growth.

One voice in particular we can be better at building into our networks is that of the affected populations we are trying to help. We need to empower those who can create positive change in their communities from the ground up, and include them in strategic conversations. One of our continuing questions is how much to focus on vulnerable populations versus everyone at once, because as Michel Nischan (founder and CEO of Wholesome Wave) put it, everyone should be able to afford quality ingredients like heirloom tomatoes.

Yet we also need to make it work for farmers. Good food may be scalable, but it will have to be part of more systemic change: fair wages across the food chain, a recognition that food has values beyond calories and even beyond nutrition.

In the end, nutrition incentives are a starting point, a bandaid on larger problems. Healthy should be easy, and this is a good way to get rid of some barriers, but it is only the beginning. We are excited to expand and refine our nutrition incentive programs, and develop greater relationships with organizations across the nation. And we will also be thinking: what’s next?


MFT receives funding to expand nutrition incentive programs in Southern ME

Maine Farmland Trust has received a grant of $50,000 from the Harvard Pilgrim Healthy Food Fund. This funding will be used to support nutrition incentives to low-income consumers to purchase fresh, local foods in the southern Maine communities of Biddeford, Portland, Saco, South Portland, and Westbrook, with possible expansion to other Healthy Food Fund eligible communities.

Nutrition incentive programs increase the value of SNAP benefits (food stamps) when used to buy local fruits and vegetables at participating venues. Maine Farmland Trust has been implementing local food nutrition incentive programs for the past five years. In partnership with Wholesome Wave and Maine nonprofits, the organization was also the recent recipient of two federal Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grants to support incentive programs, and has been working to expand incentives to more farmers markets, as well as local food retailers and other outlets.

In 2011, Maine Farmland Trust created a “Community Farm Share” program in Unity, Maine to serve low-income customers beyond those who shop at farmers’ markets, piloting an idea for a food hub in the process (now Unity Food Hub).

Through the Harvard Pilgrim grant, Maine Farmland Trust and Unity Food Hub will expand their joint food insecurity programming to more communities in southern Maine, an area with high need.

“It’s exactly the right time for this kind of support,” said Mike Gold, Program Manager at Maine Farmland Trust. “Maine is one of the most food insecure states in the nation, but we have the farmland and innovative farmers to combat that—it’s a scale and distribution problem.”

Maine Farmland Trust hopes that these innovations, and support from Harvard Pilgrim Healthy Food Fund and FINI, will help get more consumers buying from local farms, and more Maine food on the plates of those who need it most.

About 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 2014, the Harvard Pilgrim Foundation awarded nearly $2.9 million in grants to 710 nonprofit organizations in the region.
Since its inception, the Foundation has granted nearly $133 million in funds throughout the four states. Starting in 2015, the Foundation is expanding its focus on preventing childhood obesity to help families and communities eat healthier by launching the Harvard Pilgrim Healthy Food Fund. This grants program is aimed at supporting healthy food initiatives that increase access to fresh, healthy, and whenever possible, local food for families and communities in all of Harvard Pilgrim’s five markets across the region. For more information, please visit www.harvardpilgrim.org/foundation.