Tag Archives: Nutrition Incentives

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!

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.

Store-Up September with Maine Harvest Bucks

Store-Up September Doubles Maine Harvest Bucks for one month

Maine Farmland Trust is helping low-income shoppers stretch their winter food budgets with an extra bonus this month through their Maine Harvest Bucks program. The nonprofit is encouraging shoppers to stock up on local produce from select local food stores around the state during the bountiful season.

 

Maine Harvest Bucks is an incentive program that provides monetary bonuses for low-income shoppers to buy more local fruits and vegetables. During Store-Up September, shoppers buying food with SNAP/EBT (previously known as food stamps) can double their dollars at select retail stores: for every $10 spent on local foods, they’ll receive another $10 to spend on local fruits and vegetables. This program supports local farmers, increases access to healthy food for low-income shoppers, and builds community connections.

September is one of Maine’s best months for fresh produce, with plenty of tomatoes, melons, peppers, basil, cucumbers, and more. Many of these products are great for canning, pickling, or freezing. Maine Farmland Trust is hoping shoppers will take advantage of the season’s bounty and store up on goods to eat local and stretch food budgets all year long.

Maine Harvest Bucks incentives are also available at farmers’ markets, food hubs, CSAs, and farm stands around the state. For a full list of participating markets (including a map to find them near you), visit maineharvestbucks.org.

Stores participating in Store-Up September include: the Belfast Co-op, Blue Hill Co-op, Good Tern Co-op, Machias Marketplace, Morris Farm Store, Portland Food Co-op, Rising Tide Community Market, and The Farm Stand.

Contact Shannon Grimes for more information, shannon@mainefarmlandtrust.org or 207-338-6575.

 

photography by Jenny Nelson

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.”

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

Maine Harvest Bucks Hits Retail

Local food retail stores around the state are working with MFT to pilot an exciting new incentive program that will help SNAP recipients purchase more local food with federal food benefits. By using Maine Harvest Bucks, SNAP recipients can now receive $5 of bonus local fruits and vegetables for every $10 spent on local items at participating markets. 

 “It’s a win-win-win: more food insecure Mainers can eat healthy, locally-produced foods; Maine farms make more sales; and more food dollars stay in the local economy,”said Shannon Grimes, who manages the project for MFT.

Similar incentives have been quite successful at farmers markets, and expansion to the retail setting is a natural progression. Retail outlets, like food co-ops, that already sell a wide array of local farm products, are well suited to being part of the Maine Harvest Bucks program.

“We’re thrilled to be working with such a great group of markets,” Shannon says. “Everyone has been so excited and supportive of experimenting with a new program (one that’s never really been done before, anywhere), and are devoting a lot of time and energy to figuring out how to make it work. We’re especially lucky to have the Belfast Co-op in our backyard, and that they were willing to take the program and run with it—we couldn’t do it without their testing, troubleshooting, and teaching others.”

Joe Fournier, manager and co-owner of The Farm Stand in South Portland is enthusiastic about their involvement in the program: “Maine Harvest Bucks gives us an opportunity to share our showcase of Maine’s agricultural bounty to more people across a greater cross-section of lifestyles and backgrounds. Our main goal is to encourage the consumption, and access, of local, fresh and healthy food. That’s why we are excited to be a part of this program that includes everyone in the achievement of that goal.”

In addition to Belfast Co-op and The Farm Stand, other co-ops and retail locations across the state who are currently participating include:  Portland Food Co-op, Rising Tide Community Market, Good Tern Co-op, Blue Hill Co-op, the Morris Farm Store, and Machias Marketplace. Several food hubs/farm aggregators are also part of the project: Lakeside Family Farm, Unity Food Hub, and The Pick Up

Maine Harvest Bucks nutrition incentives (bonus fruits and vegetables for SNAP recipients) are also available at various farmers’ markets, and CSAprograms around the state—visit maineharvestbucks.org for a full list. 

For more information about Maine Harvest Bucks at Retail, visit maineharvestbucks.org/retail or contact Shannon Grimes, shannon@mainefarmlandtrust.org.

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.