Shoppers using food stamps can double their money in September when buying fruits and vegetables at the Astoria Co+op.
The Oregon Food Bank awarded the co-op a $3,000 grant as the first pilot site in the expansion of the Double Up Food Bucks program from farmers markets to grocery stores.
Throughout September, the co-op will use the grant to match up to $10 of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits spent per visit on fruits and vegetables with a voucher for produce in the future. Shoppers do not have to be members of the co-op.
“They were really excited to work with an independent grocery store,” Matt Stanley, the general manager of the co-op, said of the partnership. “This aligned with our mission. They weren’t interested in going to a large chain store to do this.”
Fair Food Network, a nonprofit focused on increasing access to healthy foods, piloted the Double Up Food Bucks program in five Detroit-area farmers markets a decade ago. Funding has since become part of the U.S. farm bill, the federal government’s primary legislation on agricultural and food policy.
The Double Up Food Bucks program expanded to Oregon in 2015 and now includes more than 60 farmers markets statewide. The state Legislature approved $1.5 million in July to expand the program over the next two years.
Spencer Masterson, a statewide network manager with the Oregon Food Bank, said the co-op reached out to the Fair Food Network, which then reached out to the food bank about piloting the program in Astoria. The food bank is still working on the criteria for adding new stores to a full-fledged program.
“We’re going to look at areas without markets doing the program, looking at areas with food scarcity (and) low access to fruits and vegetables,” Masterson said.
The food bank expects to launch later this year, incorporating six to eight stores over the next two years, Masterson said. The program focuses on grocery stores offering locally grown produce.
The co-op will be a strong candidate for the program at its new store, now projected to open in mid-December in the Mill Pond neighborhood. One-quarter of Clatsop County residents are eligible for food stamp benefits. The nearest similar matching program for produce is at a farmers market in Seaside, Masterson said.
“This is a big step for us to promote this program,” Stanley said of Double Up Food Bucks.
The co-op has long accepted food stamps, he said, and also discounts various staple grocery items.
Only 11% of Oregonians consume enough fruits and vegetables, according to Double Up Food Bucks, but buying fruits and vegetables is often too expensive. One in six state residents experience food insecurity.
The hope is that the Double Up Food Bucks program can help take the onus off of low-income customers to cover the increased costs faced by local farmers, Masterson said. “It will be hard to show with a $3,000 grant, but we’re hoping to show some real economic impact of folks purchasing local produce from stores in their area,” he said.