Riverbank’s Farmers’ Market will benefit from some federal funding, one of several local programs to be included in a grant program.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the Ecology Center in Berkeley, California will receive one of the USDA’s first ever Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grants, totaling $3.7 million over two years. The grant will help to expand Market Match, California’s healthy food incentive program to additional farmers’ markets and other outlets across the state, including the Riverbank market. Through the grant, the statewide farm-to-fork incentive program expects to connect nearly 240,000 food-insecure shoppers with 2,200 of the state’s small farms, stimulating $9.8 million in fruit and vegetable sales.
“This award is great news for our state,” said California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross. “Making sure all Californians can access California-grown fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables is a top priority for our state, especially during this prolonged drought.”
The USDA’s Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program, or FINI, was authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill to support programs that help participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) increase their purchase of fruits and vegetables. The FINI grant awards announced total $31.5 million. The Ecology Center’s award is the fourth largest multi-year large-scale project in the country, or 10 percent of all FINI funds, and California distributes the largest pool of federal SNAP dollars through its CalFresh program.
“We think of Market Match as a win for everyone involved, even more so in the Central Valley, which is considered the agriculture capital of the world,” said Sareen Bedoyan-Creede from the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission (EOC), one of three Central Valley grant partners that is included in the grant.
Market Match doubles low-income shoppers’ nutrition benefits at participating farmers’ markets and allows them to purchase even more healthy fruits and vegetables. So if a customer spends $10 of their allotted benefit, they are given an extra $10 in market tokens or vouchers to spend on fruits and vegetables.
The urgency around improving low-income Californians’ food choices is borne out by recent health and mortality research. In a report to the Strategic Growth Council, the Health in All Policies (HiAP) Task Force states that “chronic disease, which is often diet-related, now accounts for over 75 percent of all deaths in California.”
The report goes on to explain that California’s low-income residents suffer disproportionately from diet-related diseases from lack of fruit and vegetable consumption while receiving $7.5 billion in SNAP benefits each year.
“Children from food insecure families are 90 percent more likely to be in fair or poor health, and meals containing more fruits and vegetables cost 41 percent more than meals consisting of lower nutritional quality,” said Latino Coalition for a Healthy California executive director Xavier Morales. “Market Match helps families with lower incomes access fruits and vegetables that may have previously been perceived to be too expensive.”
In addition to improving the health and shopping habits of low-income shoppers, Market Match is also helping local farmers’ bottom lines. In a 2013 Market Match survey, 80 percent of farmers reported that they sold more fruits and vegetables, 69 percent had new customers and 66 percent made more money as a result of the Market Match program. A total of 18 percent of farmers even reported that they were planting new acreage as a result of the program.
The $9.8 million in new spending on fruits and vegetables that this grant hopes to generate will go directly to some of California’s most drought and economically devastated farming communities where it will circulate, have multiplier effects, and help stabilize local economies. This is great news for farmers throughout the Central Valley.
The Central Valley FINI Grant Partners are the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission (FEOC), Visalia Farmers’ Market Association and the Riverbank Chamber of Commerce Farmers’ Market.
California Market Match was founded in 2009 by a nonprofit program of the Public Health Institute, Roots of Change (ROC). The Ecology Center and ROC continue to partner in order to further state-based programs and practices, including nutrition incentives, that work to ensure the health and resilience of all California communities.