Right in our own backyard of New England, farm and food innovations have gone on to be models for replication, and positive change, across the nation. Community supported agriculture is one, starting in western Massachusetts and New Hampshire (the two first CSA farms emerged at the same time in 1986!) and spreading across the country. There were nearly 13,000 CSAs in the United States according to the last Census of Agriculture in 2012, connecting farmers and eaters directly and enriching local communities! Another great model is Bounty Bucks, which doubles SNAP (Food Stamps) purchases at farmers’ markets, leveling the playing field so everyone, regardless of income level, can afford fruits and vegetables. In Massachusetts, where the first pilot program of Bounty Bucks began, the program is now state-funded and known as the Healthy Incentives Program.
The Healthy Incentives Program provides a dollar-for-dollar match for SNAP dollars spent on fruits and vegetables purchased at participating farmers markets, farm stands, mobile markets, and community supported agriculture (CSA) programs statewide.
Since HIP’s launch in April 2017, Massachusetts SNAP recipients have purchased more than $2.97 million of produce from local farmers, earning an equal amount of incentives in the process. That’s nearly a 600% increase in sales of fresh, healthy, local foods to low-income families over 2016 figures. More than 35,400 households have participated, representing over 62,200 individuals. Close to 50% of the households that have benefited include a senior, and more than 34% include a child. The program’s success so far can also mean savings of more than $1.1 million in public health costs, due to reductions in chronic disease and medical costs brought about by healthy eating.
For the 200 farmers participating in HIP, this $2.97 million in increased sales makes it possible for them to hire local community members, purchase goods and services from local businesses, and employ sustainable management practices that protect farmland and other natural resources, contributing to Massachusetts’ environmental health. For every dollar spent on purchasing vegetables directly from a Massachusetts farmer, an additional $1.12 in local economic activity is generated, meaning HIP has stimulated at least another $3.1 million in financial transactions in the Commonwealth.
Massachusetts Residents: Time to Speak Up
Massachusetts has been a national leader in addressing food insecurity and farm viability, and the Commonwealth has the opportunity to continue doing so through renewed and expanded state funding of HIP. The program has far exceeded expectations, so action is needed to urge the legislature to include funding in their next budget to support the program.
Farm Aid is grateful for the hard work of our local partners and friends like the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative, Communities Involved in Agriculture (CISA), Mill City Grows and more, who have been determined advocates and organizers for this innovative solution for eaters and farmers!