In October 2013, Farm Fresh Rhode Island distributed its 100,000th dollar to food stamp (SNAP) recipients to support the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets across Rhode Island!
Out of over 60 farmers markets in the state, Farm Fresh Rhode Island manages 9 summertime farmers markets plus the Pawtucket Wintertime Farmers Market. All Farm Fresh Rhode Island markets accept SNAP benefits as a way of ensuring that all Rhode Island families are able to accept the delicious veggies, fruit, herbs, eggs, fish, meats and cheeses produced by our local farmers and fishermen. To increase the accessibility of our markets, Farm Fresh runs the “Bonus Bucks” program: for every $5 spent with EBT, customers receive a bonus $2 to spend on fruits and vegetables. Bonus Bucks are funded through individual, corporate, government, and foundation donations, from such organizations as Wholesome Wave, the Rhode Island Foundation, and the City of Providence.
Currently, less than 1% of all SNAP dollars in RI are spent at farmers markets. Bonus Bucks help attract SNAP shoppers to markets to help keep these federal dollars circulating in the local economy. Farm Fresh began the Bonus Buck program in the summer of 2009, when only about $10,000 were distributed. However, within the first year Bonus Bucks was implemented, Farm Fresh witnessed a 675% increase in the amount of SNAP spent at their markets. The program has since continued to grow exponentially. During the summer of 2013, FFRI processed more than $61,000 in SNAP benefits at its markets, up from $43,800 in summer 2012. This resulted in the distribution of nearly $25,000 of Bonus Bucks – money that goes directly into the pockets of local farmers and provides additional sustenance for families in need.
Unfortunately, this milestone coincides directly with drastic changes for SNAP recipients. Currently approximately 14% of U.S. households rely on food stamp benefits – nearly 47 million people, including 22 million children and 9 million elderly or disabled individuals. In Rhode Island, 17% of the population – 180,000 individuals – utilize SNAP benefits. On November 1, 2013, all SNAP recipients saw a significant decrease in their
benefits – approximately 5%. For example, a household with three people experienced a decrease of $29 per month – the equivalent of taking away 16 meals based on the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan. The decreases stem from the expiration of funds set aside in the 2009 Recovery Act – and amount to $5 billion per year.
Farm Fresh Rhode Island will continue to support access to healthy, local foods through all of its programs. Farm Fresh runs two markets a week throughout the winter where customers can use SNAP benefits and receive Bonus Bucks. FFRI also provides food to local food pantries and shelters in several ways – partnering with farmers to donate unsold produce at the end of market days and also donating unused produce from FFRI’s other programs.