Despite of our fertile soil and abundant food crops, nearly 750,000 people in the state of Oregon are hungry or food insecure, according to a 2009 Department of Agriculture report. This puts Oregon among the five most hungry states in the nation. Food insecurity indicates a lack of adequate access to nutritious food, while hungry indicates skipped meals or going without food for whole days.

As a result, the number of households in Oregon relying on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, has increased by 68% since the beginning of the recession.(1) In Linn and Lincoln counties, 33% of children are dependent on SNAP benefits, far outpacing the national average. According to the Oregon Department of Health and Human Services, more than 602,000 Oregonians depend on SNAP to meet their food needs. The SNAP program brings more than $910 million into the state economy annually.(2)

As important as federal food assistance is, the money often falls short of making healthful food affordable for low-income families.  To help improve access to fresh fruit and vegetables and bring more federal money to small, local farms, Ten Rivers Food Web will launch The That’s My Farmer SNAP Incentive Program at farmers’ markets on June 18th, 2011. The program aims to help improve nutrition for low-income residents of Linn, Benton and Lincoln counties by encouraging healthy eating habits through access to more nutritious food. “It’s critical that we make this high quality food available to people of all income levels,” said Rebecca Landis, Corvallis-Albany Farmers’ Markets Director.

Farmers’ Market

The That’s My Farmer program originated in Corvallis as a partnership between congregations and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO). Ten Rivers Food Web adopted the program from EMO in 2011 and is expanding it to serve more communities in the area. The original mission remains the same: to ensure access to healthful, local food for all people.

“This is truly a tri-county initiative,” said Jen Christion Myers, Community Food Organizer for Ten Rivers Food Web. “The goal is to extend the program to more rural markets in the coming seasons.”

Formerly limited to just a few farmers, the program now includes all of the farmers who participate in the farmers’ markets in Corvallis, Albany, Newport, Sweet Home and Brownsville.

How It Works

Customers swipe their SNAP cards at market booths and receive farmers’ market tokens to spend on fresh foods. With a minimum purchase of $6, customers will receive an additional $6 in That’s My Farmer SNAP Incentive tokens. For example, if a SNAP cardholder purchases $10 worth of tokens, the total amount of tokens that he/she could spend at the market is $16. The program has the potential to significantly expand customers’ purchasing power: If a customer attends the market each week of a given month their federal benefits will be stretched by $24. In Corvallis, the potential benefit is even greater because the farmers’ market is open twice a week. If a customer attends both Saturday and Wednesday markets, they will receive an additional $48 each month in That’s My Farmer funds to spend on local food.

Marge Stevens, a long-time market supporter and congregational volunteer for the Corvallis program, knows the value of the That’s My Farmer program first hand: “The SNAP incentive program magnifies my food stamp dollars to help me get more items from the farmer’s market than I could get without them,” she said.

In Corvallis the program will continue in much the same way as it was begun. Shoppers can purchase That’s My Farmer coupons from participating churches for $25 which are redeemable for $20 in farmers’ market tokens. The remaining $5 funds the SNAP Incentive pool. Ten Rivers Food Web plans to build on the success of the Corvallis program, expanding it to markets in Linn and Lincoln counties this summer.

In April 2011, Ten Rivers hosted a Cajun dinner at Linn-Benton Community College to raise funds to launch the program in Albany, Sweet Home and Brownsville. The dinner featured chefs Jason Devrouax of Clemenza’s in Albany, John Jarschke of LBCC Culinary Arts, and 2011 Best Chef Northwest James Beard Award nominee Matt Bennett of Sybaris in Albany.

The Newport Farmers’ Market is funding their incentive pool with an on-site market booth called The Lemonade Project. All proceeds from this summer’s lemonade sales will go directly to Newport customers using SNAP cards at the market.

Benefits of the That’s My Farmer SNAP Incentive Program will include better access to fresh, nutritious foods for low-income customers plus increased market traffic and higher sales for farmers. It is Ten Rivers’ hope that more of the $910 million annual federal SNAP dollars that are spent in Oregon’s food economy will support local communities if they’re used to purchase fresh food directly from local farmers.

Sources:

(1) Oregon Center for Public Policy http://www.ocpp.org/cgi-bin/display.cgi?page=is20101122Hunger.

(2) www.oregonhunger.org