Fresh fruits and vegetables just became more affordable to low-income families on food stamps, and small farmers just got a much-needed boost, thanks to the USDA’s new Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grants.
The Berkeley-based Ecology Center and Oakland-based Mandela MarketPlace were the first FINI grant recipients in California, with grants totaling over $4 million.
The grants will connect nearly 240,000 food-insecure shoppers with 2,200 of California’s small farms, stimulating $9.8 million in fruit and vegetable sales.
The USDA’s FINI Program was authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill to help participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) increase their purchase of fruits and vegetables.
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.
The Ecology Center was awarded $3.7 million over two years to expand California Market Match – a program that doubles low-income shoppers’ CalFresh benefits when they shop at farmers’ markets, allowing them to purchase more healthy fruits and vegetables.
If a customer spends $10 of their CalFresh benefits at a participating farmers’ market, they are given an extra $10 in market tokens or vouchers to spend on fruits and vegetables. These Market Match funds started flowing to participating farmers’ markets June 1, 2015.
Mandela MarketPlace was awarded $422,500 to support Highland Hospital patients who qualify for CalFresh by supplying them with matching benefits when they purchase fresh produce from community markets and corner stores.
“This federal grant helps ensure a vital avenue for access to healthy food in our community,” says Congresswoman Barbara Lee. “Berkeley Ecology Center and Mandela MarketPlace do amazing work contributing to the health of our community by addressing food insecurity; providing local, healthy food to the most vulnerable in our community and promoting social equity.”
The Ecology Center’s award represents 10 percent of all FINI funds and is the 4th largest of the FINI-funded projects in the US.
“Market Match has already proven its effectiveness, improving people’s food choices and helping farmers. The FINI grant allows us to reach even more people and drive more support to small farms,” said Martin Bourque, executive director of the 45-year-old Ecology Center.
Since the Ecology Center assumed leadership of Market Match in 2013, the program has grown to 30 partners at 234 outlets, including mobile markets, farm stands, Community Supported Agriculture outlets, and certified farmers’ markets from across the state.
The millions in new spending that the FINI grants will generate will go directly to some of California’s most drought and economically devastated farming communities.
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.