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NC Farmers’ Markets Double Buying Power for Food-Insecure Households

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Tuesday, May 24, 2022   

People in North Carolina who need to stretch every dollar spent on food can get double the value of fresh produce and other goods through government and private-funded matching programs across the state.

Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI-USA) operates two matching programs at North Carolina farmers' markets to help people use their food benefits for increased buying power.

Angel Woodrum, coordinator of the Farmers' Market Nutrition Incentives Program for RAFI-USA, said the goal is to put more food into the hands of those in need, while also putting more money in local farmers' pockets.

"The Fresh Bucks program, through a USDA grant, it allows SNAP benefits to double those benefits," Woodrum outlined. "The other program we have is funded through Blue Cross/Blue Shield -- Double Bucks -- and with that program, we are able to be a lot more flexible, not just fresh fruits and vegetables."

Woodrum pointed out last year, the Double Bucks program matched more than $128,000 at 11 farmers' markets across North Carolina for buyers who used their SNAP and WIC benefits, as well as cash purchases from WIC clients and people living in Section 8 housing.

More than 7,000 of those matched dollars went to shoppers in need in Morganton.

Abby Nelson, Main Street manager of the Cultural and Creative Development Department for the City of Morganton, said RAFI-USA's programs have been enormous successes at the city's two weekly farmers' markets.

"We're strengthening our local farming community, and then also, assisting with fresh fruits and vegetables into more households," Nelson explained. "Just accepting SNAP would have done a great thing. Having this grant that essentially doubles their buying power, it just keeps growing."

And while COVID has often meant fewer shopping trips, Woodrum noted RAFI-USA found North Carolinians in need used even more of their farmers' market food matching programs during the pandemic.

"We've really seen it just take off, especially during COVID, sometimes by like three times as much as we had originally projected," Woodrum observed. "People wanting to shop more at outside locations, and as COVID's kind of calming down a bit, those people have continued going."

Participating farmers' markets allow enrollees in programs like SNAP/EBT, WIC and others to exchange their benefits at a special booth for tokens to spend on produce and other goods. Tokens never expire, but can only be used at the market issuing them.

Disclosure: Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, Environmental Justice, Rural/Farming, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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