Flint Farmers Market discount program to expand

Jacob Carah
Special to The Detroit News

Flint — The Flint Farmers Market is a destination and local jewel for residents looking to eat healthy and affordably.

Now, Fair Food Network President and CEO Oran Hesterman wants to increase that availability year-round and make those dollars go twice as far as nutritionists, doctors and others work to make sure youngsters who were exposed to lead in Flint’s water receive proper nutrition to offset the effects of the contamination.

Hesterman announced Tuesday that Fair Food Network will be “expanding and enhancing” the Double Up Food Bucks program in Flint during a United States Department of Agriculture event in Flint on Tuesday.

The Double Up Food Bucks program, offered in Flint since 2011, allows low-income families and individuals who are in the federal Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program “matching dollars” for produce.

As of 2015, SNAP and Double Up bucks spent at the Flint Farmers Market reached $220,270, according to Fair Food Network.

“While fruits and vegetables, we know, are fundamental to good health, they are even more critical in this community at this time,” Hesterman said. “Diets rich in vitamin C, iron and calcium have been recommended by experts for children who’ve been exposed to lead in the water.”

Double Up will expand to new locations and “will no longer be a seasonal program, but will run year round.”

“At all sites, any fruit or vegetable and now milk purchased will earn matching Double Up Food Bucks that can be spent on any additional produce,” he said.

“This will be the first time that these kinds of incentive benefits will be electronically transferable between different kinds of retail locations, the first time in any SNAP incentive program in the country,” he said.

According to Fair Food Network, a family that spends $10 in SNAP benefits on fruits and vegetables at participating markets will receive $10 more in Double Up Food Bucks for more fruit and vegetables. From June through December 2017, Fair Food is providing up to $750,000 for Double Up incentives in Flint.

The credit-card technology is provided by a local Flint company, Epic Technology Solutions, founded by University of Michigan-Flint students and brothers, Paul and Eric Knific.

“We were at the university developing credit-card payment technology at the same time the Fair Food Network was looking to do a Double Up Food Bucks roll out at the Farmers Market,” said Paul Knific.

Jonyvonne Guice, a recipient of SNAP and who has utilized the Double Up program since 2011, said she was surprised by the number of new options and expanded availability of produce at other locations.

“The program offers us the opportunity to eat fresh fruit and vegetables without having to cram it all in at one place,” she said.

The idea was to increase the Double Up program to more places where people shop, said Emilie Engelhard, communications director for Fair Food Network. “We aim to offer Double Up in as many places as possible where Flint residents buy food.” said Engelhard.

Dr. Diane Golzynski, assistant director for child nutrition programs in the Michigan Department of Education’s Office of School Support Services, said the goal is “to make sure everyone living here has the best nutrition possible and the best chance possible to fight all of these effects.”

Hesterman said that while Flint “is not the biggest town, it is a town with one of the biggest needs right now.” “In order to scale a program like Double Up Food Bucks, you need to make sure you have the operation in place, which we know we can do,” he said.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, praised the expansion by Fair Food Network.

“Now more than ever, children in Flint need to be eating more healthy fruits and vegetables to help reduce the effects of lead and this gives families more options,” she said.