A program that gives food stamp recipients double their purchasing power at local farmers markets drastically increases access to nutritious, locally produced vegetables for low-income Montanans, according to a new report.
The initiative, called Double SNAP Dollars, will now be funded for another season thanks to a fundraising campaign spearheaded by a local nonprofit, the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition.
Nearly 2,500 low-income Montana residents used the Double SNAP Dollars program last year. Those purchases put $274,000 into the pockets of local farmers, which means the money was recirculated in the local economy rather than going to out-of-state agricultural conglomerates.
Approximately 13,500 people in Missoula County have incomes low enough to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which was called the Food Stamp Program until 2008.
The Double Snap Dollars program (DSD) allows food stamp recipients to get $2 worth of food for every $1 in food stamps they spend at farmers markets, up to $20 per person at each market. Catie DeMets, a University of Montana graduate student, recently completed an independent report to evaluate the demographics and economic impact of the program, which relies partly on grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“My biggest takeaway was Double Snap Dollars is a really big economic benefit for people of lower income, people who truly need it,” DeMets said. “SNAP customers, these people aren’t just faking it so they can get extra money for the summer months. Many are in truly terrible financial situations. Some are cancer survivors. One woman had a house fire and lost everything in it. The program really has deep impacts that ripple in our society in Missoula, beyond just direct economic impact.”
DeMets surveyed approximately 100 people and interviewed 65 vendors at local farmers markets. She found that a lot of the people utilizing the DSD program were families, the elderly and young women between the ages of 25 and 35.
“People using the DSD program were eating significantly more fruits and vegetables and more frequently,” DeMets explained. “They discovered new vegetables they hadn’t had before. With the SNAP program, they can only use that in grocery stores. So at the farmers market they were able to try kohlrabi and other things and branch away from staples like onions and potatoes.”
In her report, created for her work in the Environmental Studies Master’s Program, she found that more than half of respondents, 53 percent, said they only ate fruits or vegetables one to six times a week before using DSD incentives. After getting the DSD incentive, fewer than a third, or 31 percent, were eating fresh produce six times a week or less. All of the respondents said the DSD program helped them achieve their nutritional goals.
“Participants in the program also said they feel like they can contribute more to the community,” DeMets said. “They can be more connected and are able to participate in community events like farmers markets.”
Many respondents said that aspects of the federal nutritional assistance program make them feel ashamed, but having double purchasing power at the farmers markets gives them confidence and a feeling of being welcome, worthy customers.
One breast cancer survivor said she was eating “horribly” during her first year of recovery, but the DSD program “changed everything” and helped her get more fresh veggies into her diet.
Last year, the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition launched a fundraising campaign to cover the money needed to adequately fund the program given the high demand of people who want to take part.
“Thanks to support from community members, local businesses and foundations such as Pacific Source, United Way, the Phyllis & Dennis Washington Foundation, Missoula Federal Credit Union, Northwestern Energy, and MMW Architects, Double SNAP Dollars is gearing up for another full farmers market season in Missoula in 2018,” explained Kim Gilchrist, the food access program manager with CFAC.
“Another season of matching funds is good news for Montana, because impacts of the program far exceed simply its participation numbers or dollar sales."
For more information on the program visit doubledollarsmt.com/.