Accessible and affordable healthful foods are a critical first step in good nutrition. To help make locally produced foods available to underserved communities in Cuyahoga County, a “Double Value Produce Perks” (Produce Perks) initiative was developed by the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition. The coalition, initiated by OSU Extension and Case Western Reserve University, sponsored a program that offered incentive dollars to customers that used an Ohio Direction Card to purchase food.
Last year, this program involved 18 farmers’ markets and two farm stands throughout Cuyahoga County and it worked like this:
A customer wishing to use their food assistance benefits could swipe their Ohio Direction Card at a central terminal, located at any of the 20 participating locations’ information booths, and ask to withdraw a desired amount. The market or farm stand would then provide tokens for the transaction in addition to Produce Perks that could be spent on fruits and vegetables. The incentive was a dollar-for-dollar match on every dollar spent (up to $10) using an Ohio Direction Card.
Program highlights from 2014 show promise for continued expansion into 2015. For example:
- The Double Value Produce Perks EBT Incentive program grew to 20 farmers’ markets and farm stands.
- One hundred eighty women and their families redeemed $3,920 in vouchers, enabling them to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.
- EBT sales surpassed 2013 totals, reaching over $39,000.
- Additionally, Produce Perks brought 260 new food assistance customers to farmers’ markets for the first time.
- A new aspect of Produce Perks, the Produce Prescription program, was expanded to connect mothers and pregnant women to local farmers’ markets.
(Submitted by Nico Boyd, Program Coordinator, Cuyahoga County & Western Reserve EERA)