The Perks of Scaling Up

Spring greens, onions, strawberries, and more! With the arrival of June, it’s officially farmers’ market season in Northeast Ohio and Ohio State University (OSU) Extension Cuyahoga County is gearing up for another season of offering Produce Perks at local farmers’ markets.

The Produce Perks program offers Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) customers a dollar-for-dollar match, doubling their purchasing power at participating farmers’ markets, farm stands, CSAs, and mobile markets. For every dollar a SNAP customer spends at a participating farmers’ market or farm stand using an Ohio Direction Card, they receive a free additional dollar, referred to as a “Produce Perk,” to use to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. Produce Perks allows low-income customers the opportunity to purchase more healthy, locally-grown produce.

The Produce Perks program was piloted in Cuyahoga County in 2010 by the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition and is implemented locally by OSU Extension. Produce Perks is now Ohio’s statewide nutrition incentive program, guided by the Ohio Nutrition Incentive Network (OH-NIN).

The Ohio Nutrition Incentive Network

Prior to 2015, regions across Ohio operated independent nutrition incentive programs. In 2015, Wholesome Wave, a national non-profit, received a USDA-FINI grant to build the capacity of nutrition incentive programming in Ohio (among 19 other states).  Over the course of the three years, regional programs came together to form the Ohio Nutrition Incentive Network and to expand and operate one statewide nutrition incentive program, Produce Perks.

OH-NIN is made up of the following organizations:

  • Countryside Conservancy
  • Farmers Market Association of Toledo
  • Farmers Market Management Network
  • Ohio Department of Health
  • Ohio Grocers Association
  • Ohio State University Extension, Cuyahoga County
  • Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods, Case Western Reserve University
  • Produce Perks Midwest
  • Wholesome Wave

The formation of this network has provided many perks (pun intended)! One perk has been increased support for local and statewide marketing through new or expanded partnerships with agencies such as Ohio Department of Jobs and Families Services. In addition, with Support from Wholesome Wave and Ohio Department of Health, Produce Perks Midwest has been able to test innovative marketing tactics to help guide outreach efforts. Scaling up has also provided the benefit of increased funding; most notably, OH-NIN was awarded funding from Ohio Department of Health funding to implement Produce Perks across the state in 2018. To learn more about the statewide program impacts in 2017, click here.

Increasing the Match

As of May 1st, OH-NIN increased the match offered through the Produce Perks program to $20. This increase has doubled the SNAP incentive match offered in Cuyahoga County in previous years. OSU Extension and participating farmers’ markets in the county are elated; increasing the match was something we’ve wanted to do for years, but the ability to do so only became possible through the formation and success of OH-NIN. Cuyahoga County saw an increase in demand for incentives and fresh produce immediately after increasing the cap on the matching dollars offered. While most of our farmers’ markets don’t open until June, we have three farmers’ markets in the county that are open year round. When comparing data for May of 2017 and May 2018, North Union Farmers’ Market at Shaker Square has seen a 76% increase in SNAP sales and 104% increase in Produce Perks incentive distribution, increasing sales for small to mid-sized farms. We anticipate seeing similar trends at all markets in the County as the season takes off.

How to Join OH-NIN

In 2018, Produce Perks will be offered at 84 farmers’ markets, farm stands, mobile markets, and CSAs in 20 counties across Ohio.  The Produce Perks program will also be offered at a select number of grocery retail sites.

OH-NIN is looking to expand its network of participating locations. Any farmers’ markets, farm stands, or CSAs interested in offering Produce Perks can complete an application found here. Ideally, new sites applying to join OH-NIN would be SNAP authorized by the USDA and have accepted SNAP/EBT for a minimum of one year. However, those are not hard requirements and OH-NIN can provide technical assistance for SNAP authorization and accepting EBT.

If your organization is interested in supporting the work of OH-NIN through partnerships, promotion, or advocacy, please send an email to info@produceperks.org

Amanda OsborneTo learn more about SNAP at farmers’ markets, Produce Perks, and OH-NIN contact Amanda Osborne, County Extension Educator in Cuyahoga County.

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