What’s the best way to address hunger in the Upper Valley? Well, there might not be a single “best” way, but the fight against food insecurity is getting a big boost with the launch of the national healthy food incentive program Double Up Food Bucks at the Co-op Food Stores of Hanover, Lebanon and White River Junction in New England.
Double Up provides low-income Americans who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits with a one-to-one match to purchase healthy, locally grown fruits and vegetables.
Customers receive a 50 percent discount off fresh produce purchased with SNAP benefits. That means $10 in SNAP money buys $20 in produce each day. By matching the value of SNAP money spent on fresh fruits and vegetables, Double Up Food Bucks helps low-income families gain access to healthful food choices. (The SNAP Program, formerly known as food stamps, is funded through the Farm Bill.) Participating sites also commit to tracking and growing local produce sourcing each year, ensuring Double Up also benefits area farmers.
“Double Up Food Bucks is a great program for everyone involved, and we thank and congratulate the Hanover Co-op for bringing it to the Upper Valley of Vermont and New Hampshire,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). “This program is a winner for farmers and for families, and it also helps the federal government deliver more for less, through SNAP. It is such a good idea that we have included a Double Up Food Bucks grant opportunity for the first time in the five-year Farm Bill that passed the U.S. Senate last month in a strong bipartisan vote.”
“I’m thrilled that the Co-op Food Stores is taking part in this program to empower people to make healthier choices and buy local with SNAP benefits,” said Rep. Annie Kuster (D-NH). “The Double Up Food Bucks program is a great way to better support low-income families while directing resources toward local farmers and New Hampshire’s agricultural sector.”
The co-op’s stores in Hanover, Lebanon and White River Junction provide qualified SNAP recipients with a Double Up card for their use while in the program. The discount is automatically deducted from their bill at the register.
“The Double Up Food Bucks program fits perfectly with our longstanding work to help those needing nutrition assistance,” said Ed Fox, general manager of the Hanover Co-op. “It not only helps New Hampshire and Vermont families bring home more, healthful food, it supports local farmers.”
Local food sourcing at the stores of the Hanover Co-op ranks high in New England due to the cooperative’s broad collaboration with area farmers. Those connections with growers make the rollout of Double Up Bucks at the Co-op particularly welcome for recipients and program organizers alike.
“We are appreciative of Hanover Co-op’s partnership bringing Double Up to New Hampshire and Vermont,” said Oran Hesterman, founder and CEO of Fair Food Network, which pioneered the Double Up model in 2009. “This proven program is generating real benefits for families, farmers and local businesses in 25 states across the country.
“The Hanover Co-op represents the program’s largest partner to-date across all of New England and New York.”
“The cost of fresh produce in any supermarket can seem burdensome for people of limited means. Double Up Bucks addresses that, helping everyone to shop and eat for health,” said Sara Kobylenski, executive director of the Upper Valley Haven, a nonprofit providing housing, food and counseling services to families and individuals experiencing poverty. “The effort the co-op shows, once again, in making healthy food accessible in the community is so important to our work.”
The wins are three-fold: families bring home greater quantities of healthful food, local farmers gain new customers and additional food dollars stay in the local economy. Each has ripple effects across the community. A listing of seven additional participating New Hampshire Double Up stores can be found at www.doubleupnh.org. The Hanover Co-op’s food store at 209 Maple Street in White River Junction is currently the only Double Up Food Bucks location in Vermont.
“The Vermont Foodbank knows that a big barrier for many shoppers getting enough fresh produce is cost, said John Sayles, CEO of the Foodbank. “Giving people with lower incomes the ability to stretch food budgets while eating local using Double Up Food Bucks keeps both our neighbors and farms healthy.”
The task of incorporating Double Up Food Bucks into a multi-store business and produce departments the size of the Co-op’s took a number of months for systems integration. The payoff of those efforts is clear as close to 100 SNAP recipients enrolled during the program’s first few weeks.
That brisk response is doubly good news for Emily Rogers, Hanover Co-op’s Member Education Manager. For her, the launch of the Double Up Food Bucks program is also boosting the Co-op’s Food for All access program, which was launched in 2015 and discounts all SNAP-eligible purchases by an extra 10 percent. “Enrollment in Food for All has shown a nice uptick among shoppers coming in for Double Up Bucks. The more people we help, the better,” Rogers added.
Double Up Food Bucks is also welcome news for Theresa, a senior citizen from Lebanon who was one of the first to sign up at the Co-op Food Stores. “Produce is yum, yum, yum! Discount at the Co-op with my EBT card takes lots off nice, fresh stuff so I can get what I need.”
The initial wave of program sign-ups has mostly been at the co-op’s White River Junction store. Awareness of the program is spreading, spurring sign-ups at the co-op’s New Hampshire stores.
A list of participating Double Up stores can be found at DoubleUpNH.org. The majority of New Hampshire’s Double Up Food Bucks locations are member-owners of the Associated Grocers of New England (AGNE), a retailer-owned cooperative grocery wholesaler headquartered in Pembroke, New Hampshire. The Hanover Co-op Food Stores is AGNE’s largest member.
Double Up New Hampshire is supported by a coalition of funders including Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation, HNH Foundation, New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, The Samuel P. Pardoe Foundation, as well as “You Have Our Trust” Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. In partnership with Fair Food Network, key partners include New Hampshire Food Bank, which will be conducting store tours through its Cooking Matters program, and UNH Cooperative Extension, whose network of educators will help raise awareness among SNAP recipients.
Double Up runs June 1 through Dec. 31. It will return with the beginning of the spring harvest in 2019.
—Double Up Food Bucks is a national model for healthy food incentives active in more than 25 states across the country. Pioneered by national nonprofit Fair Food Network in 2009, Double Up helps low-income families eat more fresh fruits and vegetables while supporting family farmers and growing local economies.