Iowans in need can stretch their SNAP dollars with the Double Up Food Bucks program, which helps provide healthy, locally grown fruits and vegetables.
Iowans struggling with food insecurity often must skip more expensive grocery items, including fresh fruits and vegetables, even though these foods are essential to a healthy diet.
A statewide partnership among Iowa farmers markets, grocery retailers and local farmers is helping low-income Iowans stretch their federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) dollars so they can take home more nutritious, locally grown fruits and vegetables.
The Double Up Food Bucks program, administered by Iowa’s Healthiest State Initiative, provided $154,000 worth of fresh fruits and vegetables for free to low-income Iowans in 2019.
Participation in the Double Up Food Bucks program has continued to grow since it was launched in 2016 at several farmers markets in eastern Iowa, says Jami Haberl, executive director of the Healthiest State Initiative.
Local farmers, in particular, have embraced the program. During the launch year, growers at the Dubuque farmers market donated back their earnings from Double Up Food Bucks to keep the program going, Haberl says.
“(Farmers) wanted the program to survive. After all, they love to get healthy foods in Iowans’ bellies anyway,” Haberl says. “We always talk about the triple win with Double Up Food Bucks, because it supports local farmers, it supports the local economy and it creates access to fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Even in Iowa, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, hunger impacts many working families, seniors and children.
About 350,890 people in Iowa are food insecure, according to Feeding America, the nationwide food bank network.
In addition, one in seven Iowa children are struggling with hunger. More than 42% of Iowa households receiving SNAP benefits have children, Feeding America reports.
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that Americans consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Unfortunately, most Iowans don’t consume the recommended five fruits and vegetables a day, Haberl says.
Iowa ranks 49th in the nation in fruit and vegetable consumption, according to the Gallop-Healthways Well-Being Index.
Eating a wide variety of healthy foods, including fruits and vegetables, reduces our risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, experts say.
Haberl says the Double Up Food Bucks program gives low-income Iowans greater access to fruits and vegetables, which improves their health outcomes and helps lower overall health care costs.
Eligible SNAP recipients in Iowa can earn matching funds of up to $10 in Double Up Food Bucks when they spend $10 on fresh fruit and vegetables from their SNAP cards.
Iowans can then redeem their Double Up Food Bucks to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets, participating retailers and on-farm produce stands, Haberl says.
“It really stretches those SNAP dollars even further for these families, which is important, especially from a Healthiest State perspective,” Haberl says.
In 2019, Double Up Food Bucks partnered with Iowa-based grocer Fareway on a pilot program in 14 Fareway stores across eastern and central Iowa.
SNAP recipients earned Double Up Food Bucks when buying fresh produce at participating Fareway stores. They could then use those Double Up Food Bucks to buy more fresh produce at either Fareway or their local farmers market.
As a result of the Fareway partnership, participation in the Double Up Food Bucks program increased 900% in 2019, Haberl says. The program distributed $350,000 in Double Up Food Bucks in 2019, and participants redeemed about $154,000 of those bucks.
“We are proud to implement the Double Up Food Bucks program in key store locations in 2019, and are excited to participate again this year, as it allows us to better service customers who need access to fresh fruits and vegetables to feed their families,” says Fareway President and CEO Reynolds W. Cramer.
Local farmers markets also benefited from the expanded retail participation, Haberl says. For example, the Winneshiek farmers market redeemed almost $2,000 in Double Up Food Bucks that customers earned at the Decorah Fareway store.
Fareway also agreed to increase its offerings of locally grown produce in exchange for participation in the Double Up Food Bucks program, Haberl said.
“That’s a real win for us and to help connect more farmers that are growing produce throughout the state of Iowa to a year-round (market) opportunity and revenue for them,” she says. “And maybe it will encourage other farmers to consider taking an acre here or there to diversify their crops.”
The Double Up Food Bucks program is supported and funded by community and private-sector partners. Those private-sector dollars are also matched by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, Haberl explains.
Demand for Double Up Food Bucks is expected to grow this year as more Iowans seek food assistance because of COVID-19-related business closures and unemployment.
“We’re looking at how this COVID situation impacts our community and how the Double Up Food Bucks can be one of the many solutions to give people access to foods, especially healthy foods,” Haberl says.
For more information about the Double Up Food Bucks program, participating farmers markets and retail locations, and how you can get involved, visit iowahealthieststate.com.