Voices of Senate Bill 727A

Nicki Passarella, Amica Farms

Nicki Passarella, Amica Farms

The bottom line is that the reason I farm is to feed my community, and assistance programs like Double Up Food Bucks make that community wider, broader, and more diverse. That’s what feeds me as a farmer,” said Passarella.

In addition to making produce affordable to those to whom it may have proven prohibitively expensive, another measure of success for Double Up Food Bucks comes in farmers’ sales numbers.

Having repeat customers, whoever they are, feels like a beautiful thing to me, but I feel that tenfold when I have repeat customers who use SNAP. I can build the business by chit-chatting with them, and they tell me what they did with their squash, that they value these dollars, and that our produce makes them come back to market,” said Passarella.

Passarella and many other small-scale farmers want to nourish as much of their community as possible, but that goal must be supported by dollars. “It’s not sustainable to just want to feed my community,” notes Passarella, “but the extra funds from Double Up Food Bucks help the farm keep growing.”

Persephone Farm

Persephone Farm

A mainstay at the Hollywood, Salem, and Portland State University farmers markets for nearly three decades, Persephone Farm produces seasonal, Oregon Tilth-certified organic vegetables alongside the South Santiam River in Lebanon, Oregon.

Producing high-quality vegetables with maximum flavor and minimal ecological footprint requires additional time, care, and resources from the farm, but Double Up Food Bucks helps Persephone’s 20 percent discount go further for its customers. Cognizant that the farm’s prices have been rising on a regular schedule in accordance with wage increases, co-owner Elanor O’Brien sought to recognize the difficulties for folks on fixed incomes and offer some assistance.

The extra assistance offered by Double Up Food Bucks helps put Persephone Farm in touch with a broader population than they would otherwise be able to reach. The farmers market is a place to interact with a more diverse and even international community than vendors and shoppers may see in their own hometown or neighborhood. Some customers who have not experienced certain foods have a chance to learn about how to prepare them from farmers at market — and vice versa.

Double Up Food Bucks helps to bridge the gap between supporting living-wage jobs for farmworkers and ensuring organic produce is accessible to low-income eaters. The program benefits the farm’s economics by providing an additional percentage of gross sales, but Double Up Food Bucks comprises 100 percent of the currency used by some of Persephone’s regular customers. Notes farmer Cora Payne, “The surprise, gratitude, and smiles I get when I see folks using Double Up Food Bucks and am able to offer them a discount are often some of my favorite moments at market.”

Genevieve Flanagan, Urban Acre Homestead Farm

Genevieve Flanagan, Urban Acre Homestead Farm

According to Urban Acre Homestead farmer Genevieve Flanagan, a first-year vendor at the Lents International Farmers Market, many farmers growing organically can’t afford to buy the produce they sell. Given her farm’s small scale on a one-acre lot in a northeast Portland neighborhood, Double Up Food Bucks has proven a significant factor in Flanagan’s ability to make the numbers work—both for her bottom line and for her customers’.

Even in Portland, there are still parts of the city that don’t have thriving food centers where people can get produce from a coop or some of the nicer grocers downtown. They might rely more on whatever’s on sale at Fred Meyer or Safeway, so it feels really great for people to be able to have the experience of going to the farmers market, talk to farmers about how they’re growing food, and then actually be able to pay for it.”

The $2 denomination of incentives that Double Up Food Bucks uses strikes the balance between providing a meaningful amount of money for customers and allowing them flexibility, says Flanagan. Mushrooms provide a particularly illustrative example of how folks spend their Double Up Food Bucks at her booth.

Double Up Food Bucks allows people to buy what they may consider a “bonus” item—“something they may think they normally couldn’t afford but that they would really like to incorporate into their diet,” says Flanagan. But mushrooms shouldn’t be considered a bonus—Flanagan calls varieties like the shiitakes and oysters she cultivates “medicinal powerhouses.”

Ari Rosner, Hollywood Farmers Market

Ari Rosner, Hollywood Farmers Market

For Hollywood Farmers Market coordinator Ari Rosner, Double Up Food Bucks served as a way to extend one market’s successful SNAP matching program to a second market. In 2010, before the Double Up Food Bucks program began, the Hollywood Farmers Market in Portland began matching shoppers’ SNAP tokens up to $5 — and with the support of  Farmers Market Fund, the program was able to spread to Hollywood’s sister market, the Lloyd Farmers Market.

Shoppers’ satisfaction with SNAP matching are backed by both informal conversations and hard numbers: the number of SNAP transactions at markets has increased by 39%, and 90% of SNAP customers reported purchasing more fruits and vegetables. In the past, some shoppers have had to eat whatever was cheapest at the grocery store, but now, Rosner’s customers tell him they can buy organic produce and make connections with farmers — things they didn’t think they’d be able to do on SNAP.

In surveys, a significant majority of SNAP shoppers say matching helps them stretch their benefit dollars later in the month, alleviating the cycle SNAP recipients face in which the fridge runs empty by before the next benefit cycle. 81% of shoppers report that DUFB has increased the amount of food in their house.

“They go hungry less, which is really what this is all about,” said Rosner.