At Sustainable Food Center, we are working with partners to spread Double Up Food Bucks programs across the state! Today, we’re excited to share how we’re deepening engagement and expanding the program to communities across Texas.
How Double Up Food Bucks is Keeping Texas Healthy!
Sayuri Yamanka and Simone Benz
What is Double Up Food Bucks?
Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) is a program that doubles the value of SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps) for purchases of fruits and vegetables. Broadly termed “SNAP incentive programs,” Double Up Food Bucks also benefits local farmers and the local food economy, with most programs in Texas operating at farmers’ markets, farm stands, and grocery stores that source from local farmers. Double Up Food Bucks results in more low-income families accessing local, fresh food, more stability for Texas farmers, and more food dollars remaining in the local economy.
Double Up Food Bucks in Central Texas and Beyond
At SFC, we first began running a SNAP incentive program in 2012 at one market location and expanded to several other farmers’ markets in the Austin area over the subsequent years. To build a robust program that has deep and lasting impacts in low-income communities, our community engagement team leads several tactics to improve customer’s experiences at the market and help build lasting positive habits in their food consumption.
Community Engagement: The Key to Program Success
SFC works in tandem with Double Up Food Bucks implementing partners as part of our community engagement goal of creating awareness and demand for fresh, local food. In Austin, we work with Farmshare Austin and the City of Austin’s Fresh for Less program. Through Fresh for Less, Farmshare Austin hosts mobile markets in Austin and surrounding communities, as well as curbside delivery service. Local produce and grocery staples are available at affordable prices for SNAP and DUFB customers.
A key component of our community engagement efforts involves showing families how to prepare and cook the produce they purchase at farmers’ markets. Before COVID-19, we conducted recipe samplings at farmers’ markets and farm stands, allowing families to taste bites of prepared meals they could easily make at home with their families. Beginning in April 2020, SFC pivoted from conducting in-person recipe samplings and nutrition education with Fresh for Less Customers to including info packets with Fresh for Less orders each week.
The packets typically contain 1-2 nutrition handouts and 1-2 recipes from SFC’s The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre®. Handouts are bilingual in English and Spanish and designed to be accessible to low-literacy audiences. We selected specific handouts and recipes based on the topics we had planned to cover during in-person recipe samplings. We maintained an emphasis on seasonality, affordability, and promoting a balanced diet centered around fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, with limits on added salt, sugar, and saturated fat.
Another tactic to reach SNAP customers via DUFB outlets is the Promotora model for outreach and education. Promotoras, or community health workers, are frontline public health workers who are trusted members of the community in which they work. While SFC doesn’t require a specific community health worker certification for Promotoras, we have learned valuable lessons from this concept. The most important one is the value of asking community leaders to work alongside us in improving access to nutritious, affordable, local food.
Currently, Promotoras are leading direct marketing efforts in Austin. They promote DUFB outlets to SNAP and WIC recipients. They also provide information to the general public on where and how to become a DUFB client.
“An important part of the work is a genuine interest in food systems! Whether they like to cook or grow their own food, or just keep informed about food justice,” said Yolanda, a Double Up Food Bucks associate at the SFC Farmers’ Markets. “This will help them to have good communication with clients. And that is something that Double Up Food Bucks customers value very much, that we are sharing enthusiasm.”
The Promotora model of community engagement has many benefits. It honors the wisdom of community leaders, helps ensure programs stay nimble and adapt to community needs, and creates more trusting relationships with program participants. We envision expanding this community engagement model to benefit communities with Double Up programs across Texas.
Expanding Double Up food Bucks Across Texas
Low-income communities of color are most impacted by a widening inequity gap. The number of food-insecure households has risen significantly in the wake of COVID-19. In 2019, in Texas, 30% of households with children were food insecure. Before COVID-19, 1 in 7 Texans experienced food insecurity.
To address inequity in access to healthy food, SFC is working in partnership with organizations across the state to launch and support SNAP incentive programs at their local farmers’ markets and grocery stores. Since 2013, we have seen SNAP incentive programs increase to 32 sites across the state!
Today, families shopping with SNAP can double their value to buy more local fruits and vegetables in areas such as Lubbock, Brownsville, Houston, Waco, San Antonio, and Dallas/Ft. Worth. SFC is working in collaboration with these partners to establish programs that include a strong community engagement component.
With the expansion of Double Up Food Bucks, we see these communities across Texas benefitting from the program and the connections to local food sources that it offers.
Sarah Castro, who runs the Double Up Food Bucks in the West Texas region, believes that rebuilding a strong local food system is essential for the health of humans and our environment.
“Seeing people connect to their local farmers and buying new types of fruits and vegetables for their families gives me a sense of hope, in a situation when health often feels hopeless for our community,” she shares. “When we look at our data and see that Double Up Food Bucks spending in the grocery program went up to over $200,000 in the first year, I love to imagine that’s $200,000 worth of fresh fruits and vegetables that very likely wouldn’t have been purchased otherwise.”
We are working hard to ensure this program continues to provide critical food access to the families who need it most in urban and rural regions across Texas. With Double Up Food Bucks, low-income families can use their SNAP benefits to purchase fresh, healthy food from local farmers, and those benefits will then be DOUBLED. This enables an individual to keep participating in the local food system and overcome barriers to keeping their families healthy. We’re excited to see this program expanding and deepening its reach across Texas. Stay tuned for our next article to learn more about Double Up Food Bucks Texas!