My name is Carolina, and I’m one of the Community Engagement Coordinators at Sustainable Food Center (SFC). One of my responsibilities is running the information booth at the SFC Farmers’ Market at Sunset Valley. While getting up early on a Saturday sounds like it might be a chore, I really cherish my days at the market. Whether it’s 30⁰ or 100⁰, I love it. How can that be? The short answer is the relationships that I form with our customers (the long answer also includes our farmers and ranchers, market staff and crew, dogs, babies, vegetables, volunteers, prepared food, coffee, vendors, live music, fresh air, and on and on). One of the services that I provide at that information booth is DDIP.
DDIP is an acronym that we throw around a lot here at SFC. It stands for Double Dollar Incentive Program; it’s the program where we double the money (up to $20 per visit) that Farmers’ Market customers receive when they use their SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and/or WIC (Women Infants Children), and/or FMNP (Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program). It all sounds very mechanical when I say it like that doesn’t it? In theory, I suppose it is, but in practice, it’s one way that SFC works to help families spread their budgets just a little further.
So what does it actually look like when the program is used? Customers planning on using their SNAP or WIC come to the blue Info Booth at any of the 4 SFC Farmers’ Markets. Then they tell us how much they would like to take off of their card and we hand them paper dollars (some farmers call it “funny money” because it’s either red or yellow and resembles toy money from a certain popular board game). We match these vouchers up to $20 per program per visit and they can use them at the market to buy fresh, local food. At the end of the market, our market coordinators pick up that “funny money” and we reimburse the farmers. This whole process provides many opportunities for people to interact with each other. In my case, I get to chat about vegetables, talk in silly voices to their babies and hear their stories.
Some of these stories are really powerful. One woman told me that she uses the double dollars to feed not just herself, but also her home-bound neighbors who do not always have access to home-cooked meals. Another customer saves a portion of her SNAP dollars just for the market. She has a health condition that she manages by eating fresh foods that she buys from our farmers. Every week (rain or shine or heat), she comes with her father and they are the two sweetest, warmest people you could ever hope to come across. They stroll through the market, sipping on their coffee, sometimes staying to hear the music, and always stopping by to chat. We also have a young couple that comes regularly. Over the past year, I have been able to watch their baby girl grow big and healthy (must be all of those fresh veggies she’s getting!).
It’s a privilege for SFC to be able to provide this program and I am grateful for my part in it. Our ability to provide SNAP, WIC, FMNP and DDIP is a product of the an intersection of many relationships happening behind the scenes; St. David’s Foundation, Texas Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and Human Services, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, City of Austin, Carl C. Anderson Sr. and Marie Jo Anderson Charitable Foundation, Farm Aid, US Department of Agriculture, and more! The result of all of these groups coming together is a vibrant community of families that revolves around local food. What could be better than that?