In the state of New Mexico, many people suffer from food insecurity—lacking access to affordable, nutritious food. According to a study done by Feeding America, 358,770 people – or 17.2% of New Mexico’s population – are food insecure, although in some counties it is as high as 25%. Recently, Americans’ health has been getting worse; today obesity rates among adults are 28.8% in New Mexico, and 42% nationwide. Food insecurity is clearly a factor in that people who don’t have access to affordable and healthy food tend to buy cheaper food that is high in calories and low in nutrients.
New Mexico’s level of food insecurity comes as no surprise because our state also has a very high poverty rate— 20.4%. Because the victims of food insecurity tend to be part of underserved communities, they may not have the resources to better their situation, so it is up to the governments and nonprofit organizations to create programs to help people gain access to healthier food. One such program is the Double Up Food Bucks Program (DUFB). The program is nationwide in select states, including New Mexico. This program gives SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program) users double the amount that they spend on their EBT (electronic benefits transfer) card for New Mexico-grown produce. For example, if a family uses $10 off of their EBT card, the participating seller will match the $10, but the Double Up money can be used only on local, New Mexico-grown fresh fruits and vegetables.
New Mexico’s EBT incentive program started in 2010 at 17 farmers’ markets, and was funded by the New Mexico Human Services Department. By 2015 the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association (NMFMA) received federal and state funding to expand the program to include more than 30 markets, and partnered with Fair Food Network to introduce the Double Up Food Bucks Program.
One of the markets to support the program is the Rail Yards Market, located in the Barelas neighborhood of Albuquerque, just to the south of Downtown. This area of Albuquerque is home to many low-income families that may not get access to fresh produce without Double Up Food Bucks. The Rail Yards Market, which happens every Sunday from May-October, reduces food insecurity in the heart of downtown Albuquerque – an area that happens to have a poor selection of grocery stores.
The Double-Up Food Bucks Program participants have a mandatory end-of-the-year survey for both the user and participating vendors. I was able to see the data that the NMFMA received from the 2016 survey when I spoke to the Rail Yards’ Manager Alaska Piper. The data speaks volumes for the benefits of the program. According to the survey, more customers now attend the farmers’ market: 62% of market vendors felt that they had new, regular customers buying their products because of the program, and 60% of SNAP customers surveyed were repeat DUFB customers at a farmers’ market. Not only is Double Up good for the markets that offer it, it is beneficial for the low-income people and families who use it. This is highlighted by the fact that of the customers who were surveyed, 70% said they tried a new kind of fruit or vegetable for the first time because of the program, and 86% felt that the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables that they buy and eat had increased because of the program.
As well as helping low-income households gain access to healthier and more affordable food, the Double Up Food Bucks Program also stimulates the local economy. Because it can only be spent on fresh fruits and vegetables, it acts as an incentive for people to come to farmers’ markets, which in turn brings more business to local farmers, and other local vendors at the market as well. The program is a vital part of the economic and social prosperity of the community, and more programs like it would create a more sustainable America.
-Posted by Justin