by Leslie Young, Double Up Oklahoma Program Manager
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, fifteen percent of Oklahoma households are food-insecure. It’s a staggering percentage, a number that represents the more than 600,000 Oklahomans that don’t have the means or access to adequate food.
There are various temporary and permanent reasons for food insecurity. But in Oklahoma, the lack of grocery stores in many rural communities magnifies the issue. Many rural communities rely on farmers markets as a viable food source and more and more of those farmers markets are accepting SNAP benefits to help ease the burden to families who are struggling to buy food.
Farmers market season is starting and it’s interesting to understand how these markets play a vital role in their community. They source local food vendors and farm producers and provide them with a location to sell their products, they provide a destination for families to shop for fresh food options, and they keep dollars in their local food economy.
Did you know that Hunger Free Oklahoma is partnering with farmers markets across the state to fight hunger?
Why is Hunger Free Oklahoma involved with farmers markets?
This year, Hunger Free Oklahoma is working with 19 Oklahoma farmers markets that accept SNAP and offer Double Up Oklahoma (DUO) benefits. Hunger Free Oklahoma manages DUO, a program that brings together private, state, and federal funding to help families who receive SNAP benefits extend their food budget to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. These benefits provide additional dollars to SNAP recipients that can be used at participating farmers markets.
How does DUO work at participating farmers markets?
At the market information booth, customers who have a SNAP Electronic Benefits Transfer card can get SNAP tokens to buy SNAP-eligible items. Those customers also get a dollar-for-dollar match in DUO tokens, up to $20 per day, to use at the market to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and plants that grow food. DUO gives families on SNAP an incentive to select healthy foods for their family that they may not otherwise consider for purchase. Hunger Free Oklahoma’s research is showing that customers that participate in DUO also start using more of their SNAP benefits to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, increasing produce sales overall.
What are market managers saying about offering DUO at their markets?
Market managers have seen an increase in SNAP participants coming to their markets to participate in getting their dollar-for-dollar Double Up Oklahoma match. And they are coming back more frequently. According to Kristen Woodruff, Market Manager at the Ottawa Farmers Market, they saw their SNAP/DUO participation increase by 178% and SNAP/DUO sales increase by 166% during last year’s season. Based on their Ottawa 2021 survey, 72% of SNAP customers reported their families eat more fruits and vegetables since starting to shop at the farmers market. And 49% of SNAP customers reported that they would not be able to afford to use their SNAP benefits at the farmers market without the DUO match.
We asked Kristen how her farmers market has changed customer perception about healthy food options. Kristen said, “Here at the market we believe that everyone should be able to eat healthy and fresh food, regardless of their socioeconomic status. I’d like to think our market is vital in not just increasing access and exposure to healthy foods, but also in building fellowship in our community. When people don’t have much of a food budget, they are not going to spend money on trying new things, so our food tastings allow visitors to sample many different varieties of produce without gambling with their budgets. They appreciate that we accept SNAP and DUO because it allows them to enjoy the bounty from our growers that they previously could not afford.”
As Kristen has shared, “Farmers markets make eating healthy fun!”
The Ottawa Farmers Market opens May 12. Click here to search for participating farmers markets.