Farmers markets can play key role in increasing food security and access

Increasing access to healthy food is possible through innovative programs like Double-Up Food Bucks and markets accepting Bridge cards

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 15 percent of families in the United States are “food insecure,” meaning they do not at all times have access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle for all household members.  Community food systems are being developed across the state to help ensure that all members in a community have access to healthy and affordable food.

Educators at Michigan State University Extension have been working with farmer market managers to help them develop systems to accept EBT/Bridge cards at their markets.  These debit/credit cards allow families in Michigan to use their supplemental nutritional assurance program (SNAP) funds to purchase fresh, healthy food at local farmers markets.  To assist managers in the transition to accepting Bridge Cards, a guide to Accepting Bridge Cards at Michigan Farmers Markets is available for purchase online at the MSU Extension Bookstore.  The Michigan Farmers Market Association has developed a complete list of farmers markets that accept bridge cards.

Michigan officials have also been hard at work trying to find ways to incentivize families who are eligible for SNAP benefits to seek out and purchase healthier food from local markets through the Double-Up Food Bucks program.  When a person eligible for SNAP uses his or her SNAP Bridge Card to shop for food at a farmers market, the amount of money that he or she spends is matched with Double-Up Food Bucks bonus tokens. The tokens can then be exchanged for Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables.  What began as a pilot program at five Detroit markets in 2009 has now expanded to include 98 markets across the state

This program has benefits beyond just providing greater access to healthy food for Michigan’s underserved populations.  Since the Double-Up Food Buck tokens have to be spent on Michigan-grown products the money is infused into local economies and directly benefits Michigan farmers.  The continued development of programs like these will help Michigan better connect healthy food to the individuals, families and communities that need it most.