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Farmers' Program Helps Lower-Income Minnesotans Eat Better

More of Minnesota's children have access to fresh produce as a result of the Market Bucks program. (Jesse Davis)
More of Minnesota's children have access to fresh produce as a result of the Market Bucks program. (Jesse Davis)
June 14, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. - It's the time of year when local farmers are busy selling fresh fruits and vegetables they've worked hard to grow, and hunger-fighting advocates are hoping a state-funded program will help lower-income Minnesotans purchase that produce.

When SNAP recipients buy at farmers markets around the state, they are given an extra $10 for every $10 they spend through the "Market Bucks" program. Last year, said Patti Whitney-Wise, program manager for the group Hunger Solutions, SNAP customers redeemed more than $550,000 in Market Bucks at farmers markets, an increase of more than 150 percent from the year before.

"Over the course of a month, families have to choose between purchasing the higher-cost fresh fruits and vegetables and other things that they can afford," she said. "So, this really gives them that benefit of expanding what they can buy."

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota's Center for Prevention started Market Bucks, and the state Legislature passed the "Healthy Eating Here at Home" bill in 2015 to fund the program. Minnesota was the first state to fund a farmers market incentive program.

Jesse Davis, membership services manager for the Minnesota Farmers Market Association, called it a win-win for shoppers and farmers, who have seen an increase in their customer base since Market Bucks began. He said it's also teaching young children about where their food comes from and encouraging them to try something new. Davis said it's great to see kids get excited about healthy food.

"'Oh, I want those rainbow carrots!' Or, 'Oh, I want those orange peppers,' or, 'I want to try beets.' It's really cool to see these kids and families take ownership of what they're eating and preparing," Davis said.

Dozens of farmers markets are participating in the Market Bucks program across Minnesota. The list and more information are online at HungerSolutions.org.

More information is available at extension.umn.edu.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MN