Nutritious food is a critical component of any long-term strategy to minimize the impact of lead exposure—not to mention it improves a variety of health outcomes like disease prevention and cognitive development. With such broad potential for helping Flint residents who have been exposed to lead, especially children and seniors, nutrition is foundational to the Health Fund’s work in the community.
That’s why we’ve supported Flint’s local expansion of Double Up Food Bucks, a program that doubles the value of federal nutrition benefits (like SNAP) to help low-income shoppers bring home more healthy, locally-grown produce for themselves and their families. The Fair Food Network, which administers Double Up Food Bucks across Michigan, recently invited us to learn more about the program and see it in action at the Flint Farmers’ Market and Landmark Food Center, two purchase points where customers “double up”.
Flint’s program is unique in that it runs year-round, and has begun implementing a new electronic card system to replace the tokens currently used at most participating locations. In 2015 alone, more than 3,000 shoppers spent more than $100,000 at Double Up Food Bucks at the Flint Farmers’ Market. That means Flint families brought home $100,000 worth of fresh produce that wouldn’t otherwise be available to them, and local farmers saw $100,000 in additional revenue that will help strengthen the local economy.
While we’re talking about the Flint Farmers’ Market, we’d like to heartily recommend that you visit if you haven’t already! In addition to the fruits, vegetables, baked goods, and protein offerings you’re used to seeing at farmers’ markets, the Flint facility offers an array of community-oriented amenities. A demonstration kitchen offers cooking classes and sends participants home with ingredients to recreate the recipes they learned; a back-of-house facility provides a full kitchen and walk-in coolers to help vendors scale their businesses, expanding to meet demand without overextending themselves on overhead. During our visit, seniors were participating in an exercise class in the large open atrium, which is surrounded by shops and an art gallery.
In concert with programs like Double Up Food Bucks, the Flint Farmers’ Market is a shining example of how healthy food can be the basis of a community network, stimulating economic development and supporting healthier people at the same time.
For its part, Double Up Food Bucks is working on becoming a similarly multitasking program. Thanks to investments from the Health Fund and others, the program has expanded from the Farmers’ Market to six grocery stores, and is piloting the card technology to streamline participants’ experience.
One of the challenges is that not enough people know about the program, but the Fair Food Network is conducting a bold marketing campaign to raise awareness. We saw signs encouraging shoppers to “Double Up” not only at the Flint Farmers’ Market and Landmark Food Center, but on the bus that shuttled us between the two locations, on billboards along the route, and in shop windows that we passed.
As the Flint community begins to recover from the water crisis, the Health Fund is committed to helping residents address the many health challenges they now face—and will continue to face, long after the headlines have faded. So while we’re funding immediate and direct efforts to help Flint residents heal, including lead testing, education, and advocacy, we’re also prioritizing projects that will help Flint become and stay healthier far into the future. Double Up Food Bucks, by improving food security and nutrition, can help Flint residents realize that healthier future.