Letter to the editor: Food insecurity and Double Up Food Bucks

What is food insecurity and how does it affect Watauga County?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” Food insecurity, or the lack of access to nutritional foods, has many health implications and is an obstacle to community well-being across the country.

Eighteen percent of Watauga County residents faced food insecurity in 2015, according to Hunger Research from the Southeastern University Consortium. This number is significantly higher in comparison to North Carolina’s overall food insecurity rate of 15 percent.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly referred to as the Food Stamp Program, is the largest food assistance program in the U.S., with the goal of alleviating food insecurity in low-income households. The number of Watauga residents receiving benefits from SNAP in 2015 was 3,483, according to FRED Economic Data. The amount of these benefits are determined based on household net income, yet do not always adequately provide economic access to foods that meet health and nutritional needs.

In attempts to address the gap between government benefits and access to healthy foods, Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture has recently implemented the Double Up Food Bucks Program in Watauga County.

Double Up Food Bucks is a Detroit-based program that has expanded around the country. Essentially, when a SNAP recipient spends an allocated amount of money (up to $30 per day) on fruits and/or vegetables at a participating food retail location, Double Up Food Bucks will provide them with the same amount of money spent to be used on purchasing more fruits and/or vegetables. Double Up Food Bucks has a multitude of benefits: increasing the financial accessibility of eating fresh fruits and vegetables while also benefiting small-scale farmers and promoting local economies. BRWIA has partnered with Double Up Food Bucks to support local farmers and provide better food access to those facing food insecurity.

In Watauga County, Double Up matches every SNAP dollar at farmers’ markets such as the Tuesday King Street Market, High Country Food Hub and the Winter Farmers’ market.

We have interviewed an expert with BRWIA and Double Up Food bucks about how the program works and how it can effectively combat food insecurity. We have also interviewed a WIC recipient who utilizes the Double Up program in Watauga County.

Lori Ludwig, an Americorps Vista employee of BRWIA has stated the following about the program and how it has the potential to address food insecurity in our community:

“The primary reason families give for why they don’t eat fresh foods is lack of affordability. Double Up Food Bucks provides an additional dollar for every dollar a SNAP family spends, up to $30 at time, at any of the four farmers’ markets in Boone. This provides food insecure residents the power to choose healthy food options for their families. Expanding options and giving all families the power to choose higher quality foods is a key part of puzzle in combating our community’s food insecurity problems…The power to stretch food assistance dollars at local farmers’ markets not only provides increased access to higher quality food, but also provides much needed income for our community’s farmers. The program also keeps food dollars within the local community. Every dollar donated to the program truly is a win-win-win,” Ludwig said.

So where does that extra $30 come from? How is the program funded? In 2017, BRWIA helped raised $3,000 for the program, Ludwig said. In 2018, BRWIA decided to partner with the Fair Food Program, the organization that implements Double Up, and has been able to acquire much more funding. Ludwig added, “Generous donations from the Town of Boone and Village Vision have been critical in this expansion. Over $18,000 has been spent by SNAP recipients at the Watauga County Farmers’ Market, the King Street Market, the High Country Food Hub and will continue into the Boone Winter Farmers’ Market. However, when the donated money runs out, the program stops. This is why donations are critical,” Ludwig said.

Courtney Daley, a consistent user of Double Up, has expressed how beneficial Double Up Food Bucks is to her everyday life. For her, Double Up Food Bucks has mitigated more than just food-related issues. In addition to having increased access to nutritional foods, the program helps to alleviate financial stresses in other household-related sectors, such as rent and childcare costs. The financial ability to purchase locally-sourced, fresh foods has reduced this user’s intake of processed goods and encouraged overall healthier eating habits.

Furthermore, Daley is a single mother of a young child with severe medical challenges. Being able to consistently provide adequate, healthy food has had a noticable, positive impact on her child’s immune system, energy levels, digestion and attention span. She strongly attributes the improvement of her child’s health to the Double Up Food Bucks program and its associated impact on her family’s food habits.

So with a program that clearly is making an impact on the lives of users, why is it not utilized as much as it could be?

“A big barrier for families right now is lack of awareness. While we’ve been working closely with our partners to help spread the word, we think there is still many families who don’t know about, or don’t understand how the program works,” Ludwig said. “We are also aware that many families who qualify for food assistance are not utilizing the service for a variety of reasons. We are working with Second Harvest to help register qualified families for SNAP benefits and educating them about Double Up Food Bucks at the same time.”

Some other barriers Ludwig reports are transportation, time and access. Being able to actually get to the farmers’ markets and make time for it may be difficult for some SNAP users. BRWIA has created the High Country Food Hub to help mitigate this issue for SNAP and non-SNAP users alike.

“The High Country Food Hub is an online farmers’ market that accepts both EBT and Double Up Food Bucks and is a great option for working families because they can order healthy local food online and easily come pick up their order on Wednesday afternoons from 252 Poplar Grove Road in downtown Boone. The Food Hub is a five-minute walk to the closest AppalCart stop as well,” Ludwig said.

For the future, BRWIA hopes to continue to not only sustain the program in Watauga County, but also support other counties in this process as they grow.

Written by: Natalie Spiccia, senior sustainable development major & Linden Stokes, junior sustainable development major

The post Letter to the editor: Food insecurity and Double Up Food Bucks appeared first on The Appalachian Online.

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