Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

New Program Aims to Incentivize Purchase of Fresh Produce

The Food Bucks initiative offers SNAP participants expanded access to fruits and vegetables at two area markets.




photos by hal B. Klein

 

Food insecurity, the lack of reliable access to healthy, affordable food, remains a pressing issue in the region. In December 2017, 152,923 people in Allegheny County relied on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, to help subsidize the cost of feeding themselves and their families.

For many people who participate in SNAP, it’s a challenge to list purchasing fresh produce as a top priority when making a shopping list. Vegetables and fruits are highly perishable, can be costly and, even if you want them, there isn’t always access. This especially is true in low-income neighborhoods where shopping options often are limited to what’s available at corner stores. 

A number of area organizations, including South Side non-profit Just Harvest, 412 Food Rescue in East Liberty and Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in Duquesne work to improve food access. For example, in 2015, Just Harvest partnered with Philadelphia-based The Food Trust to offer a program called Food Bucks that would incentivize the purchase of fresh produce by offering SNAP users $2 vouchers for every $5 spent at the market. That program now runs at 22 farmers markets in Allegheny County and, according to Executive Director Ken Regal, is highly successful at encouraging customers to purchase more fresh fruits and vegetables. 



Now, the Food Trust is testing a Food Bucks pilot program at a couple of corner stores in Allegheny County — Dylamato’s Market in Hazelwood and Carl’s Cafe in Rankin — as well as several locations in Philadelphia. It works like this: for every $2 spent using SNAP benefits, a customer will receive a $1 voucher to purchase fresh produce at the same store. 

“These are modest programs, and they’re still in the proof-of-concept stage to show how impactful they can be,” says Regal.

So far, it seems to be working.

Dianne Shenk opened Dylamato’s Market in February 2016. She stocks staples such as cereal, eggs and cheese, as well as a selection of locally grown grains and meat. Keeping her shelves brimming with a variety of fresh produce, however, is challenging. 

[Shenk and I were classmates in Chatham University's Food Studies master's degree program.]

Shenk says that, despite the more extended hours at her standalone store, she was able to sell more produce at a farm stand that she ran for several years prior to opening Dylamato’s. "You don't experiment when you have limited access. You won't buy things that are highly perishable or things that you're not sure everyone will like. You'll go for a safer choice like canned goods or cereal,” she says.

She’s noticed a turnaround since she implemented Food Bucks in December. As of January 27, she’s distributed over $2500 in Food Bucks vouchers and has an approximately 75% redemption rate. It’s a double benefit and a virtuous cycle. The more the Food Bucks spent, the more produce Shenk can purchase. "That's huge for me. I can have a full stock of produce and keep it moving,” she says. 

A bonus, she says, is that parents are giving their children vouchers to spend on fresh fruit — blackberries, bananas and other fruits are flying off the shelf.



Carl Lewis, owner of Carl’s Cafe in Rankin, has seen a similar uptick in interest in healthy eating; produce sales have tripled since he implemented Food Bucks in January. His convenience store didn’t stock much beyond a few bananas, potatoes, onions, apples, and oranges. Now he says, “I have all that, plus lemons, limes, tomato, cucumber, green peppers, celery, lettuce and cabbage.”

Lewis says that his adult customers, many of whom don’t typically incorporate a lot of fresh produce into their diets, slowly are catching on the benefits of the program. And, just like at Dylamato’s Market, kids are leading the way. “The schools have been introducing kids to fresh produce. It carries over to their homes and a lot of the kids educate their parents. [Food Bucks] is good to be a conduit for them to have that in their diet,” he says. 

If the program continues to prove fruitful at the pilot stores, it likely will expand to other locations in the region.

“Everything we know about how markets function suggest that if we incentivize good choices, people will make good choices,” says Regal of Just Harvest. “If you want markets to function better, this is exactly what you do.”
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Catching Up With Rivendale Farms Susanna Meyer and Neil Stauffer

The two foundational figures of Pittsburgh's sustainable farming movement blend old-school know-how with forward-thinking practices at the Washington County farm.

MultiStories: Three Times a Bust – The German National Bank

The bank was at the center of a corruption scandal which eventually led to an overhaul of Pittsburgh city government.

Matters of the Heart

In a city of eds and meds, it’s to be expected that some couples are going to meet in the medical field. We found some of the best “meet-cutes” from recent Pittsburgh weddings.

At Scene75, Be a Kid (or Bring Your Kids)

The entertainment center in Edgewood is a great time with or without little ones.

Pitt Attaches Old-School Signature to Narduzzi’s Championship Prediction

Thanks to wide receivers recognized for their blocking ability and an offensive line endearingly referred to as “knuckleheads“ –– the Panthers are one win away from making their head coach's bold pre-season prediction a reality.

Pittsburgh Restaurant News: Reduced Hours and a Chef Change

Two Oakland restaurants now have shorter hours and a chef moves from Downtown to Lawrenceville.

What Unites Us In the Wake of the Tree of Life Tragedy

We asked local faith leaders for their response to the massacre at Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill –– and how we can come together and more forward as a community.

Pittsburgh Restaurant Review: Molinaro Ristorante

Ron Molinaro's Downtown restaurant offers high-end Italian dishes made with top-notch ingredients, but is it worth the price premium?

Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2018 Honorees

Pittsburgh Magazine highlights the unsung heroes of the health care field: our Excellence in Nursing honorees, chosen by our panel of distinguished judges in the field.

Nursing Shortage in Pittsburgh Calls for Creative Solutions

RetuRN to Practice entices retired nurses back Into the field.

Fine Art Meets High Fashion at the Carnegie International

With the Carnegie International as the backdrop, we feature work by local fashion designer Elaine Healey, who has been morphing from luxury womenswear to a more “non-binary” style.

The 400-Word Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

While Harry Potter diehards will find more than enough sustenance in the sequel, non-devotees may have a rough time following the action.

Pittsburgh's Tomorrow – What We Need in the Future

As the year comes to a close, we look forward to what Pittsburgh can be –– and what we'd like to see change –– in the coming years.

How to Shop Like a Pro for Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh

Our guide to produce, pastries, libations and more will help your table brim with tasty treats from Pittsburgh-area businesses.

Drink Like the French on Beaujolais Nouveau Day

Why and where to celebrate on Thursday, which marks the annual release of the young wine.