Did you know that almost 15% of Maine's population in 2015 received federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps, now SNAP) benefits? The total number of Mainers with SNAP fell more than 10% in 2015 from 2014; from 217,115 to 193,720*; not because these people didn't need their benefits necessarily, but largely due to changes in regulations. More broadly, over 16% of Maine's households are considered food insecure by the USDA, more than 208,000 Maine people. Perhaps most terrifying is the fact that 24% of Maine's children, almost 1 in 4, are food insecure.**
How can certified organic farmers react to these statistics, considering their increased emphasis on the stewardship of their land and resources often increases the costs of production for their food? Many farmers throughout the state have come up with creative means to help low income Mainers in their community access healthy, Maine-grown, certified organic food. If you have ideas or strategies you use, please email Heather Omand at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your model. If you are interested in learning more about the models that exist, please reach out to Heather and she would be happy to share what she knows.
Below is some information on a program (Maine Harvest Bucks) MOFGA currently participates in that allows Maine customers with SNAP funds to access discounted shares at certified organic CSA farms. Through this program, the farmer still receives the full value for their share. If you are not a CSA farm, but would like to accept SNAP and/or offer Maine Harvest Bucks incentives through a farm stand or farmers market there is contact information for these models listed below.
* These numbers come from the Food Research and Action Center: SNAP: One Year Change in Total Participation.
** Good Shepherd Food Bank: Latest Statistics Confirm Ongoing Hunger Problem
Maine Harvest Bucks
MOFGA participates in the Maine Harvest Bucks program, which provides nutrition incentives that increase the value of federal nutrition assistance dollars spent at participating farmers' markets, CSAs, and retail outlets selling local produce. With Maine Harvest Bucks, SNAP shoppers receive bonus local fruits and vegetables, stretching limited benefits much further. MOFGA specializes in offering Maine Harvest Bucks through certified organic CSA farms: customers with SNAP benefits received discounted share prices while the farmer still receives the full value of their share. In 2015, 6 farms across the state of Maine offered discounted CSA shares through this program to over 75 Maine families and individuals and we plan to expand those numbers in 2016. These incentives serve all partners involved:
• low income Mainers have increased access to healthy, Maine-grown, certified organic food
• Maine certified organic farmers can expand their customer base
• More food dollars stay in our local economy
For more information on this program, how to enroll in a discounted CSA share program, or how to get involved, contact Heather Omand at email@example.com.
MOFGA is able to offer this program through its membership in the Maine Local Foods Access Network (MLFAN). MLFAN is a group of Maine nonprofits collaborating to improve low-income access to locally grown foods across the state. Our vision is that everyone in Maine has access to the abundance of food from Maine producers. Organizations in MLFAN include Access Health, Cultivating Community, Food AND Medicine, Healthy Acadia, Maine Farmland Trust, Maine Federation of Farmers' Markets, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), St. Mary's Nutrition Center and Wholesome Wave.
CSAs: Heather Omand: firstname.lastname@example.org
Farmers' markets: Emilie Knight, SNAP@mffm.org (207-487-7114)
Farm stands and mobile markets: Stephanie Aquilina, email@example.com
Co-ops and food hubs, and general inquiries: Shannon Grimes, firstname.lastname@example.org (207- 338-6575)
MOFGA and the Maine Local Food Access Network is part of Wholesome Wave's National Nutrition Incentive Network.