By AFM Contributing Writer; Aimee Whittington, Ph.D.
With respect to the Amherst Farmers’ Market, one positive development to come out of the last 2 years is the increased diversity of the market’s customer base. Not only did the pandemic bring out a much younger demographic, as seen by the large number of college students shopping from 10 a.m. until breakdown, it also sparked a resurgence in overall community interest in direct to consumer food sales.
Additionally, the market saw an increased usage of one of the nation’s most innovative programs designed to address food insecurity and healthy food access - the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP). HIP is a program administered by the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance and funded through a combination of federal funds, state funds and private contributions.
For market customers who are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP - formerly known as food stamps), HIP ‘rewards’ recipients with extra benefits when they use SNAP to purchase fruits, vegetables, and certain plants at farmers markets, farm stands, CSAs. HIP is the first program of its kind established in the U.S. Depending on household size, Massachusetts’ HIP funds match SNAP benefits dollar-for-dollar:
By using HIP, SNAP recipients can earn back up to:
● $40 monthly (for 1 – 2 people)
● $60 monthly (for 3 -5 people)
● $80 monthly (for 6+ people)
Massachusetts has historically done groundbreaking work, with regards to local and direct marketed agriculture and food insecurity. In 2006, The Food Project’s Lynn Central Square Farmers’ Market became one of the first in the country to accept SNAP benefits electronically/They also piloted a small SNAP matching program. Two years later, this small program served as a model for the Boston Bounty Bucks program, a dollar-for-dollar matching program for use at Boston-area farmers’ markets. This program demonstrated the demand generated by SNAP-matching for consumers and expanded the opportunity for Massachusetts farmers to sell their harvests locally.
These two programs served as the precursor and inspiration for the Healthy Incentives Program, which launched statewide in 2017. In that first year, HIP helped over 36,000 families gain access to farm-fresh produce. By 2019, that number had grown to 19,000 households per month utilizing the benefit.
For individual recipients, HIP is only a positive. It increases access to fresh, local produce and helps stretch SNAP dollars without extra paperwork. It rewards recipients for buying local produce at designated locations. Lastly, it allows SNAP recipients to grow their own fruits and vegetables, if they choose, by purchasing food-producing plants and seeds. It’s also a boon to local producers. For the state economy, HIP has provided Massachusetts farmers with more than $15 million in revenue. It has served to broaden the customer base for many small, local farms struggling to increase revenue and continues to do so. Most importantly, HIP has allowed access to products which were historically too expensive for customers on a restricted budget. Everyone should be able to feel the juice of a peach on their chin or smell the ‘summer’ of a tomato as they slice it. HIP is allowing people to do just that.
Bringing you organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised, locally-sourced blog posts on a semi-weekly basis from the Amherst Farmers' Market.