The Packer’s Tom Karst visited in July with Tevis Foreman, executive director of Produce Perks Midwest, based in Cincinnati.
The organization helps low-income families eat more fruits and vegetables while supporting local farmers and growing local economies.
Produce Perks doubles the purchasing power for low-income shoppers – providing a $1 for $1 match for families and individuals receiving SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) when spent on healthy foods. Our match can be used to purchase fruits and vegetables, stretching the SNAP $ for additional healthy foods.
The program is supported both by a 2018 $2.27 million multi-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (formerly known as the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program) and the state of Ohio.
“In 2019 our Produce Perks program generated over $900,000 in both SNAP and Produce Perks purchases at our participating locations again,” he said. The majority of those 125 Produce Perks locations are direct-to-consumer locations, he said, such as farmers markets.
In 2018, Produce Perks Midwest launched its Produce Prescription (PRx) Program, which connects patients with diet-related diseases (diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular, etc.) to providers that write prescriptions for free fruits and vegetables.
COVID-19 effect and beyond
Foreman said the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant year-to-date growth in both the distribution of Produce Perks incentives, as well as the redemption of those incentives. In addition, he said there has been big growth in SNAP purchases and transactions at the 125 plus Produce Perks locations.
Enabling local produce sales within the context of the emerging model of online SNAP program purchases will require greater investment by federal and state officials, Foreman said. Those investments will help farmers markets and other outlets offer fresh produce to SNAP consumers in their region, he said. “I would like to be able to meet our consumers, as well as our farmers and retailers on that online platform, and be able to provide these dollars to support healthy food purchases for those we are seeking to serve,” he said. “Those are the steps I’m hoping that we can advance here in Ohio, as well as be a part of a national conversation around what those steps really look like.”
Foreman said the investment in online capabilities of farmers markets, for example, represents a natural next step in “the evolution of SNAP benefits and providing a more effective and efficient and equitable food safety net.”