WASHINGTON, July 24, 2014 – For families on food assistance, farmers market vouchers are a way to increase fresh fruit and vegetable consumption, according to a study released today by NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.
“In terms of healthy food options, farmers market incentives may be able to bring a low-income person onto the same playing field as those with greater means,” said Carolyn Dimitri, an associate professor of food studies at NYU Steinhardt and the study’s lead author.
The study, which appears online in Food Policy, suggests vouchers can be useful tools in improving access to healthy food. The report “validates” a program in the 2014 Farm Bill -- the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program – which incentivizes low-income families to buy more produce, the authors said in a news release.
The study started by enrolling 281 women with children who received food assistance through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program and who shopped at farmers markets in New York, San Diego and Boston. For 12-16 weeks, each time participants made purchases, they received up to $10 in vouchers to be used toward buying fruits and vegetables.
Ultimately, 138 participants completed the study, which is consistent with retention rates for similar studies. Women who were older, visited food banks and lived in so-called “food deserts” –- areas where wholesome foods are often hard to find -- were the most likely to discontinue the study.
More than half of participants who completed the study reported consuming vegetables more frequently at the end of the observation period. Participants with low levels of education and those who consumed little fresh produce at the beginning of the study were the most likely to increase the amount of produce in their diets.
In addition to USDA programs, SNAP-based incentive programs (SBIPs) offer vouchers that match fresh food purchases made at farmers markets. Communities or non-profits provide funds to match SNAP dollars so recipients receive twice the amount of healthy produce.
The Women Infants and Children Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) and Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) allow EBT cards (electric benefit transfer cards) to be used at farmers market.
A USDA map shows which states farmers markets accept SFMNP and WIC benefits.