A diet heavier in fruits and vegetables and lower in fats and processed foods offers significant health benefits to prevent the onset of diabetes, hypertension, and other costly diseases. Yet individuals who are food insecure and do not have regular access to fresh produce cannot access these benefits. One in four adults and children in Baltimore City live in “Healthy Food Priority Areas,” neighborhoods that lack sources of healthy, nutritious food. The development of urban farms over the last 10 years has offered a novel way to make fresh fruits and vegetables more readily available to residents in these neighborhoods.
Farm Alliance of Baltimore City
Starting in 2013, with $4,000 in assistance from the Abell Foundation, the Farm Alliance of Baltimore City piloted a Double Dollars program. Five participating farms incentivized households receiving federal food benefits to purchase fruits and vegetables at their local farm stands, the Civic Works’ Real Food Farm mobile market, and the Farm Alliance stand at the Waverly farmers market. The program offered $1 for every $1 spent—up to $10 per week during the harvesting season—and reached 192 SNAP, Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program, and WIC Fruit and Vegetable Check customers.
Since then, the Foundation has supported the Double Dollars program each year. In the past year with $35,000 in Abell support, the Farm Alliance helped nine farms with 100,000 seedlings and shared infrastructure, training, staffing, and transportation to produce organic, sustainably grown fruits and vegetables and sell directly to Baltimore residents who both do and do not receive federal food benefits. Most of the Farm Alliance member farms are located in majority African American communities that suffer from food insecurity, and the farms provide an important source of fresh foods to community members. The Farm Alliance spent $13,132 on the Double Dollars program to incentivize an equal amount of purchases by 1,300 customers. Funding also enabled Holistic Wellness & Health to provide 94 nutrition and cooking demonstrations at farms and distribution locations under contract with the Farm Alliance.
Social science research supports the value of Double Dollars to incentivize people living in low-income communities to spend more on fresh produce. A 2017 NIH study of the Detroit, Michigan Double Up Food Buck program found that the incentives increased the amount and variety of fruits and vegetables purchased and were critical to sustaining purchasing practices. Another 2018 study of SNAP recipients in Colorado had similar findings: Participants reported buying and eating more fruits and vegetables and trying new varieties using incentives.
These programs also support local farming and with it, improve the health of our environment. Specifically, farming operations in the city increase biodiversity and provision of habitat for pollinators, reduce air pollution, reduce the urban heat island effect, increase rainwater drainage and reduce stormwater runoff, and recycle organic waste into compost.
Information published March 2021.