The Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market, a program of Alchemy Initiative, is asking for the help of the community to raise funds for their Double Value Program. In 2015, the Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market launched this money-matching program for low-income residents using SNAP, WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program benefits, allowing them to spend twice as much at the market.
“Over the past three years, this program has leveraged federal and state benefits, putting more than $50,000 worth of fresh food on the tables of families in need. That’s also $50,000 into the pockets of local farmers and into our local economy!” says Jessica Vecchia, Director of Alchemy Initiative. However, the future of the Double Value Program and our local farmers is at stake as the government funded HIP Program, a program which allows Massachusetts residents with SNAP benefits to earn additional benefits through their purchase of HIP eligible fruits and vegetables from local farmers at farmers markets, has exceeded expected usage rates and run out of funds.
“(It is) with a heavy heart (that I report) the disappointing news that the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) is running out of funds and will be suspended as of April 15th”, says Vecchia. “That means that the SNAP customers who have come to count on our market for an extra $40 plus of fruits and vegetables each month will lose those benefits.
It (also) means that the farmers who have made their crop plans and ordered their seeds and supplies assuming a robust HIP market (originally touted as a three-year program) face some uncertainty about whether they’ll be able to sell all of their shares or products.
One of our farmers shared that 50% of her sales during high season (July through October) were in HIP. That loss can devastate a small farm. That also means that if these funds are no more, 50% less food will be going to families in need!
We are doing everything in our power to make sure our shoppers and farmers will not feel the loss of HIP funds by expanding our Double Value Program.”
The Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market is asking for donations, business sponsors, and fundraising ideas to fund an expansion of their Double Value Program. Their goal is to raise $5000, and, as of today, they are halfway to their goal. Local company Blue Q has pledged $1,500 and many market friends have given 10, 25, and 50-dollar donations.
Julia from Windy Ridge Farm explains why you should consider making a donation to the Double Value Program. “The suspension of HIP will leave a large gap in produce access for those in need. It also leaves our little farm with many questions about how we will sell our produce this year. Our main outlet for produce sales right now is the Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market. Over half of our sales during produce season last year were through the HIP program. Please help us to expand our Double Value Program for this year. We can act locally to alleviate the stress HIP suspension is putting on our community members in need and our farmers.”
“Not only did HIP draw in more SNAP shoppers to the market, but it freed up some of their SNAP money to spend on other local foods”, says Ashley Amsden, co-owner of Square Roots Farm. “If they had planned to spend $20 of their SNAP money at market, for example, they could now spend that ON TOP OF whatever vegetables and fruits they wanted to buy. I think that’s a really good thing, because while fruits and veggies are absolutely important foods to make sure people have access to, quality proteins can also be really hard to come by on a budget…. So even though HIP’s goals focused on increased access to produce, it – in partnership with the Double Value Program – has had this wonderful side effect of increasing access to other healthy, local foods.”
Here’s what YOU can do to HELP:
The Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market’s goal is to raise $5,000 which is 200 donations of just $25, but any amount, big or small, is welcomed and appreciated. Donate here: http://farmersmarketpittsfield.org/double-value-program/
2. Become a SPONSOR.
If your business wants to give back to the community, consider one of their Sponsorship Opportunities.
3. Hold a FUNDRAISER.
“Throw a party. Put on an event. Donate a percentage of a day’s sales.” If you have an idea, please contact Jess Vecchia, Market Manager at 413.344.0816 or via email.
4. Spread the word. SHARE this story on Social Media and encourage others to take notice and donate!
By Contributor Kimberly Cortes-Gritman
Images courtesy of The Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market