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For Good

produce perks improve fresh food access for needy county residents


Cuyahoga County residents needing food assistance now have some healthy alternatives thanks to a new program developed by the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition.

Twenty farmers markets and two farm stands throughout the county are partaking in the “Double Value Produce Perks” initiative, which offers incentive dollars to customers utilizing the Ohio Direction Card. Produce Perks are tokens given to customers at participating farmers markets who use the card to purchase food. Customers swipe their cards at a central terminal, with the market providing tokens for the transaction in addition to Produce Perks that can be spent on fruits and vegetables. The incentive is a dollar-for-dollar match to every dollar spent (up to $10) using an Ohio Direction Card at the market.

The project addresses healthy food gaps in the region, says Erika Meschkat, program coordinator for community development at Ohio State University Extension-Cuyahoga County, one of the entities making up the local food policy coalition. In creating the program, the coalition has partnered with several Greater Cleveland philanthropies as well as Wholesome Wave, a national nonprofit focusing on food access in underserved communities.

"Some people don't feel comfortable using their Ohio Direction Card at a farmers market, or there's a perceived cost barrier," says Meschkat. "The program incentivizes them to have a good experience."

The impact of Produce Perks has grown since its inception in 2010. Last year, 16 farmers markets contributed to over $27,000 in Ohio Direction Card sales with over $18,000 in incentives redeemed to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

"We want 2013 to be even bigger," Meschkat says.

 
SOURCE: Erika Meschkat
WRITER: Douglas J. Guth
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