produce perks program addresses fresh food gaps in city neighborhoods

When the Broadway Farmers Market in Slavic Village piloted a new program to offer a dollar-for-dollar match to Ohio Direction Card customers who purchase produce, it experienced a 191-percent increase in Direction Card sales in one year.

By offering incentives, the Produce Perks program helps to ensure that fresh, locally grown produce gets into low-income households where it's needed most. Many city residents do not have a grocery store with fresh produce within walking distance of their home. The program offers a dollar-for-dollar match up to $10.

This summer, the Produce Perks program is being expanded to 17 local farmers markets throughout Cuyahoga County. The program has been successful at helping lower-income residents to overcome obstacles that inhibit them from shopping at farmers markets and boosting their produce purchasing power, organizers say.

"We know that there are more people using local food assistance programs due to the economy, so how do we get them to local farmers markets?" says Erika Meschkat, Program Coordinator with the Ohio State University Extension. "This is about improving public health, boosting local food production and creating economic development opportunities at neighborhood farmers markets."

Meschkat says that the Produce Perks program helps farmers markets to profit from an untapped market. While many suburban market managers are shocked to realize that they have customers on food assistance, too, it benefits them as well.

The program is part of a regional push to address healthy food gaps by helping low-income residents to take advantage of farmers markets. Produce Perks is coordinated by the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition with the support of several area foundations and Wholesome Wave, a national nonprofit organization focused on access to healthy, affordable foods in poor communities.

Source: Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition
Writer: Lee Chilcote