Maine Harvest Bucks program brings SNAP benefits to food co-ops.
by Luke deNatale
There is an increasing local trend among farmers’ markets and grocery cooperatives. More and more are accepting SNAP benefits, formerly known as Food Stamps. With the new program Maine Harvest Bucks there will be even more markets and co-ops accepting SNAP benefits.
Maine has the second highest ratio of farms and farmer stands in New England that accept SNAP benefits. A total of 131 recognized farms and farmers’ markets accept SNAP benefits. That equates to one SNAP-accepting farmer for every 10,140 people.
Even the Portland Food Co-Op has started accepting SNAP benefits. “We just opened a year and a half ago. We had been thinking of doing some sort of program for a while. It’s a federal grant that has actually allowed us to do this so soon,” said Mary Alice Scott, Community Engagement Manager at the Portland Food Co-Op.
The grant was provided to Maine Farmland Trust, which is a member operated non-profit dedicated to the protection of farmland. The Portland Food Co-Op collaborated with Maine Farmland Trust and other co-op stores in the area to create the Harvest Bucks program, according to Mary Alice.
The Maine Harvest Bucks program allows SNAP recipients to receive $5 for every $10 spent at the Portland Food Co-Op.
The grant, which is a Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant, provides incentives beyond direct-to-customer outlets like farmers’ markets and into retail stores and other farm aggregators. This is one of the only retail-based incentive programs across the nation focusing exclusively on local products, according to a press release provided by the Portland Food Co-Op.
“People have been receiving the program really well, we’ve seen a number of people signing up for the program,” said Scott.
Many farmers are beginning to accept SNAP benefits as well. Johanna Burdet and Jarrett Haiss of Moody Town Gardens in Palmyra, Maine, also accept SNAP benefits. Moody Town Gardens is an 80-acre farm which solely grows and sells organic vegetables.
“This is our first year actually being able to accept SNAP/EBT at our farm stand,” said Johanna Burdet.
Jarret Haiss remarked that as a farm they have seen an increase in customers utilizing SNAP benefits to purchase quality organic produce.