A program aimed at connecting low-income households with nutritious foods made major strides in its inaugural year in Dubuque County.
The “Double Up Food Bucks” incentives program was launched at Dubuque Farmers’ Market in July. The initiative allows Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients to match each SNAP dollar — up to $10 per week — with an additional dollar that must be spent on fresh fruits or vegetables.
The program was an extension of efforts that took shape in 2015, when Dubuque Farmers Market first began accepting credit cards, debit cards, and SNAP electronic benefit transfer cards.
Michaela Freiburger, of Dubuque Main Street, said SNAP recipients collectively took home more than $11,000 worth of fresh, local food from July through October. That is up from $4,600 in SNAP sales at the market in all of 2015, she said.
Freiburger said even bigger things could be in store next year.
“We are looking at potentially increasing the program twofold, promoting more integration with kids and incorporating more education,” she said.
Freiburger also noted that from July to October, more than 400 SNAP recipients visited the Dubuque Farmers Market for the first time.
Carolyn Scherf, local foods coordinator with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach of Dubuque County, believes local health statistics hammer home the need for more nutritious options in Dubuque County.
She noted that Iowa lags behind other states in terms of fruit and vegetable consumption, despite being a major producer of healthy foods. Scherf said the most recent community health needs assessment showed that 29 percent of Dubuque County residents are obese.
“We know a big part of decreasing obesity is making sure that everyone has access to and can afford healthy fruits and vegetables,” said Scherf.
Scherf believes promotional efforts proved successful in attracting new residents and SNAP recipients to the market.
“I think some of the promotional efforts really ended up working well and connecting with people,” said Scherf. “One very effective strategy was sending a direct mailer to all eligible SNAP participants. I think that really caught people’s attention and got more people coming out to the market to check things out.”
The Dubuque Farmers Market was one of six communities that participated in the Double Up Food Bucks program this year. Scherf said this was made possible by a $1,500 “seed grant” from the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, as well as $2,600 secured through Iowa’s Healthiest State Initiative.
Dubuque County officials are pursuing additional funds through the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Grant Program in hopes of expanding the impact of Double Up Food Bucks next year.