BY Alexia SEVERSON, Las Cruces Sun-News
PUBLISHED: JULY 13TH, 2016
LAS CRUCES – Since Las Cruces resident Karen Acosta-Lombino, 45, a mother of three, began buying produce at the Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market through the Double Up Food Bucks program, her family has started eating more fruits and vegetables.
“There’s always fruit in the fridge now and now I cook with fresh vegetables instead of buying them frozen,” Acosta-Lombino said.
Acosta-Lombino said she tries to visit the farmers market in downtown Las Cruces to stock up on produce every Saturday.
“If I know I’m going to go (to the farmers market), I prepare meals and everything all around fresh fruits and vegetables I know are going to be there,” she said.
Double Up is a SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or food stamp incentive program that allows recipients to increase their purchase of fresh, locally grown produce when they shop at participating farmers markets.
“At the farmers market, what the customer does is go to the information table and swipe their EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) card and get two for one,” said Denise Miller, executive director of the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association. “So if they take $20 dollars off their EBT card, they get wooden tokens for their EBT card and then they are matched with $20 dollars worth of metal tokens and those are only good for fruits and vegetables.”
The program also benefits local farmers, Miller said.
“In New Mexico we geared this program so that it is to be used for New Mexico-grown produce, so it has the double benefit of serving our farmers as well as the people who need to stretch their food budget,” she said. “… These are dollars that are going straight into the pockets of farmers and that money is getting recirculated into our community — a really important part of why we want to keep these SNAP dollars being spent on locally grown food.”
In 2015, 580 food producers, including 475 fruit and vegetable farmers participated in Double Up statewide, according to Miller.
New Mexico received $2.1 million in federal money in April to expand Double Up and the state Legislature has granted an additional $390,300 annually, making it the first state to provide matching funds for such a program, according to a news release.
The funding has allowed Double Up to expand from the 34 markets that participated in the program in 2015 to nearly 90 sites throughout the state, including farmers markets, grocery stores, farm stands, mobile markets and Community Supported Agriculture outlets, according to Miller.
Double Up launched in New Mexico in 2010 at 16 participating farmers markets and has grown over the years. In 2016, the program is projected to impact 25,000 SNAP shoppers and 800 small farms in the state, stimulating an average of $1.2 million annually in local food sales, according to the news release.
One of the new Double Up sites will include La Semilla Food Center’s Farm Fresh Mobile Farmers Market, a 12-foot school bus converted into a market on wheels with shelving for items including meats, dairy products, honey and fruits and vegetables. The mobile unit will make stops at eight different locations in the area, mobile market coordinator Alejandro Bernal said.
“A lot of the areas that we’re going to be located are underserved areas … so we hope (customers) have SNAP benefits so they can use Double Up Food Bucks,” Bernal said.
At the mobile markets and participating grocery stores and farm stands, cashiers automatically provide SNAP customers with Double Up Food Bucks when a SNAP eligible purchase is made, Miller said.
Vendors selling locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables at the Las Cruces market will also continue to participate in the program.
In 2015, vendors at the Las Cruces market redeemed $13,601 in SNAP benefits and $11,212 in Double Up Food Bucks, according to market board member Brenda Mosely.
“With the income level for Doña Ana County being low and the fact that people can double the amount of money they are receiving, (the program) is a big help and it helps the farmers and the people who can accept EBT cards,” Mosely said.
Living in poverty
According to New Mexico Voices for Children, 21 percent of the total population and 30 percent of the state’s children live at or below the federal poverty level, placing New Mexico as second highest in overall poverty and highest in child poverty nationwide.
Low-income families are less likely to spend money on more expensive food items, such as lean meats, dairy and fresh produce and more likely to spend money on cheaper and more satiating foods containing processed grains and added sugar and fats. This puts these families at risk for obesity and chronic conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular illness, according to the report.
In New Mexico, only 18 percent of adults and 21 percent of children and teens eat the recommended five or more fruit and vegetable servings per day, according to the report.
“Fruits and vegetables can be expensive, but they are nutrient dense, so it’s really important to help people stretch their budgets to buy healthy food,” Miller said.
In Doña Ana County, an estimated 993 SNAP participants used the Double Up Food Bucks program in 2015, according to Miller.
“I think it helps out our community as a whole,” Acosta-Lombino said. “It’s helping the farmers and just eating fresh, local fruits and vegetables, you know where they’re coming from and you get to know the people even just walking through the farmers’ market. You get to see all the things you never knew were there.”
Anyone receiving SNAP benefits is automatically eligible for the program. For information about the Double Up Food Bucks program and how it works, visit doubleupfoodbucks.org. For information about SNAP, visit fns.usda.gov/snap.
Double Up locations
• Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market, 125 N Main St., 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays. Season is year-round.
• Anthony Youth Farm Farmers Market, 1590 Hwy 478, Anthony, N.M. Noon to 4 p.m. Fridays. Season is year-round.
• Ardovino’s Desert Crossing, 1 Ardovino’s Desert Crossing in Sunland Park. Summer hours: 7:30 a.m. to noon Saturdays.
• Chaparral Farmers Market, 101 S. County Line Drive. From 7:30 to 11 a.m. Saturdays, July through Nov.12.
Mobile farmers market
• Vado Elementary School, 330 Holguin Road, Vado, N.M., 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. every Wednesday
• Beck’s Coffee Shop, 130 N. Mesquite St., Las Cruces, 9 to 11 a.m. every Thursday
• La Semilla Food Center Office, 101 E. Joy Drive. Anthony, N.M., 2 to 5 p.m. every Friday
• Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market, 125 N Main St., Las Cruces, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every first Saturday of the month
• Ardovino’s Desert Crossing Farmers Market, 1 Ardovino’s Drive, Sunland Park, N.M., 7:30 a.m. to noon every third Saturday of the month
• Anthony Public Health Office, 865 N. Main St., Anthony, N.M., 10 a.m. to noon, every first and third Wednesday of the month
• Chaparral Public Health Office, 317 McCombs Road, Chaparral, N.M., 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. every second and fourth Tuesday of the month
Visit www.doubleupnm.org for more information.