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Double Bucks as a Win-Win-Win: Q&A with BRWIA

Since its inception in 2003, Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture (BRWIA) has worked hard to help build an equitable, sustainable High Country local food system in Northwest North Carolina. Back in July, BRWIA joined Come to the Table at our Western Regional Gathering to present on many of their successes. One key takeaway from participants was BRWIA’s ability to leverage funding from their local government to support their Double Up Food Bucks program, which doubles the value of goods purchased through their markets for SNAP/EBT members. This was a big policy win for local and regional food systems, as well as a policy win for consumers who deserve more sustainable funding for fresh, healthy food. Enjoy this Q&A below with the Come to the Table team and Rachel Kinard, the Double Up Food Bucks & Farmers Market Manager.

CTTT: How does your SNAP matching program work? How and where can people spend it?

RK: Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture administers Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) at three different tailgate farmers’ markets in Watauga County (King Street Farmers’ Market, Watauga County Farmers’ Market or the Boone Winter Farmers’ Market), as well as the High Country Food Hub, an online marketplace with pick-up locations in Ashe, Avery, and Watauga Counties. 

At the three tailgate farmers’ markets: 

  • Participants can bring their EBT card, Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) vouchers, or WIC FMNP vouchers to the market manager’s booth.
  • If they have an EBT card, we will swipe their card and give them $1 tokens that represent their EBT transaction and then we will double that by giving them the same amount in $1 DUFB tokens. 
  • If they have Senior or WIC vouchers, we will stamp those and then give them $1 DUFB tokens to match that amount.  
  • Once the participant has their tokens, they can shop for any SNAP eligible item at the market. They can use the tokens at any of the three markets and the tokens do not expire. Right now, we will double an unlimited amount.

At the High Country Food Hub: 

  • Participants indicate when they create an account that they are a SNAP/EBT customer. 
  • They shop as any customer would shop. 
  • When they check out, they click the EBT section. 
  • When they pick up their order, BRWIA staff will swipe their EBT card and give them 50% off their order for SNAP-eligible products. 

BRWIA currently offers an unlimited match and administers a straight-SNAP match. This means that customers with federal nutrition benefits can match as much as they would like to match on any SNAP-eligible product. 

CTTT: How was it first started/funded?

RK: BRWIA started a Double Up program in 2016/2017 after a school social worker heard about similar programs on NPR. It began with the Watauga County Farmers’ Market. The program would run out of funding each year by August and was serving around 30 families. 

BRWIA worked with the Town of Boone and area churches in 2018 to increase funding for the program and expand it to the new King Street Farmers’ Market, Boone’s Winter Farmers’ Market, and the High Country Food Hub. 

In 2020, BRWIA hired a part-time coordinator to administer the program and develop outreach materials and partnerships. BRWIA also removed the daily-match limit, which had been $20. Together this significantly increased participation in the program and coincided with more people than ever being eligible for SNAP/EBT through pandemic-related federal programs. 

CTTT: I understand the city of Boone provides funding for the Double Up program at your markets. Can you share how that came about and how the city funds that program?

RK: In 2018, BRWIA worked with the Town of Boone and area churches to increase funding for the program and expand it. This opportunity occurred through the Town’s regular Outside Agency Grant program for nonprofit agencies. 

The Town solicits applications for funding each spring. Requests should meet a need in the Town or for Town citizens that is not met by Town services. Applicants present to the Town Council prior to its budget meeting at an open meeting and the Town makes funding allocations. Agencies frequently receive funding each year once they have received an award, however, funding may fluctuate based upon available funds and the number of applicants/funding requests. 

As a new applicant, prior to submitting an application, BRWIA met individually with each Town Council member to share about the Double Up program and how the program impacted the Town. BRWIA highlighted that farmers’ markets and Double Up programs are Win-Win-Wins: low income consumers have access to fresh, healthy foods; farmers gain new customers; and food dollars stay in our community. 

When BRWIA submitted an application, BRWIA made sure to include a way to evaluate the impact of the program on the Town. When a Double Up customer uses their EBT card for the first time at a farmers’ market, BRWIA staff ask: Does the Double Up customer live in the Town of Boone? and Does the Double Up customer plan to shop in the Town that day? 

BRWIA staff worked with the Watauga County Food Council, farmers’ market managers, and others to speak on behalf of the program during the Open Comment period of the Town Council meeting. These speakers shared about why Double Up and farmers’ markets matter. This helped provide additional information that could not be covered in the very brief (2 minute) presentation by BRWIA.

Since BRWIA received its initial funding allocation, BRWIA regularly presents to the Town to update Council members on the program and the impact that local food has in our community. BRWIA also regularly invites Council members and Town staff to farmers’ markets and recognizes the Town’s support in press releases and funding appeals. 

CTTT: How much money does the city of Boone provide for this program?

RK: For 2022-2023, the Town of Boone provided $15,600. Since 2018, the Town of Boone has allocated over $84,000 towards BRWIA’s Double Up program. Funding for this came from the American Rescue Plan Act through the Town’s Outside Agency Grant program for nonprofit agencies. This is roughly 25% of the grant funds and 20% of the total budget that support BRWIA’s Double Up program. 

BRWIA also relies on funding from individual donations, area churches, community foundations, the Moravian Ministries Foundation, and a USDA GusNIP grant award through MountainWise, based in Macon County, NC.   

CTTT: What advice would you give for farmers markets who are seeking funding from their local city/county governments to support a similar program?

RK: The first step is to invite the Town Manager to the farmers’ market and to form a good relationship with them. They and their staff help guide the Town’s budget process. The Chamber of Commerce and Cooperative Extension can be good advocates to provide an introduction to local government leaders. It is best to do this when the farmers’ market is at its peak and in planning for the next budget year; budget decisions are made May-July. 

Share with your local City/Town Council members in the fall what kind of impact local food and farmers’ markets have in your community. Especially around election season, folks are really looking to support all things local. 

Numbers and stories really help. BRWIA tries to track revenue and foot traffic at tailgate farmers’ markets. BRWIA is able to have precise data from its online marketplace, the High Country Food Hub. This is combined with surveys, focus groups, and interviews collected from farmers and Double Up customers. 

Point to success stories in other parts of the state and build coalitions within your community that can advocate for the many different impacts that Double Up can bring to a community. Churches, the Health Department’s, WIC Office, Cooperative Extension, food councils, Chambers of Commerce, Partnership for Children/Childrens’ Council, the school systems’ social workers, food pantries are all good examples of organizations that can support the program by being good advocates.

Use the Win-Win-Win language: everyone benefits from Double Up. 

CTTT: Thank you so much to Rachel for providing all of this insight and information that we hope will inspire you to get involved in local food system work. Looking for more resources or information on funding/starting a program like this with your local farmer’s market/food hub? Reach out to us at [email protected]