RICHLAND COUNTY, WI – The United States Department of Agriculture defines nutrition security as consistent access, availability, and affordability of foods and beverages that promote well-being, prevent disease, and, if needed, treat disease, particularly among racial/ethnic minority, lower income, and rural and remote populations including Tribal communities and Insular areas.
While most Americans do not consume an ideal diet, many have only a limited opportunity to make consistently healthy choices. That is the challenge facing many individuals around Richland Center, WI, a small town with a population of about 5,000. While the town is home to a national grocery store chain, much of the surrounding area is classified as a food-desert and access to affordable and fresh produce is sometimes limited, especially for low-income residents. To that point, there are only .2 SNAP retailers per 10 square miles in the county.
Helping to fill that gap was an effort between the Richland Area Farmers Market, UW-Extension, FoodWIse, and the American Heart Association. While the market has been around for nearly 50 years, past efforts to allow residents participating in SNAP to utilize their benefits at the market had fallen short, in large part because of internet connectivity issues in this rural area. Conversations with UW-Extension, FoodWIse however revealed that there was a “scrip” option for EBT acceptance allowing for offline processing of benefits. A grant from the American Heart Association allowed for the market to pursue that opportunity for the 2022 market season (in July through October) Funds enabled market staff to travel to a nearby market that was using the process to better understand the mechanics and provided a reserve that helped navigate the delays in payment processing. Going forward these funds will function as a reserve that allows for quick payment to vendors while awaiting reimbursement from SNAP.
Although the program was first established part way through the season, the response was great. Twenty-seven individuals/households purchased over $2,000 in SNAP benefits on nearly 60 total occasions. Customer quotes included, “I had no idea you took EBT,” and, “Now I can finally shop here since you have EBT.” Radio announcements/ advertising about EBT acceptance were repeatedly cited as helping make customer aware of EBT. With encouragement from FoodWIse, the local Aging and Disability Resource Center also helped coordinate rides to the Market increasing access for those without transportation, increasing utilization of both EBT and the previously existing Senior Voucher program.
The Market also utilized several incentive programs effectively with funds from the grant. On three separate instances, the Market offered “Double-up Food Bucks” for SNAP participants allowing them to double their buying power. It’s an effort that they plan to make more regular in coming years. A separate program provided tokens to kids attending the market that they could redeem for fresh produce – especially important given that the market is in a neighborhood where 70% of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. A total of $909 in these tokens were distributed and combined with a “Tasting Table” and various FoodWIse educational activities, generated enthusiasm for trying new vegetables.
Market manager, Ricki Grunberg, says, “Customers didn’t mind waiting for their benefits to process. They were just happy to be able to use EBT. And the grant allowed us to reimburse vendors immediately, increasing their buy-in to the program.”
Tim Nikolai, Sr. Rural Health Director at the AHA says, “It was great to play a role in helping make this program accessible in a rural area where connection issues had proved a barrier in the past. We hope to replicate similar efforts in other communities to address nutrition insecurity there.”
About the American Heart Association
The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for nearly a century. Connect with us on heart.org, Facebook, Twitter or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.