Grown Here at Home: Virginia Fresh Match making produce more accessible and affordable
In case you're not familiar with Virginia Fresh Match, here's how it works. If you use SNAP or EBT benefits you can get 50% off any fruits and vegetables. And at farmers' markets, they use the token system. Say you swipe your card and spend $20, you get $40 in tokens to spend on fresh produce.
"We're working together to try and make fresh produce be more affordable and also increase sales for the farmers," said Maureen McNamara Best, executive director of LEAP.
Across the Commonwealth there are currently 75 places where you can take advantage of these benefits. The majority are farmers' markets. In our region, Virginia Fresh Match is at all the farmers markets. But it's also in some grocery stores like the Roanoke Co+Op. This allows people to get fresh produce all the time so there's always an option out there, especially during months when some farmers markets aren't open.
"From 2018 to 2019 we saw 57% increase in use and redemption of Virginia Fresh Match incentives across all of our outlets. People want to buy more fruits and vegetables, it's just really expensive. And access is irregular depending on when they have money; and so when people can afford to buy fruits and vegetables, they do buy fruits and vegetables hand over hand," said McNamera Best.
It's not just about making sure people can afford fresh fruits and vegetables, but giving them the tools to prepare food using them. This is where the Virginia Cooperative Extension steps in with its SNAP-ed agents.
"They do cooking demonstrations with simple ingredient recipes to really help people get from not knowing very much, to feeling more comfortable within cooking and preparation," explained McNamera Best.
It's a win-win. The farmers are able to serve more people in their hometowns and the people are loving it, too.
"We have the same customers that are coming every week, and it's really important and it's meaningful and it provides real food for themselves and their family," said McNamera Best.