August 16, 2017
Millions of Americans struggle each day to access fresh, nutritious food. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) bridges that gap for many lower-income families across the country, connecting them with healthy foods in their supermarkets and at local farmers’ markets. Making healthy purchases at farmers markets has become a particularly desirable option over the last few years as the overall demand for fresh, locally and regionally produced food has grown. In fact, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that, in 2015, over 167,000 farms generated $8.7 billion in revenue by producing and selling food locally through food hubs and other intermediaries, direct farmer-to-consumer marketing, or direct farm to retail. Some estimates suggest that revenues from locally and regionally produced foods could be as high as $20 billion by 2019. Unfortunately, however, there remain a few serious barriers to the continued growth of local and regional food systems – particularly when it comes to increasing access for lower income families.
One of the biggest challenges producers face when trying to bring their food to customers is connecting with the restaurants, markets, retailers, institutions and individuals to which they would like to sell. Often times the infrastructure needed to link producers to consumers is minimal or lacking entirely. For SNAP users in particular, another major barrier to accessing local and regional food is a benefit level set too low to afford fresh, healthful products.
The Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives (FINI) Program helps SNAP users to access more fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets while still providing farmers with a fair price for their goods by offering grants to projects that help SNAP participants increase their farmers market purchasing power. USDA announced a new round of FINI awards on August 7, providing $16.8 million for 32 grant projects that encourage SNAP participants to make healthy food choices.
Types of Grants Awarded
Three separate types of grants were awarded in this cycle – multi-year community-based projects, multi-year large-scale projects, and pilot projects. Priority was given to projects that:
Multi-Year Large-Scale Projects include endeavors that expand the breadth, scope, or reach of existing incentive programs in order to grow them into multi-county, statewide, or regional programs. Projects require $500,000 or more in funding and cannot exceed four years. Four projects in California, Kentucky, Michigan, and Pennsylvania were awarded a total of $9 million – two of the four awardees were NSAC member organizations:
Congratulations to Community Farm Alliance and Fair Food Network!
Multi-Year Community-Based Projects aim to support mid-sized organizations that have experience in implementing incentive programs to increase community-based food projects at the local and state level. Projects could receive up to $500,000 and could not exceed four years. A total of $6.9 million was awarded to 17 projects in California, Washington DC, Hawaii, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington.
Pilot Projects support the early development of innovative incentive program by new entrants. Projects could exceed one year and awards were a maximum of $100,000. Eleven projects were awarded across California, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, and Virginia in this category.
A full list of the 2017 funded projects can be found on USDA’s website here.
FINI is a joint program between the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Funding for FINI grants is from the 2014 Farm Bill. The 2014 Farm Bill allocates $100 million to FINI between 2014 and 2018, roughly $48 million of which was awarded for fiscal years (FY) 2014-2016. When the next round of FINI project funding is made available (for FY 2018), NSAC will post the announcement on our blog.