Healthy food options will increase for low-income Washington, D.C. residents as a supplemental food assistance program gains new leadership.
FRESHFARM, a nonprofit organization that focuses on food sustainability and operates farmers markets throughout the D.C. region, will now manage the Produce Plus program, a city initiative to provide locally grown, fresh produce to D.C. residents facing food insecurity. The program gives enrolled and eligible District residents a stipend to spend on healthy fruits and vegetables at participating vendors.
The combination of FRESHFARM and the Produce Plus program will expand food equity in the District, according to a Nov. 11 press release from Nick Stavely, incentive programs director at FRESHFARM.
“DC Health’s Produce Plus Program is one of the most progressive and generous programs of its kind in the entire country,” Stavely said in the press release. “FRESHFARM sees this as an opportunity to take this significant investment by the government of the District of Columbia and expand upon it by working with private and public funders to improve food access and strengthen our regional food system.”
Currently, all FRESHFARM farmers markets can be used by individuals enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a federal nutrition program that provides funds for food to low-income families and individuals, providing opportunities for low-income individuals to purchase healthy, fresh and sustainable food with their SNAP benefits.
In its new role, FRESHFARM aims to expand food access and education opportunities for low-income District residents, according to Juliet Glass, director of communications and marketing at FRESHFARM.
“FRESHFARM will implement an evidence-based, multi-level nutrition intervention at farmers’ markets across the city to improve food retail environments, food access, and nutrition security for residents with low incomes,” Glass wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Over 16% of District residents experience food insecurity, while about 11% of the District can be characterized as a food desert because of residents’ low incomes, lack of close proximity to a grocery store or lack of a vehicle.
According to Glass, FRESHFARM will work to improve food accessibility for District residents through its leadership in the Produce Plus program.
“FRESHFARM has long been committed to increasing food security and decreasing rates of diet-related illnesses in communities across the city,” Glass wrote.
Still, there is more work to be done to make healthy food more accessible in the District, and FRESHFARM aims to work toward a more equitable food system by starting new distribution services and initiatives, according to Glass.
“As the new administrators of Produce Plus – FRESHFARM will work to increase redemption of incentives, offer home delivery, and connect District residents with additional federal and local food access programs across the city,” Glass wrote.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated already severe issues of food insecurity in the District. Before the pandemic, there were 400,000 individuals facing hunger; now that number is over 650,000.
According to Glass, while the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the food crisis in the District, the Produce Plus program hopes to resolve some of the heightened disparities in food accessibility.
“COVID-19 continues to impact rates of food security in the District, particularly among residents aged 60+, children, undocumented individuals, and unhoused individuals,” Glass wrote.
In previous years, D.C. Greens, a local nonprofit working to advance food equity, managed the Produce Plus program, eventually including 19 vendors in which members of the Produce Plus program could shop for groceries.
According to Glass, FRESHFARM’s participation in the Produce Plus program will work toward more equitable food opportunities in the District.
“The city’s Produce Plus program aims to create long-term system changes and solutions to ensure that every resident has meaningful access to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate fruits and vegetables,” Glass wrote.