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A new Syracuse program to stretch the food budget for produce can lead to better health

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Chris Bolt/WAER News
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Double Up Food Bucks program trying to get more healthy food on the tables of low-income families by matching dollars spent on produce. The program launched at Syracuse Cooperative Market Tuesday

People and families who get Supplemental Nutrition assistance (SNAP) have the opportunity to stretch those dollars farther when buying fruit and vegetables, thanks to a new program. The Syracuse Coopertive Market is taking part in 'Double Up Food Bucks' to help those on limited incomes put healthier food on their tables. Market General Manger Jeremy DeChario says produce can prove too expensive for many people to risk their limited food budget on.

“People can take a chance on some lettuce or a potato or some squash rather than … getting the cheaper, processed, packaged calories.  This really lets people take the opportunity to spread their food dollars further into fresh and local produce.”

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Chris Bolt/WAER News
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Syracuse Cooperative Market locations and Brady Market are participating. They'll benefit with a boost in business, and it can help local farmers as well.

The way Double Up works is it doubles up to $20 a day of purchases made with SNAP dollars on fruits and vegetables. If lower income families take advantage and buy more produce, it can have far-reaching health benefits.

Maura Ackerman is with the Syracuse-Onondaga Food Systems Alliance. She says this can remove some of the barriers to eating healthier that create health habits.

“Greater exposure to fruits and vegetables means kids grow up to be adults who are really familiar with lots of different types of foods and choose to put those foods on their own plates.  The earlier we can expose kids to those options and those flavors, really goes to support long-term health benefits a any weight.” 

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Chris Bolt/WAER News
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Double Up Program Manager Frances McGuire says the extra money can ease barriers to trying new foods, and offer people the dignity of choice, as opposed to using food pantries.

Program Manager Frances McGuire says the program is in other areas of the state already, serving around 35,000 SNAP recipients. She explains it also helps boost the local economy.

“It benefits SNAP shoppers who are getting that health food on their plates.  But it’s also benefitting farmers.  We work really carefully to select sites for the program that source produce locally, so that extra-incentive dollar is going directly back into the pockets of local farmers who we know can use a little extra money.” 

McGuire says funding for Double Up Food Bucks comes from a $2 million annual US Department of Agriculture and is matched with local dollars in each area. Here that match comes from the Allyn Foundation. The program is available through both Syracuse Cooperative Market locations and the Brady Market. They'd like to expand to more local stores and are hoping for more funding from the state and county to do so.