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Heather Allen ,with Oh La Vache Bakery, sets out a variety of fresh baked breads. (file photo)

USDA Awards Nation’s Largest Grant to Expand California Healthy Eating Program to More Farmers’ Markets

San Diego County CA— The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded the California Department of Agriculture (CDFA) and its partners a $3.9 million Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant – the largest in the country. FINI grants are designed to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables among low-income people participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka SNAP, formerly food stamps).

“We are thrilled to be selected for a federal FINI award,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “The program is a triple win for California – it supports the health of our low-income shoppers, our farmers, and the local economy,” she said.

This grant was awarded to the California Nutrition Incentive Program (CNIP), a new CDFA program that builds on the Ecology Center’s successful eight-year-old Market Matchprogram. Market Match offers SNAP shoppers extra buying power when they spend their SNAP benefits on California-grown fruits and vegetables at certified farmers’ markets. Besides addressing food insecurity, the program boosts revenue for independent, small and mid-sized farms. Many of those farms are among the most innovative in sustainable agriculture.

“With incentive programs, farmers have an opportunity to reach a greater number of San Diego county residents, especially those in lower income neighborhoods,” said Eric Larson, the executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau. “Residents who benefit from these programs also get access to fresh, locally grown farm products that might otherwise not be available to them,” he said.

This year’s state contribution of over $3 million in non-federal matching funds – made possible through Assembly Bill 1321 (Ting) – will profoundly affect the scope of the Market Match program. Until now, some farmers’ markets located in areas of high food insecurity have been unable to use the program; they tend to be small or volunteer-run operations without the capacity to offer up non-federal matching funds.

“The state’s contribution to CNIP gives the program an incredible bump,” said Ecology Center Food and Farming Director Carle Brinkman. “Through CNIP, we will be bringing Market Match to 25 new farmers markets, and going deeper into high-need areas like Riverside County and rural areas like Siskiyou and Del Norte counties,” she explained.

The California state legislature voted last summer to allocate $5 million in state funds to establish CNIP; the bill (AB 1321, Ting) received bipartisan support and a strong endorsement from the Sacramento Bee. Now the investment is paying off, as the large influx of federal funds arrives in state. CNIP is made possible through a robust public-private funding structure—including the USDA FINI grant, state general funds, SNAP-Ed funds, and local partner support, comprised of private donations, grants, and in-kind contributions.

California’s SNAP program is the largest food assistance program in the country – about 10.8% of nationwide SNAP benefits are spent in the state. CNIP will offer nutrition incentives to SNAP shoppers at 339 certified farmers’ markets and mobile market sites throughout California. For every benefit dollar spent, these shoppers will receive an additional dollar of Market Match incentive that can be spent on fruits and vegetables at the farmers’ market.

“I feel as though the more people realize they can use their EBT benefits at the farmer’s market, the healthier the community can be as a whole,” said Kenji Lockett, a Market Match shopper from El Cajon.

The FINI program debuted in the Farm Bill of 2014, which is slated to sunset September 30, 2018. More information on the California Nutrition Incentive Program can be found at cafarmtofork.com. For information about the efficacy of FINI grants at farmers’ markets, visit marketmatch.org/news.

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